Despite its very short size, the preposition “à” is one of the most important word in French. French people use it all the time. It has different meanings and uses, but it generally means “to, at or in”. It’s often confused with the preposition “de which usually means “of or from”. “à” has two contracted forms: with the masculine definite article “le” and the plural definite article “les”.

à  +  le  =  “au”   –   Je vais au cinéma, I’m going to the cinema

à  +  les  =  “aux”   –   Je suis aux Champs Élysées, I am at the Champs Élysées

 

But it doesn’t contract itself with the feminine definite article “la” and the article with elision “ l’

 

à   +   la  stays  “à la”   –   Je vais à la plage, I’m going to the beach

à   +   l’  stays  “à l’ ”   –   Je suis à l’hôpital, I am at the hospital

 

The different uses of “à” in French:

1) For a destination or a location:

 Je vais à Paris > I’m going to Paris

 Tu restes au musée > You stay at the museum

  2) For a distance in time or space (with “de”):

 Il est à 2 mètres de moi > He is at 2 meters from me

 Le musée est à 10 minutes du bar > The museum is at 10 minutes from the bar

  3) For a point in time:

 Il est mort à 63 ans > He died at age 63

 Il arrive à 11 heures à la gare > He arrives at 11 o’clock at the station

  4) For a manner, a style, a characteristic:

 Un homme aux yeux bleus > A blue-eyed man

 Une carte faite à la main > A handmade card (made by hand)

 Un sandwich à l’américaine > An American style sandwich

  5) For a possession :

 Un ami à moi > A friend of mine

 C’est à toi > It’s yours

  6) For a purpose or a use:

 Un sac à dos > a backpack

 Une tarte aux pommes > an apple pie

 Une mousse à raser > a shaving cream

 

The preposition “à” and French verbs:

1 – First, “à” is often used after some verbs and expressions when they are followed by an infinitive. You will notice that in English, it has two translations possible: an infinitive (to help to do smth) or a gerund (to start dancing). There are many of them, but here are 10 of the most common ones:

  • Apprendre à … > to learn (how) to …

 J’apprends à chanter > I’m learning how to sing

 

  • S’habituer à … > to get used to …

 Tu t’habitues à vivre ici > You are getting used to live here

 

  • Inviter (quelqu’un à) … > to invite (someone) to …

 Il invite son amie à dîner ensemble > He is inviting his friend to have dinner together

 

  • Aider à … > to help to …

 Nous aidons à construire cette maison > We are helping to build this house

 

  • Servir à … > to serve to … / to be used to …

 Ça sert à ouvrir des lettres > It’s used to open letters

 

  • Arriver à … > to manage to … / to succeed in …-ing

 Je n’arrive pas à fermer la porte > I can’t manage to close the door

 

  • Se mettre à … > to start …-ing

 Ils se mettent à danser > They start dancing

 

  • Passer son temps à … > to spend one’s time …-ing

 Vous passez votre temps à draguer > You spend your time flirting

 

  • Commencer à … > to begin to …

 Il commence à pleuvoir > It begins to rain

 

  • Continuer à > to continue to … / …-ing

 Je continue à jouer avec lui > I’m continuing to play with him

  2 – Besides, “à” is also used after many French verbs and expressions that need an indirect object.

  • Croire à … > to believe in …

 Il croit à la réincarnation > He believes in reincarnation

 

  • Demander (quelque chose) à quelqu’un … > to ask someone (something)

 Elle demande l’heure à son frère > She’s asking her brother the time

 

  • Donner (quelque chose) à quelqu’un … > to give someone (something)

 Je donne du pain aux oiseaux > I give the birds some bread

 

  • Envoyer (quelque chose) à (quelqu’un) … > to send (something) to (someone)

 Tu envoies un message à ta mère > You are sending message to your mom

 

  • Faire attention à > to pay attention to… / to be careful with… / to watch out for…

 Faites attention aux ours dans la forêt > Be careful with the bears in the forest

 

  • S’habituer à … > to get used to …

 On s’habitue à la température > We are getting used to the temperature

 

  • Jouer à > to play (a game, sport…)

 Ils jouent au foot > They are playing football

 

  • Parler à … > to talk to …

 Je parle à ma sœur > I’m talking to my sister

 

  • Penser à … > to think of / about …

 Je pense à elle tous les jours > I think about her every day

 

  • Ressembler à … > to resemble / to look like

Tu ressembles à Brad Pitt > You look like Brad Pitt

 

Additional notes:

  • à” (and its object) can be replaced by the adverbial pronoun “y” when it’s followed by an inanimate noun (not a person):

 

 Il croit à la réincarnation > He believes in reincarnation

 Il y croit > He believes in it

 

  • à” can usually be replaced by an indirect object pronoun (me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur) when it’s followed by a person:

 

 Tu ressembles à Brad Pitt > You look like Brad Pitt

 Tu lui ressembles > You look like him

  However, there are some verbs and expressions which require to keep the “à” after the verb and add a stress pronoun (when it’s a person):

 Je pense à Angelina Jolie > I’m thinking about Angelina Jolie

 Je pense à elle > I’m thinking about her