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Quelle est la différence entre les mots « dessous » et « sous » ? Je dirais « sous la table » et « en dessous du texte il y a un dessin », mais je ne suis pas sûre. Est-ce que ce sont des synonymes ?

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    Question très similaire: french.stackexchange.com/questions/3139/… – jlliagre Mar 17 '17 at 11:05
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    @Laure I wouldn't say the difference maps that well to "under" and "below", or to any pair of words in English, as prepositions rarely do. (Incidentally, one dictionary gives "under, underneath, below, beneath" for "sous" alone!) I think the comparison with jlliagre's link is pretty apt, but as native speakers please confirm: A "sous" B is more likely to be in contact with B than if A is "en dessous de" B. Also, as with other one-word prepositions, I think "sous" has a more active figurative sense (sous la pluie, sous les yeux...). – Luke Sawczak Mar 18 '17 at 1:10
  • If anything, this question is but a mirror image of the one concerning “sur” & “au-dessus,” but it's certainly not a duplicate, no more than a question about the difference between red & orange would be a duplicate of one about the difference between indigo & violet on a physics forum. (1) Neither “sous” nor “dessous” are mentioned at all in the other question; (2) the word “sous” is not mentioned at all in either of that question’s two answers; & (3) the only mention of the word “dessous” is a passing and parenthetical one found in an answer. – Papa Poule Mar 18 '17 at 23:50
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    @PapaPoule I hesitated and decided not to vote to close that question as a duplicate. However, I understand why other decided to close it and think equating this comparison with the red/orange vs indigo/violet one is excessive. Sous is exactly to sur what en dessous is to au dessus. – jlliagre Mar 20 '17 at 14:17
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    @PapaPoule Correcting the title to match the actual question wasn't presumptuous. En dessous (de) is different than dessous. Merging the questions might have been wise but they are already linked anyway. In any case, I guess Mme Bleu is now well aware of the parallel usage of both pairs of words. – jlliagre Mar 20 '17 at 23:16
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The basic difference is that “en dessous de” compares levels (for example altitude, ranking, aptitude, authority, etc.), while “sous” is used for (vertically aligned) positioning or for something belonging to the inner side.

Les oiseaux volent en dessous des nuages.

Aujourd'hui il est en dessous de ses performances habituelles.

Il s'est classé en dessous de ses camarades.

Le chat dort sous la table.

Le moteur est sous le capot.

Les sous-vêtements se portent sous les vêtements.

Il y a de la rouille sous la peinture.

This difference is rather similar to the one between “au dessus de” and “sur”.

Of course usage often has its own ways. For example:

Sous le soleil (in the sunshine)

Sous can also be used to introduce constraints:

Sous pression

Sous vide

Sous serment

Sous peine de …

Sous peu (soon)

Sous l'action de …

etc.

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sous : est une préposition, qui doit être suivie d'un complément: groupe nominal, etc. :

sous la table, sous les arbres, sous Jacques, ...

dessous : est un adverbe, qui signifie: sous quelque chose qui a déjà été mentionné:

  • je dois marcher sur le pont ?

  • non, dessous .

On emploie quelquefois "dessous la table", c'est plus rare, et renforce la notion de dessous.

Il existe également la forme prépositionnelle:

en-dessous de la table

et l'adverbe:

en-dessous (équivalent de dessous)

et

au dessous

à noter que dessous est également un substantif: le dessous.

  • i.e., the most definite thing one might be able to say about the difference is not semantic at all but purely an observation of their syntactic structure — I would tend to agree. ;) – Luke Sawczak Mar 18 '17 at 16:09
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    @Luke: Sous and en dessous de are syntactically similar, the semantic difference exists but it's rather subtle. – Stéphane Gimenez Mar 18 '17 at 19:09
  • @StéphaneGimenez The smallest of syntactic differences is significant to some people. :) As for the semantic difference, as noted above, I suspect it's something like "more likely to be in contact with" / "less likely to be in contact with", as with "sur" vs. "au-dessus de" (as opposed to translating to two different English words with any regularity), and I think the answer could be improved by speculating on those or any more apt lines that exist. – Luke Sawczak Mar 19 '17 at 1:24

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