1. everybodylovesnaymon New Member

    English - UK
    Hi I'm just trying to practice some of my french grammar and would like to know the proper grammatical term for "a" in the following sentence "Je n'ai rien a faire". I would just like to look into more detail on this. Thank you.
  2. Feanfox

    Feanfox Member

    Just a simple preposition, nothing more, I guess
  3. Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    A bit of a tricky one. Most people's reaction would, I think, be to describe à as a preposition. The snag with that is that if you go googling for a definition of "preposition" you will be told that it is a word which governs a noun to show its relationship to other words in the sentence. The best I think that can be said is that in some languages some words which function as prepositions may also have a function which is not prepositional according to a standard definition of what a preposition is.

    The English translation of your sentence is "I have nothing to do". Here, just like the French à, to is not functioning as a preposition. It may be described as an infinitive marker. In French infinitives are in fact already marked by their form, so perhaps it is a case of double marking which has just happened to develop in French. [...]

    Certainly when I learned French many years ago the fact that before the infinitive some verbs needed to be followed by à, some by de and some by neither was described in terms that "some verbs need a preposition before the infinitive". I think the case is that where words come between a finite verb and an infinitive in this way they are always words which happen to be used as prepositions and they are therefore called prepositions. "Function" words do not always fit into neat categories. The word "particle" is available but is rather vague and not generally used as a grammatical category in describing languages like English, French or Spanish.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 13, 2013
  4. wsclambertville Senior Member

    English - United States
    Salut monde français,

    J’ai des problèmes à expliquer l’utilisation de la préposition “à” devant les verbes. Par example, “Il n’y a rien à manger.” Mes étudiants me demandent, “Pourquoi ajouter le à?”

    Pour la plupart, moi, je sais quand il faut l’ajouter mais je ne sais pas expliquer les règles, s'il y en a, qui s’y appliquent.

    Est-ce que quelqu’un peut m’aider?


    Wendy Carroll
  5. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    In English you also use a similar "preposition" in that case, although it is perceived as belonging to the to-infinitive:

    Il n'y a rien à manger. = There is nothing to eat.
  6. Chimel Senior Member

    I think you can also tell your students that "all" (if I'm not mistaken) pronouns and adjectives in French need a preposition when followed by an infinitive. The difficulty is usually to know which one : à, de, pour... But you need one, that's just the way French works, there is nothing to "understand" : il n'y a rien à manger, vous avez tout à gagner, c'est difficile à dire, il est indispensable de travailler, c'est important pour réussir...

    Only some verbs, like il faut, are directly followed by an infinitive, without any preposition. But even verbs mostly require one: essayer de, aider à...
  7. wsclambertville Senior Member

    English - United States
    Ah! C'est parfait - mille mercis!

  8. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I'm afraid you are mistaken. Pronouns followed by an infinitive often do not take a preposition.

    afin de le dire
    il ne veut rien faire
    pour tout faire

    On the other hand, adjectives usually take a preposition, but there are still a few counterexamples:

    il a beau faire le clown
    un endroit où il fait bon vivre
    il ferait beau voir
  9. Chimel Senior Member

    I beg to disagree, at least partially. To me, bon is an adverb, not an adjective in un endroit où il fait bon vivre (like in sentir bon, tenir bon). I would also say so for beau in beau faire/beau voir but this needs to be checked (and it is a bit late... :)).

    On the other hand, I don't think the infinitive depends on the pronoun in the first three examples, the same way it does in the question asked by wsclambertville. The structure is afin de + verb (for instance) and there happens to be a pronoun but it could also be a noun or nothing.

    il n'y a rien à faire: you could also say, with the same meaning rien à faire. So rien à faire is an independent structure "pronoun + infinitive", like difficile à dire
    afin de le dire
    : le dire as such is not a such a structure, it is afin de dire + pronoun.

    I'm not completely sure this is very clearly expressed, I'll have to think about it, but I feel we don't quite speak of the same thing.
  10. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    In my examples the infinitives don't depend on the pronouns; it is actually the other way around. But it is also the case in your own examples: the pronouns are the complements of the infinitives!

    Il ne veut rien faire = Il ne veut pas faire quoi que ce soit.
    Il n'y a rien à faire = Il n'y a rien que l'on puisse faire / On ne peut pas faire quoi que ce soit.

    Anyway, I'm merely saying that French learners should be careful and realize that a preposition is not systematically used between a pronoun or adjective and an infinitive.

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