À vs de with Verbs

À vs de
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French prepositions

The prepositions à and de are found in many verbal constructions that look very similar, but the choice of preposition makes all the difference.

À and de with verbs

The prepositions à and de can be particularly challenging when it comes to using them with verbs.

1) à ≠ de

These eight verbs have different meanings depending on which preposition follows.

décider qqun à to persuade, convince   décider de to decide (to do)
demander à qqun to ask (for permission)   demander de to ask (to do)
jouer à to play a game or sport   jouer de to play an instrument
manquer à qqun to miss (someone)   manquer de to neglect (to do)
parler à qqun to talk to   parler de to talk about
penser à to think about (imagine)   penser de to think about (opinion)
profiter à to benefit   profiter de to make the most of
venir à to happen to   venir de to have just (done)

Par exemple…

J’ai décidé de voyager.   I decided to travel.
J’ai décidé ma sœur à me rejoindre.   I convinced my sister to join me.

2) à + de

Nine verbs can use à and de together in the following construction:

verb + à + quelqu’un + de + infinitive

For eight of these verbs, à indicates who is to do something, while de precedes whatever that something is.

      à qqun de faire
commander   to order someone to do something
conseiller   to advise "      "
défendre   to forbid "   "
demander   to ask "   "
dire   to tell "   "
interdire   to forbid "   "
ordonner   to order "   "
permettre   to allow "   "

So for the above verbs, the "someone" after à (or replaced by an indirect object pronoun) is the person who is supposed to perform the action after de.

Il a conseillé à Ana de partir immédiatement.   He advised Ana to leave immediately.
Je te dis de manger les épinards.   I’m telling you to eat the spinach.

The ninth verb, promettre, is a little different: the person doing the action after de is the same as the subject. À precedes the person who is promised that action.

Elle a promis à Paul de dire la vérité.   She promised Paul that she’d tell the truth.
Je te promets de finir mes devoirs.   I promise you I’ll finish my homework.

3) à = de

After these three verbs, either preposition can be used with no real difference in meaning.

commencer à
commencer de
  to start (doing)
continuer à
continuer de
  to continue (doing)
rêver à
rêver de
  to dream of, about

À and de in phrases

A few phrases look similar but have different meanings depending on the preposition.

à côté nearby, next to   de côté sideways
à côté de next to, beside   du côté de from (direction)
à la hauteur at the level   [un mètre] de hauteur [one metre] tall

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French prepositions
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