L2 learners are disrupted and impeded by how to select and translate prepositions (even between languages of the same language family!). I know of the randomness of Functional Morphemes' semantic field, but I must still try to dig deeper.

Because most reference grammars only decree which preposition in isolated contexts, I must find books or resources that compare, contrast, and explain prepositions between two languages generally. So where should I look? Please suggest books or resources.

For brevity, I exemplify from A Comprehensive French Grammar (2007, 6 ed) by Glanville Price:

[p 507] 652. There is only an approximate equivalence between the meanings and uses of prepositions in different languages. In figurative and idiomatic expressions in particular, one language will use a preposition that does not correspond to its literal equivalent in another language. This is frequently so with French and English. Some of the main correspondences and differences between the two languages are given in the following sections, but an exhaustive treatment is impossible – and does not, indeed, exist anywhere else either though, to a considerable extent, uncertainties can be resolved by consulting a good large dictionary.

For example, page 502 translates: à = to, at.
But then pages 507-508 demonstrate that à can mean by, for, in, on, with, and within.
So (per 652 above) to, at fails to capture the lexical field of à.
The lexical field of à: what is it? What key ideas underlie it? How can you explicate it? Etymologically, à originates from the Latin ab and ad; but even this does not explain much.

  • 3
    Prepostions are badly overloaded, in French and in English. They don't translate outside of a context. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 8:40
  • Moreover, it even sometimes disappear from translation in English, for example "moulin à eau" becomes "water mill"... really hard to give you a suitable answer, if ever one exists...
    – OznOg
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


Concerning works, I can't provide you any names, sry. I might enlighten you with your issue about à.
à can mean have very distincts meanings, depending on the context: place, time, means, etc. I can only recommend you the Wikipedia page of à that is very complete and satisfactory (IMO at least)
I still don't advise you to look for the perfect translation for à, since, as for to or every preposition in every language, it mostly depends on the verb, and two verbs describing the same action or situation might not even use the same preposition, so... Well, grammar...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.