In French, both à and en are used to express to or in.
In fact, both title sentences are correct. But if you’ve ever been confused about which preposition to use when talking about travel or location, that’s because it is confusing! Not terribly. But a little. And, of course, as always in French, part of the confusion is related to gender.
What's The Difference?
Consider these two correct sentences: Je vis à Paris. Je vis en France. In French, when we try to say, “I live in Paris” and “I live in France”, you can see that we must use two different prepositions for "in". Why? Look at these next two sentences for a clue.
Je vis à Montréal. J’e vis au Canada. Hmmm. Why do we say …en France, but …au Canada? The secret lies in these three rules below!
First Rule- when talking about cities we always use à as the translation for both to and in. Easy!
J’habite à Chicago. I live in Chicago.
Je vais aller à Montréal. I’m going to go to Montreal.
Ma soeur travaille à Los Angeles. My sister works in Los Angeles.
Il est allé à l’université à Houston. He went to college in Houston.
Second Rule- When talking about countries, we still use à, but only for masculine countries.
J’habite au Canada, à Montréal. I live in Canada, in Montreal. (Le Canada- masculine)
Elle va au Portugal ce weekend. She’s going to Portugal this weekend. (Le Portugal- masculine)
L’Université de Yale est située à New Haven, aux États-Unis. Yale University is located in New Haven, in the United States. (Les États-Unis- masculine)
Ma fiancé vit au Danemark. My fiancé lives in Denmark. (Le Danemark- masculine)
Important Note* By now you have noticed that countries have a gender and therefore take an article―le or la―but cities don’t (good for you!)
Bottom line? Use one of the forms of ...à in all circumstances except with feminine countries and continents, then use ...en.
Third Rule- When talking about feminine countries we always use ...en. Happily, all continents are feminine too, so we just treat continents like feminine countries.
J’habite à Paris en France. I live in Paris in France. (La France- feminine)
Je vais en Angleterre. I am going to England. (L’Angleterre- feminine)
Mon fils a étudié en Amérique. My son in America. (L’Amérique- feminine)
On va voyage en Europe cet été. We are going to travel to Europe this summer. (L’Europe- feminine)
Il va travailler en Afrique. He’s going to work in Africa. (L’Afrique- feminine)
Notice that we do not use an article when using ...en with feminine countries or continents.
Bottom line? Use one of the forms of ...à in all circumstances except with feminine countries and continents! Then use ...en.
How do I know which countries are masculine and which are feminine?
As a general rule, all countries ending in …e are feminine, as are all countries starting with a vowel. All other countries are masculine. (Don't forget, all continents are feminine too.)
Some Feminine Countries And Continents
L’Amérique du Nord
Some Masculine Countries
Yes! Of course there are exceptions. This is French!
As an exception to the rule, these six countries ending in …e are masculine. Sorry!
Le Belize, le Cambodge, le Mexique, le Mozambique, le Suriname, le Zimbabe.
Oh... wait a minute... Should we also tell you that some countries are so small and compact that we actually consider them as cities?
J’habite à Singapour, ma mère est à Cuba, et mon frère vit à Madagascar.
Yes. French is truly maddening.
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