French Prepositions of Place – Countries, Cities, Regions

Why do you say “Je vais en France” but “Je vais au Japon”? Like any inanimate object, continents, countries, and regions also have genders in French. The ending will usually tell you which is feminine or masculine and help you choose the correct French preposition of place.

1 – Recap of the French Prepositions of Place Rules

Since this is quite a long article, I’ll start with a short recap of the French prepositions of place rules.

Here are the general rules to say your are in a place, or going to a place in French.

  1. Places ending in “E” = feminine = use “en”
    Je suis en France.
  2. Places ending in any other vowel = masculine = use “au”
    Je vais au Canada, je suis au Congo.
  3. Places ending in a consonant = masculine = use “au”
    Je vais au Japon.
  4. Places ending in “S” are usually masculine, but not always. Use “aux”
    Je vais aux États-Unis.
  5. Use “en” + places starting with a vowel or a mute h (no matter whether they are feminine or masculine)
    Je vais en Iran, je vais en Éthiopie.
  6. Use à + cities.
    Je suis à Paris.

Keep in mind there are many exceptions, and very often, the preposition of place you’ll use in France with a particular region is a matter of habits, so has to be learned by heart.
Au Texas, dans le Maryland, en Bourgogne, dans la Creuse….

2 – General Rule About French Prepositions of Place

A – Region ends in “e” = feminine

When the name of a region ends in an”e”, it’s usually feminine.
La France, l’Angleterre, la Suisse, la Chine, l’Inde, la Californie, l’Asie

  • To say you’re going to this place, use “en”:
    Je vais… en France, en Italie, en Afrique, en Floride…
  • To say you’re in this place, use “en”:
    Je suis…  en France, en Italie, en Afrique, en Floride…
  • To say you’re coming from this place, use”de”:
    Je viens de France, d’Italie, d’Afrique, de Floride…

There are many exceptions though, such as le Mexique, le Maine, le Zimbabwe, le Cambodge…

B – Region ends in other vowel or consonant = masculine

When the name of a region ends in any other vowel but “e”, or a consonant, it’s usually masculine:
Le Canada, le Japon, le Portugal, le Burundi, le Luxembourg, le Texas

  • To say you’re going to this place, use “au”:
    Je vais… au Niger, au Brésil, au Maroc, au Congo
  • To say you’re in this place, use “au”:
    Je suis…  au Niger, au Brésil, au Maroc, au Congo
  • To say you’re coming from this place, use “du”:
    Je viens… du Niger, du Brésil, du Maroc, du Congo

When a masculine country starts with a vowel or an H, use the rules of the feminine countries:
L’Iran, l’Ouganda, Oman, Angola, Israël….
Je vais en Iran, je viens d’Angola, je suis en Israël

For more info on country gender, please see this official list
http://publications.europa.eu/code/fr/fr-5000500.htm

Nationalities and prepositions of place in French are explained in depth + exercises + story to illustrate the point of grammar + audio in my downloadable audiobook “À Moi Paris Level 1”, Chapter 11.

3 – Particular Cases About French Prepositions of Place

Unfortunately, there are too many exceptions to be listed… So be ready to face many particular cases.

Here are some pointers:

A – Region ends in a “s” = often plural

A few names of regions are plural.
Most plural regions end in an S (Les États-Unis, les Maldives, les Pays-Bas, les Philippines…), but not all regions ending in an S are plural (le Laos, l’Arkansas, le Texas are some of the many exemples).

  • To say you’re going to this place, use “aux”:
    Je vais… aux États-Unis, aux Maldives
  • To say you’re in this place, use “aux”:
    Je suis…   aux États-Unis, aux Maldives
  • To say you’re coming from this place, use “des”
    Je viens… des États-Unis, des Maldives

Note the pronunciation of “les États-Unis” – there are 2 strong liaisons in Z, whether it’s introduced by “les, aux or des” = Zéta Zuni

B – French prepositions for cities

Cities are usually not introduced by any article, and it’s unclear whether they are feminine or masculine. According to l’Accadémie Française, both genders are possible for cities. So you could say Paris est beau. I prefer saying Paris est belle because Paris refers to la ville de Paris.

But I digress. Let’s go back to what preposition of place you should use with cities.

  • For most cities, to say you’re going to this city, use “à”:
    Je vais… à Paris, à Tokyo, à New-York
  • To say you’re in this city, use “à”:
    Je suis… à Paris, à Tokyo, à New-York
  • To say you’re coming from this city, use “de”:
    Je viens… de Paris, de Tokyo, de New-York

But some cities include an article in their name – Le Havre, Le Caire, La Paz, Les Andelys… The article being part of the proper name, it’s written with an upper-case.

For these names, usually, the definite article contracts with the “à and de”, becoming “au and du” etc…
J’aime Le Havre.
Je parle du Havre.
Je vais au Havre.

C – French prepositions for islands

Islands are a messy business in French…

  1. Many don’t have any article, and will be introduced by à or de:
    Je vais à Cuba, à Haïti, à Madagascar
  2. But some islands are masculine:
    Je vais au Japon
  3. And some islands are feminine:
    Je vais en Corse
  4. And other islands are plural:
    Je vais aux Maldives

So the preposition we use to talk about islands in French is more a case by case scenario.

D – Prepositions used with regions and states

Regions and states usually follow the general gender rule: ending in “e” = feminine, other letter = masculine.
La Provence, le Sussex, l’Orégon

For prepositions used with regions and states, it’s very difficult to say there is a rule per se. We tend not to use à, but rather en, au, aux or dans le, dans la, dans les…
It’s really a matter of custom, the way people have been saying it for generations… not grammar.
Au Texas, dans le Maine, en Bourgogne, en Provence, dans la Creuse….

So in many cases, you’re just going to have to learn by heart the way to say being “in” + a region or a state in French.

french names of US states

4 – List of US States With the Appropriate French Preposition of Place

Note that for the US, the states are usually masculine in French.
Le Maryland, le Texas…

Here is the list of US states which are feminine in French (because they end with an “e”):
La Floride, la Californie, la Caroline du Sud, la Caroline du Nord, la Louisiane, la Georgie, la Virginie-Occidentale (West Virginia), la Virginie (Virginia), la Pennsylvanie.
But watch out for the exception: le Maine.

Note that “l’Arkansas” and “le Texas” are masculine singular, although they end with an “s” (which is pronounced for both states).

Here is a list of US states with the appropriate preposition to say you are “in” or going “to” these states:

  1. en Alabama
  2. en Alaska
  3. en Arizona
  4. en Arkansas
  5. en Californie
  6. en Caroline du Nord
  7. en Caroline du Sud
  8. dans le Colorado / au Colorado
  9. dans le Connecticut / au Connecticut
  10. dans le Dakota du Nord
  11. dans le Dakota du Sud
  12. dans le Delaware / au Delaware
  13. en Floride
  14. en Géorgie
  15. à Hawaï
  16. en Idaho
  17. en Illinois
  18. en Indiana
  19. en Iowa
  20. dans le Kansas / au Kansas
  21. dans le Kentucky / au Kentucky
  22. en Louisiane
  23. dans le Maine
  24. dans le Maryland / au Maryland
  25. dans le Massachusetts / au Massachusetts
  26. dans le Michigan / au Michigan
  27. dans le Minnesota / au Minnesota
  28. dans le Mississippi / au Mississippi
  29. dans le Missouri / au Missouri
  30. dans le Montana / au Montana
  31. dans le Nebraska / au Nebraska
  32. dans le Nevada / au Nevada
  33. dans le New Hampshire / au New Hampshire
  34. dans le New Jersey / au New Jersey
  35. dans l’État de New York
  36. au Nouveau-Mexique
  37. en Ohio
  38. en Oklahoma
  39. en Orégon
  40. en Pennsylvanie
  41. dans le Rhode Island
  42. dans le Tennessee / au Tennessee
  43. au Texas
  44. en Utah
  45. dans le Vermont / au Vermont
  46. en Virginie
  47. en Virginie-Occidentale
  48. dans l’État de Washington
  49. dans le Wisconsin / au Wisconsin
  50. dans le Wyoming / au Wyoming

4 – How to Memorize Your Prepositions of Place in French

In my opinion, the best way to learn the French prepositions of place is to learn them in context. Pick the places that are relevant to you: for example, the country, region and town you are from and the places you often travel to, and start by training with these. Write down whole sentences which are relevant to you.

Je suis née à Paris, en France. Maintenant, j’habite en France, à Paimpol, en Bretagne, plus exacement dans les Côtes-d’Armor. Mais j’ai habité aux États-Unis pendant seize ans, à Boston, dans le Massachusetts. 

To learn all sorts of French prepositions in context, I suggest you take a look at my level-adapted French audio novels, featuring truly useful and realistic situations, fun story and characters, and entirely recorded using modern French pronunciation.

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Since we are on the subject of French prepositions, you may also enjoy my articles on:

  1. French Verbs Followed by the preposition à + verb / noun
  2. French Verbs Followed by the preposition de + verb / noun
  3. French Verbs Followed by no preposition + verb