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Where and When – useful expressions in French Posted by on Jun 20, 2018 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Relativity isn’t just a concept in physics. Knowing the relative order of events in time, or the relative location of objects in space, is as useful here on la Terre (Earth) as it is in l’éspace (space). Fortunately French has some handy vocabulary that we can use to differentiate both.

A photo of the Eiffel Tower taken from across the river at Trocadero.

Ça se passe où? / Where’s it happening?

When you are trying to explain to someone where something is, it can often be useful to define location in relation to another object. For example, La Tour Eiffel est en face du Trocadero. (The Eiffel Tower is across from Trocadero.) Here are five other useful terms / expressions you can use in French to describe relative positions (and example sentences for each):

Français English Français English
in front (of) Je te retrouverai devant le magasin.
I’ll meet you in front of the store.
behind / to the back of  Cache toi derrière le canapé!
 Hide behind the couch!
à l’avant
to the front (or towards the front)  Je préfère être  à l’avant quand je vol en avion.
 I like to sit towards the front when I fly.
à l’arrière
to the back (or towards the back; at the back) Les livraisons se font à l’arrière de la boutique.
Deliveries are made at the back of the shop.
à côté de
next to Nous habitons à côté de l’école.
We live next to the school.
à la gauche de*
to the left of  L’école est au but de la rue à la gauche de l’église.
 The school is at the end of the street to the left of the church.
à la droite de*
to the right   Il y a un petit parc sympathique à la droite de notre maison.
 There is a nice little park to the right of our house.

* You will also encounter à gauche de and à droite de which more generally mean on the left and on the right as in à la droite de l’écran (on the right (side) of the screen).

Ça se passe quand?  / When is it happening?

Similarly, describing when something happened can often be enhanced by adding information about when an event happens in relation to another event. And while the days of the week are useful for talking about specific times, relative expressions like demain, hier, and aujourd’hui can be helpful too for providing relative references in time.

Français English Français English
before Il faut toujours se brosser les dents avant d’aller au lit.
One must always brush one’s teeth before bed.
after En France, la salade est servie après le plat principal.
In France, the salad is served after the main course.
premier / première
first Janvier est le premier mois de l’année.
January is the first month of the year.
dernier / dernière
last Dimanche est le dernier jour de la semaine.**
Sunday is the last day of the week.**
today Je dois aller voir mon médecin aujourd’hui.
I must go see my doctor today. (Or: I have to go see my doctor today.)
tomorrow Nous allons manger chez mes parents demain.
We’re going to eat at my parents tomorrow.
yesterday J’ai vu mon ami Paul au parc hier. 
I saw my friend Paul in the park yesterday.

** In France (and just about every country except the US, Canada, and Japan!) the week begins with lundi (Monday) and ends on dimanche (Sunday). In the US, Canada, and Japan the week begins with dimanche and ends with samedi (Saturday).

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Photo of the Eiffel Tower [CC0 license] from

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris


  1. Margaret:

    I couldn’t hear the files!

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Margaret Margaret, I’m sorry you were unable to hear the audio! I’ve tried them on a couple of different browsers and devices and they seem to work. If you have access to another browser, you might try that.