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prepositions with country and city names in French

French prepositions with city or country name: à, en, au, aux…

by | 25 May 2019 | Other

 

You are having a conversation in French and you want to say that you visited a country, live in a city, will be traveling to a town. Which of these little words, i.e. prepositions,  will you add in front of the name of the city or the country you are talking about:
à, en, au, or aux ?

 

Let’s start with towns or cities. The preposition you need is à :

  • J’habite à Nice. (I live in Nice)
  • Ils sont déjà allés à Lyon, mais pas à Paris. (They’ve already been to Lyon, but not to Paris.)
  • Elle va à Nantes la semaine prochaine. (She’s going to Nantes next week.)

Note: You may have read or heard that with the French towns Avignon and Arles, you should use en instead of à. Although this is something you may encounter in some literature, it is now considered obsolete. If you say en Avignon or en Arles, it won’t be considered wrong, but be aware it sounds both old and odd today. In any case, it is much easier to remember to use à with city names, isn’t it?

 

With countries, states or regions, you will need to choose between en, au and aux. Your choice will depend on the gender of the country or state. Indeed, some countries are feminine, others are masculine and some are plural :

  • La France, le Pakistan, les États-Unis, le Texas, la Provence

Don’t worry, it looks like it’s too much already, but it isn’t. You’ll see it’s quite simple actually:

Use en If the country (state or region) is feminine, like la France, la Chine, l’Algérie, la Colombie, la Normandie, la Louisiane, la Ligure or if the country is masculine but starts with a vowel, like l’Iran, l’Uruguay :

  • Je vis en France. (I live in France)
  • Tu vas en Chine. (You’re going to China.)
  • J’ai acheté ce sac en Algérie. (I bought this bag in Algeria.)
  • Il veut passer ses vacances en Irak. (He wants to go on holiday in Irak.)
  • Êtes-vous déjà allé en Normandie ? (Have you ever been to Normandy?)

 

Use au If the country or state (or region) is a masculine noun that begins with a consonant, e.g. le Japon, le Danemark, le Canada, le Maroc,  :

  • Ils sont nés au Japon. (They were born in Japan.)
  • Elle a étudié au Danemark. (She studied in Denmark.)
  • Ils se sont rencontrés au Canada. (They met in Canada.)
  • Il a de la famille au Maroc. (He’s got relatives in Morocco.)
  • James Michener a vécu au Texas. (James Michener lived in Texas.)

 

If the country is plural, use aux :

  • Aux Pays-Bas, aux États-Unis, aux îles Féroé, aux Émirats Arabes, aux Bermudes

 

Careful! Use de, du or des when you want to indicate the origin, i.e. where from:

  • Feminine: Je viens de France. (I come from France.)
  • Masculine: Tu viens du Sénégal. (You come from Senegal.)
  • Plural: Vous êtes partis des États-Unis. (You left the United States.)

 

Careful again! I know that every time we learn something new, we tend to overdo it! Remember all sentences do not need a preposition. For instance, if the city or the country is the subject of the sentence, or a direct object, you don’t need a preposition.

If you just talk directly about a city, just give its name:

  • J’ai déjà visité Bordeaux. (I’ve already been to Bordeaux.)
  • Cannes est connue pour son festival. (Cannes is well-known for its festival.)

If the name of the country is a subject or a direct object, use only the country’s article:

  • J’ai visité la Colombie deux fois. (I’ve been to Columbia twice.)
  • Le Laos est un pays d’Asie. (Laos is an Asian country.)

 

OK, so now, you are wondering, how can you know which countries are feminine and which are masculine? If you are not sure, you can learn or review the gender of countries in French here.

 

Now, it’s time to practice a little. Try this free online exercise!

Choose the correct word:

 

 

There you are! Now you can use the correct preposition in front of a country or a city. Congratulations! 😉

 

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