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Prepositions often have a meaning related to time or space and are invariable, as opposed to nouns, adjectives or verbs. Examples of prepositions in English include at, to, in, with, etc. Just like English prepositions, French prepositions usually are very short words but they can make a major difference to the meaning of a sentence. Compare, for instance, Il parle avec l'accord du président to Il parle sans l'accord du président. Both sentences are very similar, but the use of avec or sans changes the meaning completely (he speaks with/without the president's consent).

It goes without saying that very often you will be able to translate prepositions without too much difficulty (simply learn them here) but please aware that the same preposition can sometimes have different translations depending on the context it is used in. See the activity below:


For each of the following sentences, how would you translate the preposition à?

1) La cérémonie commence à 10 heures.

2) L'auteur s'intéresse à l'archéologie sumérienne.

3) Le journaliste parle à la reine.

1) at (the ceremony is starting at 10 o'clock)

2) in (the author is interested in Sumerian archeology)

3) to (the journalist is talking to the queen)

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Among the most common prepositions are à and de. Both are grammatically invariable but nonetheless present some variations... Complete the following task to understand how:


Look at the following sentences and see whether you can identify the prepositions in each and explain the variations:

1) Le voleur s'est enfuit à l'étranger: probablement au Mexique ou aux Etats-Unis.

2) Les journaux ont beaucoup parlé de l'arrestation du père des enfants disparus.

Sentence 1) contains three instances of the preposition à while sentence 2) contains three instances of the preposition de.

1) à au aux

2) de du des

For each sentence, the first preposition is the one by default used in front of the article la or l' while the other two are obtained by combining à or de with the definite articles le and les respectively.

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In the case of the preposition de, you will notice that when combined with the definite article les, it looks exactly the same as the indefinite article des ('some', followed by a plural noun). This implies that des can have two very distinct meanings (the same applies to du, which can mean 'some' or 'of the', followed by a singular noun). When du or des are translated by 'some', they are called partitives.

Practice: Translate the following sentences, paying particular attention to the translation of de and of its variations.


Les personnes handicapées restent victimes de forts préjugés dans le monde du travail.

Disabled people are still victim of strong prejudices in the workplace.

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Des statisques montrent que 26% des handicapés sont à la recherche d'un emploi.

Some statistics show that 26% of the disabled are in search of a job.

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On ne parle pas suffisament des difficultés des travailleurs handicapés à trouver des employeurs tolérants.

We don't talk enough about the difficulties faced by disabled workers to find tolerant employers.

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De temps en temps, des campagnes publicitaires sont menées pour parler du manque d'intégration de ces personnes dans la société d'aujourd'hui.

From time to time, advertising campains are run to talk about these people's lack of integration into today's society.

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