How do you say “to” or “for” in French? They seem like easy words, but as any French learner will tell you, prepositions are much trickier than you might think. Making mistakes while using them or forgetting to use them can cause frustration no matter your current French level.
Still, whether you want to talk about your trip to Paris or simply tell someone how long you’ve been studying French, you need prepositions to help you out. So, what are you doing wrong and how can you stop making these common errors?
French Preposition errors
Using the wrong preposition
Should you use “à” or “en”? What about “pour” or “pendant”?
One of the main reasons French prepositions are so difficult for French learners to understand is that there is no direct equivalent in meaning. In other words, you can’t just say that “à” means “to” and “pour” means “for”.
This is because the French language has a number of prepositions that may translate to the same word in another language. For instance, in English, you would say:
“My sister is in France.”
“I’m in the kitchen.”
But in French, you would say:
“Ma soeur est en France.”
“Je suis dans la cuisine.”
Forgetting to use a preposition
If you’re wondering how to say something in French, many learners, especially beginners, will first think of what they’d like to say in their native language. Unfortunately, this can lead to more than a few preposition errors.
Sometimes, French uses a preposition in places where another language wouldn’t use one at all. For example, in English, you would say, “I’m visiting my mother.” No preposition required!
But, in French, you would say, “Je rends visite à ma mère.” You need to remember to use “à”.
Adding an unnecessary preposition
Similarly, there are plenty of times you don’t need a preposition in French, even if you would use one in another language.
One example of this is the French verb “chercher.” In English, you need to look for something. The verb “to look” requires a preposition.
However, in French, the verb “chercher” essentially means “to look for”. It should never be followed by the preposition “pour” (meaning “for”).
Which preposition is correct in French?
So, what’s the secret to figuring out French prepositions? Are you doomed to make these errors forever?
Truthfully, there’s no real secret, but you can improve your chances of using the correct prepositions simply by becoming familiar with them.
That means the best way to learn which preposition is correct is by learning both verbs and prepositions in context. Instead of studying them separately and trying to follow all the rules, work to become familiar with verbs that require certain prepositions, such as:
- Demander à – to ask someone
- Faire attention à – to pay attention to
- Avoir besion de – to need
- Arriver de – to arrive from
- Entrer dans – to enter
- Voyager en – to travel by (train, car, etc.)
It also helps to start using verbs and prepositions in your everyday French conversations. Encourage your teachers, tutors, and language exchange partners to tell you when you’re using a preposition incorrectly. This will help you make note of your own personal errors so you can start improving.
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