FR: à + ville / en/au + pays - préposition

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johnL

Senior Member
USA, English
Hello, folks.
My dictionary says, "Il habite à Paris." as one definition for "à". But it also says, "habiter en Sicile" as one definition for "en".
In this usage (with habiter), are à and en interchangable, or does it have to do with the specific form of the verb (habite vs habiter)?

Thanks very much.
John

Moderator note: This thread was discussing too many different cases and has therefore been closed. For more specific cases, see also the following related threads:

FR: en Haïti / à Haïti
FR: en / à Guadeloupe
FR: à la / en Martinique
FR: à / en Israël
FR: en / à Avignon, Arles, Antibes, etc.
FR: en / au + pays
FR: venir de l'/d'Angleterre, de (la) France, du Canada - article devant les noms de pays

See also our resources thread: Countries / Pays.
 
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  • balaam

    Senior Member
    french (belgium)
    you use "à" for a city et "en" for a country. the grammatical reasons require someone way much educated than me.

    It can be confusing when the name of the city refere to à country, as in "j'habite au Pays Noir" . [au = à le]
    (pays noir is a colloquial term for Charleroi, historically a coalminer city).

    note, the exception of Chypre : "je vais en vacance à chypre" Vs "Je vais en vacance en Grêce". Chypre is considered a city while being a island.
     

    Iznogoud

    Senior Member
    French - Canada
    When referring to a city, use "à". For countries or states (including US states), use "en" if the name is feminine, or "au" if it is masculine. For most other geographical entities, use "dans". You can make it simpler by omitting this particle altogether ("j'habite la France", "j'habite Toronto"). I'm not sure it's entirely proper, but it works.

    Il habite à Paris.
    Il habite à New York.
    Il habite en Californie.
    Il habite au Kansas.
    Il habite en France.
    Il habite au Canada.
    Il habite aux États-Unis. (plural)
    Il habite en Sicile.
    Il habite dans le comté de Chittenden.
     

    sandera

    Senior Member
    Scottish/Glaswegian
    Bonsoir,
    As a student we have been told as one already stated en for the country and à for the city.
    Par exemple...J'habite en France, à Paris.
    I may be wrong, correger sil-vous-plait.
    S.
     

    doodlebugger

    Senior Member
    France
    As a student we have been told as one already stated en for the country and à for the city.

    That's true for the city but with the notable exception of Avignon.
    We say en Avignon and not à Avignon.
    It comes from the fact that Avignon used to be the city of the pope and, like the Vatican, was considered an independent country.
     

    doodlebugger

    Senior Member
    France
    Actually I used to live en Languedoc-Roussillon !
    At the moment I can't think of a region that does not use en.
    It's different for départements though.
    We say: dans le Gard, dans la Creuse, dans l'Hérault.
    Gee, I realize how difficult it must be for non-natives!
     

    Lezert

    Senior Member
    french, France
    et quand le nom désigne à la fois un état et une ville, "en" et "à" permettent de faire la différence
    je vais à Andorre ( la ville)
    je vais en Andorre ( le pays)

    à Koweit / au Koweit
     

    RuK

    Senior Member
    English/lives France
    Singapore is a country, but so small we say "J'habite à Singapour". It is mind-boggling. Really, LE Alabama? LE Nebraska? Sometimes one is tempted to give it all up as a dead loss...
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    For those who are interested in the genders of various states, provinces, countries, etc. please see the links we have amassed on the subject in the following Resources thread: Pays / Countries
     

    Skeah

    Member
    Canada, English
    i know that in french you would say

    "Je vais à *ville*"
    "J'ai parlé à *nom*"
    "Je voyage au *pays*"

    but what exactly is it that makes it be that way (and yes i know that à la is feminine and aux is plural, i'm just wondering how to tell when you should use à and when to use au)
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Hello Skeah,

    Well, there is one set of rules for places. You'll find them here. Remember that au, à la, and aux all contain the direct object "the" (le, la, les)... so once you learn where the direct object is required in French, you will always know which à/au/etc form to use.

    To consider your examples, the French say:

    I am going to [Toronto]
    I talked to [Mark]
    I am traveling to/in the [Canada].

    We wouldn't include the definite article "the" to talk about Canada in English (but we would use it to talk about "the United Kingdom"!). However, the article is required in French, and consequently when you say that you are going "to" Canada, you have à + le Canada = au Canada.

    On the other hand, French and English are similar when you are talking about people or cities: we don't say "the Mark" and we don't say "the Toronto" (although we might say "the city of Toronto"). So you don't include the definite article in either case, and you just end up with à + [person or city].

    I hope that helps. :)

    PS. Just to make things confusing, remember that we will say en + feminine country but au + masculine country if we want to say in/to + [country]. Do click that link I gave...
     

    Skeah

    Member
    Canada, English
    so in the case of a fief (feudal plot of land given out to a lord, who would collect most of the profit from the peasants who worked there) would it be "à" or "au"?

    "she would be sent to Trebond" (name of the fief)

    "elle serait envoyé [à/au] Trebond" (and now that I look at it... is "elle serait envoyé" even right?):(
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    I have absolutely no idea which preposition would be used with a feudal fief. It's also possible that there was no uniform rule, and that different place names were treated differently. But if I had to guess..

    Is Trebond also the name of the principal town/village in the fief? If so, you could use à. If not, I might be tempted to apply the same language as we would for a modern French department or region (dans le + masculine, en + feminine).

    Wait to see what the native speakers suggest. :)

    EDIT: this is a fictional place, isn't it? Make your life simple... call it le fief de Trebond and then you have solved your problem --> envoyé au fief de Trebond
     

    Skeah

    Member
    Canada, English
    sounds like a good idea to me :) thanks for your help

    for further clarification, Trebond is the name of the fief... so I guess that the closest that a fief would be to something today would be a very small province, territory, or state... I've been leaning towards "au"
     

    Manwelo

    New Member
    France
    The correct sentence is "elle serait envoyée à Trébond"

    Here Trebond is considered the same way as a town so you have to use "à" and I think that the correct translation for fief would be "domaine".
     

    edward1529

    Senior Member
    United States--English
    En ce qui concerne "Prepositions with geographical names," je recommande que l'on lise les Sections 167-170, pp. 177-184, dans la grammaire de Daniel J. Calvez, French Reference Grammar: A Complete Reference Guide, 2e éd. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005).
     

    Ian Tenor

    Senior Member
    English UK
    For countries or states (including US states), use "en" if the name is feminine, or "au" if it is masculine. You can make it simpler by omitting this particle altogether ("j'habite la France", "j'habite Toronto"). I'm not sure it's entirely proper, but it works.

    Certain small islands and island nations seem to require yet another way of dealing with this question.

    'J'habite au Taiwan" doesn't quite sound right, does it, though Taiwan is a (masculine) country, and 'J'habite à Taiwan' seems to be the acceptable form.

    Perhaps a small island is perceived, grammatically-speaking, as a rather large city ...

    And does one say "J'habite en Chypre", "J'habite à la Chypre", or "J'habite à Chypre" ?

    The answer has been given in another thread -
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=750121

    ... together with a list of countries - http://publications.europa.eu/code/fr/fr-5000500.htm


    Pour contourner le problème, on peut toujours dire "J'habite la France / le Mexique / le Taiwan / la Chypre" tout comme on pourrait faire dès qu'il s'agit dune ville, n'est-ce pas ?


    Et quant aux continents ...

    'J'habite en Europe / en Asie / en Amerique du Nord / en Amerique du Sud / en Afrique / en Australie, Australasie, Océanie.'

    Va pour les continents féminins : mais les quelques habitants de l'Antactique (m.) vont se trouver bien embêtés - 'à l'Antactique' , ou tout simplement l'Antarctique' ... ?


    Bien à vous -

    Ian
     

    Iznogoud

    Senior Member
    French - Canada
    Sorry, there's no easy way out of this one. You can't say "la" for all places. ("J'habite la Taïwan" doesn't work).

    For Cyprus: "à Chypre".
    For Antarctica: "en Antarctique".
     

    wildan1

    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    English - USA
    Certain small islands and island nations seem to require yet another way of dealing with this question.

    'J'habite au Taiwan" doesn't quite sound right, does it, though Taiwan is a (masculine) country, and 'J'habite à Taiwan' seems to be the acceptable form.

    Perhaps a small island is perceived, grammatically-speaking, as a rather large city ...

    Well, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island, but one says J'habite à Madagascar.

    Pour Taïwan, je pense qu'on peut aussi dire J'habite Taïwan
     

    Ian Tenor

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Sorry, there's no easy way out of this one. You can't say "la" for all places. ("J'habite la Taïwan" doesn't work).
    For Antarctica: "en Antarctique".


    Mais mon cher Iznogoud, je n'ai point proposé que l'on dise "J'habite la Taïwan" : bien au contraire, j'avais avancé comme possibilité -

    'J'habite à Taiwan'
    En ce qui concerne les continents -

    ... en Antarctique
    Je vous demande pardon, mais en est-vous sûr ? C'est tout de même un nom propre masculin et tout logiquement on dirait 'J'habite l'Antarctique' ...

    ... à moins qu'il y ait une tolérance de faire précéder les pays de nom masculin commençant avec une voyelle par 'en' , tout comme on fait avec les pays de nom féminin. Je n'en sais rien, n'étant qu'un piètre anglophone, et alors bon nombre des subtilités de la langue française m'échappent encore et toujours.

    Bref, est-ce qu'on dit, par exemple -
    • J'habite à l'Angola / à l'Azerbaijan / à l'Equateur / à l'Iran / à l'Oman / à l'Uruguay - tous masculins, je crois -

    ou bien dit-on -
    • J'habite en Angola / en Azerbaijan / en Equateur / en Iran / en Oman / en Uruguay ...
    ... ???

    De la réponse à cette question brûlante dépendra, j'imagine, la tranquillité de nombreux habitants de l'Antarctique.


    Merci beaucoup. Bien à vous -

    Ian
     

    Ian Tenor

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island, but one says J'habite à Madagascar.


    Merci bien, wildan1.

    Hmmm. I had a look through the list I mentioned and all of the countries lacking an article, le, la or l', seemed to be islands, with the odd exception of Israel which appeared simply as Israël and not as l'Israël, as I might have imagined.

    However, many islands do not lack the article, opf course, amongst them l'Islande, l'Irlande, l'Angleterre (si l'on veux), la Grande Bretagne, l'Australie, &c. - even, I believe, la Corse, la Sardaigne ...


    Pour Taïwan, je pense qu'on peut aussi dire J'habite Taïwan


    Alors, peut être que le modèle -
    Je suis allé(e) à Taiwan / J'habite (à) Taiwan
    - s'applique à toutes ces îles qui manquent d'article. Par exemple -
    Je suis allé(e) à Madagscar / J'habite (à) Madagscar
    Je suis allé(e) à Chypre / J'habite (à) Chypre
    Je suis allé(e) à Malte / J'habite (à) Malte

    Quel casse-tête !


    Best wishes -

    Ian
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    We have assembled an extensive review of prepositions to be used with geographical places, and of websites discussing the topic, in the Pays/Countries thread on the Resources sub-forum.

    ;)
     

    borritoe

    New Member
    English
    What's the Difference in them?
    Quelle est la différence dans eux?

    Cette Rue est à Paris.
    Cette Ville est en Paris.
     

    swift

    Senior Member
    Spanish – Costa Rica (Valle Central)
    Bonsoir Borritoe,

    La différence c'est que contrairement à la première proposition, la deuxième est incorrecte. :)

    À plus ;),


    swift
     
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    gks

    Member
    Fr/En - Canada
    The rules governing which preposition to put before a place are to me the most complicated in the language.

    I'll just show you what's in the reference book I use:

    en +
    pays ou île dont the nom est féminin
    pays masculin dont le nom commence avec une voyelle
    états des É.-U. dont le nom est féminin (qui terminent en français par -e ou -ie)
    les provinces de la France

    au +
    pays dont le nom est masculin (excepté ceux qui ont une voyelle)
    (il y en a 10)

    aux + États-Unis

    dans +
    les départements de la France
    états des É-U dont le nom est masculin — sauf le Texas

    à +
    une ville qui ne porte pas d'article
    grandes îles dont le nom est masculin

    Hope this is helpful to someone — and that in the time that I've typed that out someone has had time to answer my question in the forum! ;)
     

    broglet

    Senior Member
    English - England
    To make things worse still, there are even exceptions to this rule. Some people say 'en Avignon' or 'en Arles' (apparently because they used to be separate states)
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    In addition to the threads listed by Pyan, we have a resources post on the topic of prepositions to use with geographical locations.

    To prevent duplication of discussions, I have closed this thread.

    Thanks! :)

    Jann
    Moderator
     
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