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La Grande Île, parfois appelée « l’île Rouge » en référence à la latérite qui colore ses plateaux, s’étire sur 1 580 km du nord au sud et 500 km d'est en ouest avec un maximum à 575 km.

I'm noting the difference there between “du nord au sud” and “d'est en ouest”. Why isn't it “d'est à l'ouest”?

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It's the same with est actually: “d'ouest en est”. How bizarre. – Evpok Jul 26 '12 at 16:17
up vote 12 down vote accepted

« D'est en ouest » is an idiom, but directions use an article (le / l') in all other contexts. Therefore, de nord en sud is totally unheard, as would any other mixed things like d'est à l'ouest.

To make it clearer, here's an equivalent for north–south :

from north to south >>> du nord au sud (only possibility)

and east–west :

from east to west >>> d'est en ouest (first possibility, using the idiom)

from east to west >>> de l'est à l'ouest (second possibility, *regular* way, though rarer)

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But they translate as "from north to south" and "from east to west," correct? – Aerovistae Jul 26 '12 at 16:20
Yes. Regular in english but irregular in french because of the idiom. But it could very well be de l'est à l'ouest, which remains a valid possibility. – Romain VALERI Jul 26 '12 at 16:22
Unusual, yes, or let's say less used, but it wouldn't sound odd to anyone, I guess... – Romain VALERI Jul 26 '12 at 16:30
De bas en haut. Du sud-est au nord-ouest. De gauche à droite. Du centre à la périphérie. De l'intérieur vers l'extérieur. D'avant en arrière. De la tête à la queue. D'amont en aval. Il y a une règle ? – Gilles Jul 26 '12 at 22:48
@Gilles: en always precedes a vowel sound. – Stéphane Gimenez Jul 18 at 12:31

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