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Prepositions of Place

In our last lesson on the difference between the verbs habiter and vivre, we mentioned that habiteris often followed by a preposition such as à or dans, but it doesn't always require one. So if you live in Paris, you could either say j'habite à Paris (I live in Paris) or simply j'habite Paris (I live in Paris)But in this lesson, we'll focus on instances in which the choice of preposition is very important. Take a look at this example: 



Je suis né à Paris en France

I was born in Paris, in France,

et  j'ai commencé a  faire du piano vers l'âge de huit ans.

and I started to play the piano at around eight years of age.

Caption 3, Alex Terrier - Le musicien et son jazz

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You'll notice that Alex uses two different prepositions here  and en) that both translate as "in." So why does he say à Paris but en France? It all has to do with the types of places he's describing. When you're talking about being in a city, you use à:


Je suis né à Paris mais j'habite à Lyon. 
I was born in Paris but I live in Lyon. 


When you're talking about being in a feminine country (usually ending in e, such as la France), you use en (je suis né en France). But when you're talking about being in a masculine country, you use auunless the name of the country begins with a vowel, in which case you use en:


Ma famille habite au Botswana et en Angola.
My family lives in Botswana and in Angola


And for a plural country of either gender, you use aux:


Donc, treize, quatorze jours de vacances aux États-Unis.

So, thirteen, fourteen days of vacation in the United States.

Caption 5, Interviews à Central Park - Différences culturelles

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These prepositions are translated as "in" in the above examples, but they can all mean "to" as well:


Aujourd'hui nous sommes à Londres et demain nous irons à Dublin
We're in London today and we're going to Dublin tomorrow. 


When you're talking about coming from a place, the rules are a bit more straightforward. For cities, feminine countries, and masculine countries beginning with a vowel, you use de/d'. For masculine countries beginning with a consonant, you use du. And for plural countries, you use des: 


Je viens (I come)...        de New York (from New York). 
                                         d'Athènes (from Athens). 
                                         de Chine (from China). 
                                         d'Iran (from Iran). 
                                        du Canada (from Canada). 
                                        des Pays-Bas (from the Netherlands).


Knowing these prepositions will make it easier to describe where you're from, where you are, and where you're going in French!  


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