The preposition ‘à

À can mean ‘to’, ‘at’ or ‘in’ a place, town or country. For example:

Je suis à la banque.” – “I am at the bank.”

Nous allons à la piscine.” – “We’re going to the swimming pool.”

Ils sont à Bordeaux.” – “They are in Bordeaux.”

For masculine singular nouns, ‘à’ combines with ‘le’ to form ‘au’, for example:

Je vais au supermarché.” – “I’m going to the supermarket.”

Vous êtes au bureau?” – “Are you at the office?”

Elle est au Canada.” – “She’s in Canada.”

For plural nouns, masculine or feminine, ‘à’ combines with ‘les’ to make ‘au’, for example:

Vous allez aux jeux Olympiques?” – “Are you going to the Olympic Games?”

Tournez à gauche aux feux.” – “Turn left at the traffic lights.”

If a singular noun, either masculine or feminine, begins with a vowel or silent ‘h’, use ‘à‘ followed by ‘l” to mean to ‘the’, ‘at the’ or ‘in the’ (place), for example:

Il va à l’hôpital.” – “He’s going to the hospital.”

Je suis à l’épicerie.” – “I am at the grocery.”

Vous êtes à l’hôtel en ville?” – “Are you at the hotel in town?”

When talking about food with a certain flavour or made with a particular fruit, use ‘à la’, ‘au’ or ‘aux’, for example:

un gâteau au chocolat – a chocolate cake

une tarte aux pommes – an apple tart

une glace à la vanille – a vanilla icecream

BUT: un jus d’orange – an orange juice

Note also the following expressions:

une dame aux cheveux longs – a lady with long hair

un oiseau aux pieds roses – a bird with pink feet

To say that you play a certain sport, say ‘jouer à‘ (jouer means ‘to play’). For example:

Nous jouons au tennis ce soir. – We’re playing tennis this evening.

Here are some sentences showing how other words (mostly verbs) must be followed by ‘à’:

Tournez à gauche après les feux. – Turn left after the traffic lights.

Pensez à quelque chose de sérieux. – Think about something serious.

Nous devons l’aider à démenager. – We ought to help him move house.

Je veux apprendre à conduire. – I want to learn to drive.

Il n’arrive pas à économiser. – He can’t manage to save any money.

Elles s’attendent à voyager. – They are expecting to travel.

Tu as beaucoup à faire aujourd’hui? – Have you got a lot to do today?

C’est bon à savoir. – That’s good to know.

Vous devez commencer à étudier. – You should start studying.

Il faut continuer à travailler. – We must continue working.

Elle s’est décidé à vendre la maison. – She has decided to sell the house.

Les devoirs sont difficiles à faire. – The homework is difficult to do.

Le problème est facile à résoudre. – The problem is easy to resolve.

On nous a invité à déjeuner. – They have invited us to lunch.

Tu vas te mettre à pleurer? – Are you going to start crying?

Nous passons le temps à nous promener. – We spend the time going for walks.

Vous avez quelquechose à dire? – Have you anything to say?

Aujourd’hui je n’a rien à faire. – Today I have nothing to do.

Il a réussi à comprendre. – He managed to understand (succeeded in understanding).

On peut demander à quelqu’un. – We can ask someone.

With thanks to Elizabeth Allen

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