Infinitival phrases: à vs de
I'm getting this wrong on a daily basis, so I thought it was time to ask. What are the rules behind whether you use à or de in a phrase like the following:
(1) It is difficult to write.
I ask because my original theory was that it depended on what "it" meant. So, on one reading, (1) could mean that a particular thing is difficult to write (i.e. this book is difficult to write) - whereas, on another reading, (1) could have a more general meaning (i.e. the process of writing is difficult).
I thought this was reflected in French grammar as well, so the particular meaning would be written with an à:
(2a) Il est difficile à écrire.
whereas the general meaning would be written with a de:
(2b) Il est difficile d'écrire.
But now I've just been marked wrong for writing this, which seems to go against my expectations:
(3) *Son fils est sûr à réussir.
So what's going on here? Is there some quirk with the word "sûr" which means that it always takes "de" as an infinitival complement? Or is my theory just wrong?
(3) *Son fils est sûr à réussir.
If this is not correct then I need help with this too. That's what I would have wrote. Can a native speaker chime in here. I think a lot of english speakers have trouble with this.
But these just support what I was saying, which Duolingo's marked incorrect...
I spoke to my french friend about this and he told me it was just a matter of remembering that it is 'to be sure of'. Just like we need to remember that certain verbs take one or the other. He tried to give me a rule for it but the logic failed and he admitted that he didn't really know since it just came naturally to him. Convaincu de was another one. Convinced of something.
Prepositions are words which link two related parts of a sentence. In this module, you may get frustrated with the variety of uses for the French prepositions “à” and “de”. Generally speaking, “à” means to, at, or in, while “de” means of or from.
Using à : Location or destination - Je vais à Rome (I'm going to Rome) Distance in time or space (note that à is used in front of the distance, while de indicates the starting point/origin) Il habite à 10 mètres...(He lives 10 meters...) C'est à 5 minutes...(It's 5 minutes...) Possession - un ami à moi (a friend of mine) Ce livre est à Jean (This is Jean's book) Purpose or use - une tasse à thé teacup (cup for tea) une boîte à allumettes (box for matches) Manner, style, or characteristic - fait à la main (made by hand) Il habite à la française (He lives in the French style) Defining ingredient - Use à when the food is made with something that can be taken away without destroying it - as a general rule, you can translate it as "with." If you take out the ham or onion, you still have a sandwich or soup. un sandwich au jambon (ham sandwich) la soupe à l'oignon (onion soup) Impersonal expressions: Real subject - C'est bon à savoir (That's good to know). Measurement - acheter au kilo (to buy by the kilogram) payer à la semaine (to pay by the week) Point in time - Nous arrivons à 5h00 (We arrive at 5:00) Il est mort à 92 ans (He died at the age of 92)
Using de: Starting point or origin - partir de Nice (to leave from (out of) Nice) Je suis de Bruxelles (I'm from Brussels) Distance in time or space - de indicates the starting point/origin) ...d'ici (...from here) ...de moi (...from me) Possession / belonging - le livre de Paul (Paul's book) le café de l'université (the university café) Contents / description - une tasse de thé (cup of tea) une boîte d'allumettes (box (full) of matches) Defining feature - le marché de gros (wholesale market) une salle de classe (classroom) Indispensible ingredient - Use de when the food is made primarily of something - generally speaking, you can translate it as "of" or "from." If you take away the blackcurrants or tomatoes, you're left with not much at all. la crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) Impersonal expressions: Dummy subject - Il est bon d'étudier. It's good to study. (Studying is good) Cause - mourir de faim to die of / from hunger fatigué du voyage (tired from the trip) Means / manner of doing something - écrire de la main gauche (to write with the left hand)
Reason it is de: Impersonal expression.
But, again, that goes against the ungrammaticality of (3), where the subject is "son fils". Is it maybe something to do with probability? Adjectives which refer to refer to probabilities always take "de" instead of "à"?
It's just a thought. I have no idea. If someone doesn't answer this in the next couple of days I'll ask a french guy I know and we'll get to the bottom of it. (hopefully).
Maybe the french just always say ...to be sure OF something? It seems to me that this a/de confusion occurs when both can be translated as 'to'.