FR: à / de + infinitif

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Becky85

Senior Member
England, English
Hi,

I've found lots of information on the internet telling me which infinitives are FOLLOWED BY 'à' or 'de', but very little explaining which infinitives are PRECEDED BY 'a' or 'de'.

For example in the sentence:
'Il montre une certaine hésitation ___ confronter ses problèmes.' It feels like it should be 'à' in the ___ :
'Il montre une certaine hésitation à confronter ses problèmes', but this is just a guess.

Can anyone suggest any ways of knowing whether a verb in the infinitive is preceded by 'à' or 'de'? Are there any websites that list whether, for example, the following verbs in the infinitive are preceded by 'à' or 'de':

à/de réussir
à/de partir
à/de travailler
à/de inviter

etc. Is there a rule? Do French people just know what sounds right?

Any help would be much appreciated.

Thanks.

Moderator note: Multiple threads merged to create this one. This topic is however too broad to be discussed in a single thread. This thread is therefore closed. Please refer to the many other existing threads for more specific cases.
 
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  • Nico5992

    Senior Member
    France (French)
    Actually in the example you gave, the appropriate preposition does not depend on the following verb, but on the preceding expression.
    I mean, you're right to have chosen 'à', not because we say "à confronter" or "à réussir" and so on, but because we say "montrer une certaine hésitation à + verbe".
     

    Becky85

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Ah right that would explain why there's no information on à/de preceding prepositions! OK so are the following sentences correct?

    Elle a fait preuve de sa détermination à réussir - (because faire is followed by à?)

    Il cherche votre permission à partir plus tôt que prévu - (because chercher is followed by à)

    J'ai le plaisir de vous inviter au congrès. - (because plaisir is followed by de)

    But then I've got this sentence:

    Sa capacité ____ travailler même dans les circonstances difficiles est impressionnante. - since there is no verb before it needs the preposition how do I know which one to use?

    And is there any rule or pattern to help you to decide which one to use following a verb or is it just something you pick up?

    Thanks again.
     

    Nico5992

    Senior Member
    France (French)
    Becky85 said:
    Elle a fait preuve de sa détermination à réussir - (because faire is followed by à?)
    It's 'à' because we say: être déterminé à + ...

    Il demande votre permission de/pour partir plus tôt que prévu - (because chercher is followed by à)
    We say: demander la permission de/pour +...

    J'ai le plaisir de vous inviter au congrès. - (because plaisir is followed by de)
    Yes, it's: avoir le plaisir de + ...

    Sa capacité ____ travailler même dans les circonstances difficiles est impressionnante. - since there is no verb before it needs the preposition how do I know which one to use?
    On parle de la capacité de quelqu'un à faire quelque chose.

    I don't know if there are 'rules' but there are correct choices ad incorrect ones :) I guess it must be as hard for you to pick the correct prepositon in French as it is for me to choose the correct one in English.
    I'm not sure but I think that each case is specific...
     

    gaspard

    New Member
    France
    I agree with Nico, there is no rule for preceding preposition, but only for following ones.
    There is a practice for each situation which imposes eithe "à" or "de".

    This practice does not depend on the verb itself but on the 'action'.
    For example in ("montrer une certaine hésitation à + verbe") the right choice is "à" not because you take "à" after "montrer", but because you take "a" after "hésiter / hésitation".

    Which means you have to work out which infinitive applies to make the right choice (in the above case the rule applied is the one given by "hésiter") even though this infinitive does not appear explicitely in the text !

    Proof : you can say

    - "montrer de l'hésitation à" + infinitive (rule imposed by "hésitation/verb=hésiter")

    - "montrer de l'envie de" + infinitive (rule imposed by "envie / verb=avoir envie")

    At least, that is how I feel it.


    Plus, "confronter ses problèmes" is probably to be replaced by "affronter ses problèmes".

    In the end you can say :
    - "montrer de l'hésitation à se confronter à ses problèmes"
    - "montrer de l'envie de se confronter à ses problèmes"
     

    Becky85

    Senior Member
    England, English
    is it possible to say 'sa capacité à travailler' even if it is incorrectly phrased? would it be understood in French? i'm just thinking in terms of what the tutors are asking us to do...basically they want the space filled in with 'de' or 'à', we're not supposed to need to change the sentence in any other way. I understand what you're saying, you're the native French person after all! But is it possible to say it in the above way?

    Thanks.
     

    Nico5992

    Senior Member
    France (French)
    The correct preposition with "capacité" is "à", and I guess that your teacher will regard "de" or anything else as a mistake.
    Though a little mix-up with preposition usually won't prevent people from understanding what you said. But they will notice it.
     

    Gil

    Senior Member
    Français, Canada
    Becky85 said:
    Is there a rule? Do French people just know what sounds right?
    I am French speaking, and if there is a rule I don't know it. I pretend to know what sounds right most of the time (Never mind those who disagree on this thread), but when in doubt, I check the examples given in Le Petit Robert or in Le Trésor de la langue française informatisé (TLFI) The address of the TLFI is :
    TLFi
    After having checked the same thing a certain number of times, I know what sounds right, and maybe it's not because I am French speaking. :)
     

    Becky85

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Sorry to be a pain again, but what about in this example:

    'Elle est prête ___ te parler'

    I'm inclined to write 'Elle est prête à te parler' but only because it sounds right to me. How would I work out whether to write 'de' or 'à' here based on what the preceding verb is???

    Thanks!!!
     

    MelB

    Senior Member
    United States English
    I wonder if there might be some suggestions for learning the more common French words and expressions, and knowing whether to use with them à or de (or neither) before an infinitive.

    This is an area where, in writing, I have to spend huge amounts of time figuring out what is preferred.

    I know that with pouvoir, one can go right to the infinitive.

    Je peux le faire (I can do it). Je pourrais avoir répondu . . .

    Are there some GENERAL RULES that one can learn which can make this area more manageable? Having to memorize every single verb or expression that appears before the infinitive (and to know whether à, de, or nothing follows that verb/or expression, precedes the infinitive) seems impossible. :eek:
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    As a start, I can tell you the verbs that are followed directly by the infinitive :

    VOULOIR, POUVOIR, DEVOIR
    > Je dois aller à la Poste
    > Ils veulent acheter un appartement
    > Tu peux prendre cette chaise

    "IL FAUT"
    > Il faut manger pour vivre

    ALLER + infinitif (futur proche / "going to")
    > Je vais prendre un café
    > Il va pleuvoir

    For the rest, if there are any rules for the choice between "à" and "de", I don't know them...
     

    MelB

    Senior Member
    United States English
    Starcreator,

    You're right. The topic was to get the rules for use of à or de (or nothing) after a verb or introductory phrase, and before an infinitive. If you can provide help there, please do. It was pointed out that pouvour, vouloir, devoir, and aller (in cases involving the near future), and il faut didn't need à or de before the infinitive. A good thing to know, though when we traded examples (and some got corrected), we somehow ended up with discussions of tenses involving pouvoir.

    Anyway, I'd be delighted with any help shortcuts, rules on how to know when to use à and when de after a verb or introductory phrase, and before an infinitive (or when one needs to use nothing). Otherwise, it seems that there are infinite lists to memorize which feels :eek: hopeless.

    So if you can bring us back on track, please do, as I believe many students have the same concern about this area. How can one get a handle on it?
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Hi again !
    MelB, I thought of another verb that doesn't require à or de : SAVOIR when you use it to say "I am able to..."
    > je sais conduire = I know how to drive / I can drive

    You can also use this one with QUE + proposition with verbe conjugué (I'm sure you already know this)
    > Je sais que nous devons partir tôt = I know we need to leave early
    This is also true for VOULOIR and IL FAUT in my precedent post :
    > Je veux que tu prennes ton manteau = I want you to take your coat
    > Il faut que vous téléphoniez à votre grand-mère = you need to call your grandmother
    But not for POUVOIR, ALLER, DEVOIR : you cant write "je peux que":cross: , "je vais que":cross: , "je dois que":cross: .


    As for the verbs that do require à or de, I had a look at french4beth's links, and about the second one, I would like to add something : this is more about the difference between the COD (complément d'objet direct) and the COI (complément d'objet indirect)
    > j'ai parlé de toi. J'ai parlé de quoi ? => COD
    > j'ai parlé à Julie. J'ai parlé à qui ? => COI
    > j'ai parlé de toi à Julie => both à and de because there is a COD and a COI
    But as it has been said, this is a bit off-topic as it is not really about infinitive after a verbe conjugué...

    [ if any native or fluent feels this needs correction/clarification please do !! ]
     

    MelB

    Senior Member
    United States English
    geve,

    Thanks you for the addition. I've added "savoir" (when it means "to be able to") to my list to be memorized of verbs preceding an infinitive, and not needing "à" or "de." Your list is short ;) which makes it manageable to learn. Three cheers for brevity!

    On the verbs needing "à" before an infinitive or "de," it's too bad there don't seem to be any rules. Or at least no one in this forum has mentioned any. I mean wouldn't you think in the development of a language sound would play a role? If the infinitive begins with a vowel like "arriver," "de" would sound better before it than "à," (a liason type effect). And yet we would say, I think, in French (and I'm relying on Byrne and Churchill's "A Comprehensive French Grammar, 4th Ed), "j'aimerais à apprendre," not "j'aimerais d'apprendre." Similarly, we'd say, "je comencerais à apprendre," not "je comencerais d'apprendre." Therefore sound doesn't seem to be the key, in the same way that it is if we say, "mon amie," not "ma amie" because there we let sound control. And I'm left with just lists of verbs to and expressions to memorize. Still, if that's the reality, it is . . . The other problem is that when you look the verb up in a dictionary, even an unabridged, it often won't address this issue.

    I wonder if many French people don't really know whether to use before an infinitive "à" or "de" in writing and often just guess :) Though maybe this is something where with constant writing, one simply learns what is correct.
     

    french4beth

    Senior Member
    US-English
    MelB said:
    I wonder if many French people don't really know whether to use before an infinitive "à" or "de" in writing and often just guess :) Though maybe this is something where with constant writing, one simply learns what is correct.
    MelB,
    I'm thinking that native speakers would automatically know what to use; I also struggle with memorizing gender in French, and a friend of mine (native Spanish speaker) told me that a native speaker would never hesitate, they would use the correct term automatically...
     

    pieanne

    Senior Member
    Belgium/French
    Hi, Mel!
    I think you need some context to use these expressions.
    F.i., I wouldn't say either "j'aimerais d'/à apprendre", I'd say "j'aimerais apprendre".

    I'd say "je commence à apprendre les verbes irréguliers" (I'm starting to learn), but "je commencerai par apprendre le présent" (I'll start with learning the present tense).

    I want you to know that I haven't read the whole thread.
     

    MelB

    Senior Member
    United States English
    pianne,

    I'm wrong. There's a note in the Grammer treatise that says "aimer" is also used without a preposition.

    Still there's my "commencer" example.
     

    pieanne

    Senior Member
    Belgium/French
    "aimer à" isn't much used today. It means "I like to do X from time to time", at least to me.
    "commencer" is different. "Commencer par" is "start with". "Commencer à" is "beginning to"
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    they were jsut examples off the top of my head, sorry:

    envoyer balader
    is a set expression. it means basically to tell someone to step off.

    ie my borther came in asking for forgiveness.. je l'ai envoyer balader. (same for envoyer paitre)

    penser:

    can be used with no preposition. with à
    il pensait à changer de metier

    he was thinking about changing job.

    compter never takes a preposition as far as i know, neither does esperer.

    ps. this wasnt meant as an exhaustive list. i just wanted to make it known that there were other possibilites.
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    I would say ENVOYER can be used as FAIRE, when you send someone to do something (category 5 of the list : effectuer une action)

    > il m'envoie acheter le pain = he asks me to go buy some bread
     

    xav

    Senior Member
    France
    […]

    My first idea about "à" vs "de" is that "à" has the meaning of "to", "de" the one of "from". So, depending on the meaning of the verb, either "à"="to" can fit more (to ? with ?) this meaning, or "de"="from". We should try to apply that to a number of examples to see if it works or not. I'm nearly sure it doesn't everytime (or that "rule" would be known), but I think that when it doesn't, the verb construction shouldn't sound too strange.

    :)
     
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    xav

    Senior Member
    France
    Mmmm

    I could say that nearly all the mentioned verbs with "à", except "arracher à", agree with my idea of a direction toward the thing expressed by the second verb.
    But I must admit that in the second list, if the idea of "opposite direction" fits (to ? with ?) "achever de", "cesser de", "craindre de" and "dédaigner de", it doesn't with the other ones, especially "choisir de" and "brûler de" !

    (NB. if we say "décider de", we also say "se décider à"... :D:D
    Mistake forbidden ! ;)
    You can neither say "je décide à" nor "je me décide de" ! :D )

    En gros, je trouve que l'idée fonctionne dans au moins 70 % des cas...
    Not so bad.
     

    Scrooge

    Member
    U.S., English
    I'm having a really hard time trying to memorize which verbs take "à" when used before an infinitive and which verbs take "de". Is there any way to figure out which preposition a verb takes using logic or do I just have to memorize long lists?
     

    Tresley

    Senior Member
    British English
    You just have to memorise them as there are no rules. After a while it comes naturally as you get to know them. You know when you are getting there when you know when something sounds wrong! It takes time, but you can do it!
     

    Julz

    Senior Member
    I wouldn't try remembering with patterns, to me that just makes things more difficult.
    Perhaps just practice over and over again, write lots of sentences using verbs + verbs to practice memorizing which to use (à or de). As Tresley basically said, eventually it will sound right when you use them in speech or further writing.
     

    alexinfrance

    New Member
    France and English
    I just went through 15 different posts on using the de/à + infinitive, but to no avail. I'm sure that I'm beating a dead horse right now, however I understand that the use of prepositions is dependent on what happens before the infinitive, and in general, there is a list of verbs + prep (essayer de for example).

    But why is it:

    Il y a beaucoup de choses [à] faire.
    Il y a cent façons [de] dire non.

    Are there any specific posts that will help me better understand every use of the de/à + infinitive? Thanks!
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I'm not sure that there is a simple rule. Some things you just have to memorize.

    In the examples you give, though, I do see a difference. The first says that there are many things to be done -- they are waiting to be done, they must all be done. The second sentence says that there are many ways of saying "no" -- any of them will do, you don't have to use all.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Welcome to the forums, Alexinfrance! :)
    I'm not sure that there is a simple rule. Some things you just have to memorize.
    Yes, I am afraid that Outsider has hit the nail on the head. :p

    Sometimes, as in your example sentences, à can be an indicator of intent/purpose/direction whereas de can be related to manner/motivation/origin. However, this is by no means a reliable guideline when you don't know the correct preposition to use. This sort of thinking is much more useful when you have been given the correct preposition and are trying to understand or translate the expression.

    The preposition is part of the expression (or verb phrase) that precedes it. So recognizing the structure
    .... [expression] + [preposition] + [infinitive]
    is of limited use when you want to know what preposition to use. What you really need to be thinking about is what came first:
    .... [expression] + [preposition] + [infinitive].

    You might be interested in the article that is cited here in our Resources sub-forum. :)
     

    thedogsbollocks

    New Member
    English
    I hope this hasn't been discussed before, I tried looking for the answer before making this thread. I was just wondering when expressing an infinitive:

    ex.: I want to go somewhere.
    I asked him to leave.
    etc.

    when should you say "à + infinitive" or "de + infinitive". And when should you simply use the infinitive by itself. Usually I just use the infinitive but I know that it's not always correct.

    If this has been posted elsewhere then let me know where I can find the answer and I'll delete this post. Merci!
     

    johnp

    Senior Member
    Here's somewhat of a rule of thumb I use with my students:

    Soit pas de préposition, soit à, soit de, soit pour:
    a. pas de préposition: verbes qui marquent du mouvement, du désir et de l'espérance, du gré et de l'aversion - Il espère acheter cette voiture; verbes auxiliaires comme vouloir, pouvoir, devoir, aller.
    b. à: verbes qui marquent un commencement, un but, une direction, une tendance d'une action - J'aide mon ami à faire ses devoirs.
    c. de: verbes qui marquent une fin ou une cessation d'une action - Il a choisi d'aller en Europe.
    d. pour: emploie pour quand "to" en anglais peut signifier aussi "in order to"
     

    Hieronymus IV

    Senior Member
    English: Amero-British Hybrid
    J'ai souvent fait la rencontre d'un problème: de quand (à) utiliser « à » devant l'infinitif. Par exemple, « Je commence à parler français il y a huit mois ». Pourquoi n'est-ce pas « Je commence parler... » simplement? Y a-t-il un méthode à laquelle je peux faire référence ?

    Merci d'avance.

    Si quelqu'un s'aperçoit de quelques erreurs, veuillez me corriger. Je l'apprecierais
    beaucoup.
     
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    c10pa

    Member
    English -- American
    Parfois, je crois, nous (les anglophones) avons à mémoriser les prepositions et les structures des verbes francais, qui ne sont pas toujours pareils aux structures des verbes anglais.

    Par exemple, en francais on dit "continuer + à + verbe a l'infinitif," tandis qu'on dit "aimer + verbe a l'infinitif." (sans preposition)


    (Veuillez corriger mes fautes en francais!)
     

    tilt

    Senior Member
    French French
    Many direct transitive verbs ask à or de to precede an infinitive set as their objects, when possible:
    Je crains les chutes -> Je crains de tomber.
    Tu continues ton voyage -> Tu continues de voyager.
    Il commence un travail -> Il commence à travailler.
    Nous arrêtons la course -> Nous arrêtons de courir.


    Aimer à is not incorrect but sounds literary and quite outdated.
    The CNRTL says:
    Aimer à... : la construction reste vivante avec un infinitif non suivi de complément d'objet ou dans les locutions j'aime à croire, à penser que.
    An example of such a use shows in the famous poem where the number of letters of each word gives a decimal of Pi : Que j'aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages...
     
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