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What’s the correct preposition to use for saying “falling down the stairs” in French? Most of the time I see it written as “tomber dans l’escalier”. It feels a bit weird, though, since I’m rather inclined to translate “dans” as “in”.

Is “tomber dans l’escalier” a fixed expression? Any idea why “dans” is used here, or where it originally came from? Are other prepositions possible, e.g. “tomber de l’escalier” or “tomber sur l’escalier”?

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up vote 23 down vote accepted

There are three things with different meanings here

  • Tomber de l'escalier → Falling from the stairs
  • Tomber sur l'escalier → Falling on the stairs
  • Tomber dans l'escalier

The first two are the same in English and in French. Now for the third one: when one walks up or down the stairs, one is in the stairs, as one would be in a field or in a house. So when one falls while being in the stairs, it makes sense to say that one fell in the stairs — tombe dans l'escalier.

In a way, tomber dans l'escalier is tomber de l'escalier dans l'escalier, falling in the stairs from the stairs.

Note that it is not exactly the same as falling down the stairs, since it doesn't imply that the fall brought the faller all the way down the stairs, that would be tomber jusqu'en bas de l'escalier.

Comment l'on tombe dans un escalier

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Awesome pictures @Evpok, thanks! – Geert Jan 26 '13 at 14:37
What a great drawing. – Aerovistae Jan 27 '13 at 2:23
Nice picture. Painful, but nice! – julien Jan 28 '13 at 15:29

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