Describing Things With “À” in Idiomatic French”

Near the very top of the list of the most common words in spoken idiomatic French are the two key prepositions à and de. They are common because they have many very different uses.  Today I want to show how  à is used when describing things.

Look at the following examples:

C’est un emploi à temps partiel. (It is a part-time job.)
Je cherche un emploi à temps plein. (I’m looking for a full-time job)
Est-ce que c’est un enfant à problèmes ? (Is he a difficult child?)
Le pain est cuit dans un four à bois. (The bread is cooked in a wood-burning oven.)

We notice that French uses à with the characteristic feature after the main noun whereas English usually puts that same feature in front of the noun. Here are some more examples:

Une carte à puce (A smart card.)
Une maison à bon marché (An inexpensive house.)
Une voiture à prix d’ami (A car at an insider price.)
Une intervention à cœur ouvert (An open-heart operation.)
Des infection urinaires à répétition (Repeated urinary tract infections.)
Une garantie à vie (A life-time guarantee.)
La prison à vie (Life imprisonment.)
Ëtre condamné à mort (To be sentenced to death.)
Il s’est mis à genoux. (He went down on his knees.)
C’est un homme à femmes notoire. (He is a well-known womanizer.)

Here are some rather sophisticated uses:

Tous les lundis, les moules à volonté. (Mondays, all-you-can-eat mussels.)
Il était beau à souhait ! (He was handsome as you could ever want.)
Elle est riche; elle a tout à souhait. (She is rich; she gets anything she wants.)

As you can see, this à + noun construction is rich in possibilities. In another post, I will look at other uses of the exact same construction.

This way of describing things it is very characteristic of the way idiomatic French works. If you want to take your French up a notch, pay particular attention to à.

Related Posts

1. Speaking French Fluently – Saying Goodbye In French With The Preposition À

2. How To Use The French Preposition À “for”

Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician and language coach in French, English and Spanish. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Language Wall Chart Calendar that is based on his own learning experience. Reach him at

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