French Tips: The Problem of Verbs and their Prepositions (Part I)


Looking for some tips on improving your French? Our e-Tutor Sev is here to help you with the tricky problem of verbs and their prepositions.

A recurrent, thorny problem among French learners is remembering that a number of verbs come with a preposition, especially à and de. A few (common) verbs can come without, or with one or the other, which can affect the meaning of that verb.

These prepositions can be followed by either a noun or a verb in the infinitive.

So, when learning a verb, it is critical to note down and remember the preposition(s) it might come with. Indeed, knowing this will allow you to use the proper grammatical constructions.

For example, in the case of pronouns associated with such verbs.

parler à qqn (quelqu’un): to speak/talk to someone
parler de qqn: to speak of someone
parler de + verbe qq chose: to talk about + verb something

And if you need to use a pronoun, each situation will use a different pronoun:

a) Je parle à mon ami. (I’m talking to my friend) . -> Je lui parle. (I’m talking to him)
b) Je parle du (de + le) film. (I’m talking about the movie) -> J’en parle. (I’m talking about it)

And you can have both in the same phrase: Je parle du film à mon ami. -> Je lui en parle.

Here are other common verbs:

1) Jouer

jouer à qq chose: to play (a game)
Ex: Je joue aux (à + les) jeux vidéos. (I’m playing video games)

jouer de qq chose: to play (an instrument)
Ex: Je joue du (de + le) piano. (I’m playing the piano)

2) Manquer

manquer qq chose: to miss someone/something (not: missing something)
Ex: J’ai manqué le train. (I missed the train)

manquer à qq un: to miss someone/something
Ex: La mer me manque. (I miss the sea)
Ex: La mer manque à Jean. (Jean misses the sea)

manquer de + noun (to lack)
Ex: Ça manque de sel. (It’s lacking salt)

Note: there is also: ne pas manquer de + verb (to not fail to). It is normally found only in the negative form, though it’s not impossible you might here it in the positive, unformally…
Ex: Ne manque pas de faire tes devoirs. (Don’t fail to do your homework)

3) Servir

servir qqn/qq chose: to serve someone/something
Ex: Elle sert le repas. (She’s serving the meal)

servir à qqn/qq chose: to be used/useful for/to someone/something
Ex: Ça sert à quoi ? (lit. It’s used for what)

servir de qq chose: to be used as
Ex: Cette voiture sert de moyen de transport. (This car is used as a means of transportation)

We’ll look more at this issue next week. Want to learn more French? Start here.