French Language Blog

Drill This Dans Vos Têtes! Confusing Pairs: Dans vs. En Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 in Grammar

Last week, I discussed the confusing pair of c’est and il est; both mean the same thing in English, but their usage in French depends on what words you have around them. Today we’re going to look at another noninterchangeable pair that’s confusing for English speakers – and trust me, I would know. I confused these two for a long time. In reality, though, the differences are quite easy once you learn them!

Our little English word “in” can have so many French translations depending on the context (dans, en, à, dedans, à l’intérieur, dans le vent, à la mode, , bon and many more, I’m sure…), but today we’re going to focus on only two: dans and en.

Dans and en are the most common ways in French to say “in,” and both can express time and location. Below we’ll look at each preposition separately.



1) When used to express time, dans is used to show the amount before an action will occur.
Little hint: dans is often used in the present or future tenses!

     Je vais en Espagne dans 5 semaines.
     I’m going to Spain in 5 weeks.
     At the end of the 5 weeks, I will be going to Spain


2) When used to express a location before an article and a noun.

     Marie a trouvé la bague de sa grand-mère dans le tiroir.
     Marie found her grandmother’s ring in the drawer.


3) When used to express something happening during a decade.

     Le jazz était populaire dans les années vingts.
     Jazz was popular in the 1920s.



1) When used to express time, en is used to show the amount of time an action takes.
Little hint: en is often used in the present or past tenses!

     Marc a appris à cuisiner en un an.
     Marc learned to cook in 1 year.
     At the end of the 1 year, Marc had learned to cook.


2) When used to express a “in” or “to” before a noun that doesn’t need an article.

     Sandrine est en prison.
     Sandrine is in prison.


3) When used to say which month, year, or season you’re in. An exception to this is with spring – here, you say “au printemps

     Je suis né en septembre.
     I was born in September.


4) When using a gerund (quoi?? a word derived from a verb but used as a noun. Swimming, for example – Swimming is my favorite summer activity), en is almost always attached.

En attendant, j’ai lu 15 pages.
While waiting, I read 15 pages.


Another difference between the 2 is their usage to say which state/province you’re in or going to. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and you can read that post here!

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!


  1. Randi Lynn Mrvos:

    The French Blog is helpful and entertaining. Merci beaucoup!

  2. Christophe:

    Even as a French native speaker, I like to read your grammar rules reminders. I had them all forgotten. It helps to write flawlessly when the rules are known. Thank you!

  3. Jonathan:

    “Marc a appris à cuisiné en un an.”
    Marc a appris à *cuisiner* en un an.