The doctor’s, the baker’s, the greengrocer’s, the hairdresser’s, the garage, the pharmacy… We all go there.
But do you know which preposition to use in French when you need to say that you’re going to the doctor’s? Should it be à / au or chez?
The answer is short and easy: use chez when you refer to a person and à / au when you refer to a place.
In French, if you’re going back home, since you are a person, you will say:
- Je rentre chez moi.
This will be true for any other person you refer to. So, if you’re going to the doctor’s, the baker’s, the hairdresser’s, the mechanic, you are referring to a person, therefore use chez :
- chez le médecin (to the doctor’s), chez le boulanger (to the baker’s), chez le coiffeur (to the hairdresser’s), chez le garagiste (to the mechanic)
However, if you’re going to work or to school, you are no longer referring to a person but to a place. That is why you will say
- Je vais au travail (à + le = au), je vais à l’école.
Similarly, every time you will mention not the person but the place, for example not the baker but the bakery, then use à / au :
- au salon de coiffure (to the hairdressing salon), à la boulangerie (to the bakery), au garage (to the garage), à la pharmacie (to the pharmacy), au supermarché (to the supermarket), au magasin (to the shop / store)
Careful! When talking about going to a shop or a supermarket, there can be some confusion if you use their trading name rather than the actual words supermarché and magasin.
Some very common shop names you will encounter in France are for example Carrefour, Leclerc, la Fnac, Renault, Decathlon… If you go to Carrefour supermarket you will have to say à Carrefour, but if you go to Leclerc supermarket, you are supposed to say chez Leclerc. Likewise, if you take your car to Renault to be repaired, you will say chez Renault ; yet if you take your bicycle to Decathlon be mended, you will say à Décathlon. Why?
Although this does not seem to make much sense, the explanation is actually quite simple and similar to the one about the baker and the bakery: if the trading name is the name of an actual person, use chez but if the trading name is not somebody’s name, then use à / au.
That’s how you learn something about France: Leclerc and Renault are the names of the men who founded their business, while Carrefour and Decathlon are just words turned into a trading name.
Careful still! What can be even more confusing is to hear people say that they are going à or au Leclerc (instead of chez!). That is because not everybody knows the rule or not everybody knows that Leclerc is the actual surname of the founder of the E.Leclerc supermarket chain (E.Leclerc actually stands for Edouard Leclerc). Renault is also the surname of the three Renault brothers who founded the car manufacturing corporation back in 1899).
This is an example of how the culture –even from a business or industrial stance– and the language of a country are closely related.
Careful again! You may hear some French natives say that they are going au Carrefour (rather than à). This happens when they actually mean a specific Carrefour shop they have in mind: “Je vais au (magasin) Carrefour (auquel je pense)” is the implied thought. In this case, the words in brackets are left out when people speak.
There you are! Now you master the prepositions chez and à / au, which means you can go anywhere you like! Congratulations! 😉