French Grammar: The Prepositions [DANS] vs. [EN]

French Grammar: The Prepositions [DANS] vs. [EN]

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French Grammar: The Prepositions [DANS] vs. [EN]
la grammaire française: les prépositions [dans] vs. [en]

Both DANS and EN can be translated as “in” in English and can both be used to indicate location or time. Here is a brief rundown on using them together!


Both DANS and EN can be translated as “in” in English and can both be used to indicate location or time. Here is a brief rundown on using them together!

The first thing that you should remember is that DANS and EN are NOT interchangeable. Both meaning and grammar determine when to use DANS vs. EN. Don’t get them confused! Here is a brief rundown of DANS vs. EN and their uses.

1. DANS is usually used to mean physically in or inside something (when followed by a definite article or an indefinite article + a noun):

Il y a des poissons dans le lac.
There are fish in the lake.

Oh non! J’ai laissé mes clés dans la voiture!
Oh no! I left my keys in the car!

Il a de l’argent dans sa poche.
He has money in his pocket.


Il prend l’argent dans sa poche.
He is taking the money out of his pocket. (The money is in his pocket as he takes hold of it.)

2. DANS also means “to” or “in” with some US states and Canadian provinces:

Mes cousins habitent dans le Nevada.
My cousins live in Nevada.

Buffalo est une ville dans l’état de New York.
Buffalo is a city in New York State.

Nous avons une maison de vacances dans l’Ontario, Canada.
We have a vacation home in Ontario, Canada.

3. DANS is also used with all compass points:

Ils habitent dans le nord.
They live in the north.

Vous préférez habiter dans l’est.
You all prefer to live in the east.

4. DANS is used to indicate the amount of time before which an action will occur.  (In this case, the verb used is usually in the present or future tense):

L’avion arrive dans une demi-heure.
The plane arrives in half an hour.

Nous le ferons dans quelques minutes.
We will do it in a few minutes.

5. DANS is used to indicate something that took/takes place during or within a specific decade:

La musique disco était populaire dans les années soixante-dix.
Disco music was popular in the seventies.

Mes parents sont nés dans les années cinquante.
My parents were born in the fifties.

1. EN is often used with more abstract (as opposed to physical) concepts.  This includes individual years, the months of the year, and the seasons (except for Spring):

Elle a reçu son permis de conduire en mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-douze.
She got her driver’s license in 1992.

Son anniversaire est en juillet.
His birthday is in July.

Il est né en été.
He was born in the Summer.


Je suis née au printemps.
I was born in the Spring.

2. EN means “to” or “in” when it immediately precedes a noun that doesn’t need an article:

Le voleur va en prison.
The thief is going to prison.

Les étudiants sont en classe maintenant.
The students are in class now.

3. EN can also mean “to” or “in” with certain US states, certain Canadian provinces, and all feminine countries and continents:

Je vais en Louisiane pour Mardi Gras.
I am going to Louisiana for Mardi Gras.

J’ai de la famille en Nouvelle-Écosse.
I have family in Nova Scotia.

Ma soeur fait des études en Suisse.
My sister is studying in Switzerland.

La Côte d’Ivoire se trouve en Afrique.
The Ivory Coast is located in Africa.

4. EN is used to indicate the amount of time an action takes:

Tu as terminé l’examen en une heure.
You (informal) finished the exam in an hour.

Je peux me préparer en dix minutes.
I can be ready in ten minutes.

5. EN is also used in a number of set phrases:

en effet : indeed

en face : opposite

en famille : as a family

en français : in French (and other languages)

en masse : as a group

en plastique : (made of) plastic (and other materials)

en pleine forme: in good shape

en route : on the way

en train de (+ infinitive) : in the process of (doing something)

en voiture : by car (and other modes of transportation)

6. EN is the only French preposition that can precede a present participle, meaning “on/upon/while/by doing”:

en faisant … : by doing …

en parlant … : while speaking …

7. EN is also used as an adverbial pronoun.  Visit the individual lesson on the Adverbial Pronoun [EN] here in LEAF!


Qu’est-ce qui est dans la boîte?
What’s in the box?

Il y a des livres dans la boîte.
There are books in the box.

Votre anniversaire est en août?
Is your (formal) birthday in August?

Non, mon anniversaire est en janvier.
No, my birthday is in January.

Ah! Vous êtes né en hiver!
Oh! You (formal) were born in the Winter!

Oui, et je suis né en mille neuf cent trente.
Yes, and I was born in 1930.

Je commencerai mes devoirs dans quinze minutes.
I will begin my homework in fifteen minutes.

Vas-y! Tu dois les finir en une heure!
Get going! You (informal) have to finish it in one hour!

Elles passent leurs vacances en Californie?
Are they (feminine) spending their vacation in California?

Non, elles passent leurs vacances en Australie.
No, they (feminine) are spending their vacation in Australia.