Mastering ‘à’ and ‘de’ with Infinitives in French

Mastering ‘à’ and ‘de’ with Infinitives in French

Deciding when to use ‘à’ or ‘de’ with infinitives in French can be tricky for learners, but these short prepositions play an important role. Used improperly, they can change the entire meaning of a sentence. This comprehensive guide will explain when and how to correctly use ‘à’ and ‘de’ with infinitives in French.


In the French language, infinitives are verb forms that function as nouns. Some examples of infinitives are ‘parler’ (to speak), ‘finir’ (to finish), and ‘venir’ (to come). Infinitives will often follow other verbs to indicate actions. For example, “Elle apprend à nager” (She is learning to swim).

French Udemy

The prepositions ‘à’ and ‘de’ are used with infinitives to express “to” or “from/stop” doing something. The choice between ‘à’ and ‘de’ changes the meaning and direction of the sentence. Mastering when to use each is an important milestone in French grammar.

When to use ‘à’

The preposition ‘à’ translates to ‘to’ in English and is used to indicate movement toward an action. Here are some key uses of ‘à’ with infinitives:

After verbs that express wanting, deciding, or needing to do something:

  • Je veux à manger. (I want to eat.)
  • J’ai décidé à partir. (I decided to leave.)

After verbs that express learning or starting something new:

  • Elle apprend à conduire. (She is learning to drive.)
  • Je commence à comprendre. (I’m starting to understand.)

To express ‘in order to’ after certain verbs:

  • Parle lentement à me comprendre. (Speak slowly in order for me to understand.)

When to use ‘de’

The preposition ‘de’ translates to ‘from’ or ‘to stop’ when used before an infinitive. Here are some main uses of ‘de’ with infinitives:

To express an action that has just finished:

  • Je viens de manger. (I just ate.)
  • Elle vient de partir. (She just left.)

To express being afraid or avoiding something:

  • J’ai peur de tomber. (I’m afraid to fall.)
  • J’évite de le voir. (I avoid seeing him.)

To express stopping an action or abstaining from doing something:

  • Arrête de fumer! (Stop smoking!)
  • Je me retiens de rire. (I refrain from laughing.)

Using ‘de’ with ‘avant’ and ‘après’

The preposition ‘de’ can be used after ‘avant’ and ‘après’ to express an action or state that precedes or follows another action.


  • Avant de manger, je me lave les mains. (Before eating, I wash my hands.)
  • Après d’avoir fait mes devoirs, je peux relaxer. (After doing my homework, I can relax.)

In these sentences, ‘de’ is used with the infinitive verbs ‘manger’ (to eat) and ‘avoir fait’ (to have done).

‘Avant de’ means ‘before doing something.’
‘Après de’ means ‘after doing something.’

So ‘de’ is used after these expressions when you want to indicate something happening before or after another action. The ‘de’ preposition connects the temporal expression (‘avant’ or ‘après’) with the following infinitive verb.

Wrapping things up

Learning to properly use ‘à’ and ‘de’ with infinitives will prevent many common mistakes in French grammar. The key difference is that ‘à’ initiates an action while ‘de’ stops or moves away from an action.

Pay attention to the context of the sentence to determine if it expresses starting or stopping. With time, choosing ‘à’ or ‘de’ will become second nature. Mastering these subtle prepositions will greatly improve fluency in the French language.