The French preposition de

The French preposition de is in many ways a special preposition. It can have a variety of meanings, as well as various "functional" uses (where it serves a grammatical purpose but doesn't have much meaning as such). Unlike practically all prepositions in the language, it also combines with le and les to produce some special alternative forms.

Meanings and uses of de

The preposition de has a variety of meanings, including most commonly the following:

  • from, especially when used with a verb of motion: il vient de Paris = he comes from Paris;
  • of with so-called "picture" constructions: une image de Paris = a picture of Paris; un enregistrement de l'orchestre = a recording of the band;
  • the equivalent of of when denoting a component or quantity of something, or in forming a compound: le pied de la table = the leg of the table, the table leg;
  • the equivalent of possessive 's: le livre de Jean = Jean's book;
  • the equivalent of of, from when describing the cause of something, e.g. mourir de/d'un cancer = to die of cancer;
  • the equivalent of of when indicating the material that something is made out of;
  • in many cases to introduce the "object" of an adjective, where English often uses with: content de lui = happy with him; couvert de neige = covered with/in snow;

de meaning from

One of the most common uses of the preposition de is to mean from when describing the place that something or somebody is moving or comes from or when marking the start of a period of time or start of a range of numbers (note that with numbers in English it's more common to use between...and... than, but the meaning is essentially the same): For example:

Il vient de Paris
He comes from Paris (="he was born there" etc)
He's coming from Paris (="he's travelling from there now")
Le magasin est fermé du lundi au mercredi
The shop is closed from Monday to Wednesday
Il y a de 5 à 10 personnes
There are from 5 to 10 people, there are between 5 and 10 people
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French doesn't tend to use de— but English uses from— in the following cases:

  • to denote the origin of a choice or action of taking, in which case the preposition chosen is usually the same one that would be chosen if you were simply describing the place that the source was in: for example I took it from my pocket would usually be je l'ai pris dans ma poche; I drank from the bottle would usually be j'ai bu à/dans la bouteille;
  • when only the starting point of a range of prices/dates is mentioned, in which case depuis or à partir de tend to be used instead ("clothes from 10 Euros" = vêtements à partir de 10 euros);
  • in a few cases of ambiguity between "from" (origin) and "of" (belonging), in which case other prepositions or expressions such as depuis, en provenance de would tend to be used (see below).

On the next page, we look at de as the equivalent of of.

 French grammar index
 French-English dictionary
 English-French dictionary

This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.