A short story that I'm trying to read starts with the sentence:

Je rentrais du tennis.

When I look up "rentrais" in wordreference.com (here), none of the entries are for "rentrer + de"; they are all only for "rentrer".

If this was "rentrer + à + [place]", I would know what "à + place" means. But I don't know what the "de" means in "rentrer + du tennis".

1) What does "rentrer du tennis" mean?
2) Is there a way that I could have looked this up, myself?

3 Answers 3


Edit after reading Feelew's comments:

Everything below applies to revenir, not rentrer. In the case of rentrer it's easier, because you can only rentrer home, so it must be from tennis!

The other answers are good, but to try to address your question more directly:

  • Your method of looking up revenir in the dictionary to see if revenir de exists is good.
    • Then you would know that it was a collocation / fixed expression, like traiter de "be about".
  • The next step is the one you seem to be wondering about:
    • If there's no collocation, translate the preposition in its general sense.

So you would go through the possible meanings of de. As dimitris said, there are no one-to-one equivalents for prepositions, but you know that the most common are probably from and of, with a more distant with (double-check by skimming the WordReference entry).

Then try them out. Usually only one or two plausible options arise:

I was coming back [ from / of / with ] tennis.

I was coming back [ from / of / with ] tennis.

I was coming back from tennis.

Since there is no collocated entry revenir de, you know that you could slot other prepositions in there. The preposition isn't glued to this verb. Let's try à or au since you asked about it in a comment.

I'd say that à is most often to, at, or in:

I was coming back [ to / at / in ] tennis.

I was coming back [ to / at / in ] tennis.

To decide between to and in you would have to do go a little deeper. "Coming back to tennis" seems to mean returning to the game or picking up the sport after abandoning it for a while. "Coming back in tennis" seems to mean catching up after being on the losing side.

This second meaning of "come back (to success)" can be translated by revenir, (see the WordReference entry) and it might be mainly context that helps you decide which one to use.

I was coming back to tennis.

The process would be the same for any preposition. Some are easier to disambiguate than others.

  • 1
    (Note that after accepting, I removed for from the options for de. It sounds plausible in "coming back for tennis" but it's too rare to be a usual translation — afaik I know it's only in expressions like "jump for joy" — so it doesn't seem worth bringing it in only to explain why it doesn't work.)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 7, 2018 at 16:50
  • I'm surprised not to find any mention of home in your translation. To me, it clearly contains a meaning of “coming back home”, whatever home is at that point in time (usually your own place, but more generally the place where you will be sleeping next, be it your own place or the place of a relative or friend you are visiting or even the hotel where you are renting a room). Apr 11, 2018 at 12:22
  • @Feelew Hmm... The destination is more inevitably "home" than it is in "coming back", then? It follows that you'd rule out "je rentrais à tennis"?
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 11, 2018 at 12:33
  • I am not even sure what “rentrer à tennis” would mean... “Rentrer au tennis” perhaps? Either way, yes, I would rule out that the destination is tennis, since it is clear that the trip originated from there. And I believe destination would be home or a similar location, since if it were say coming back to work from a lunch break during which you played tennis, then I would expect “Je revenais du tennis” or J’arrivais du tennis” Apr 11, 2018 at 12:51
  • 1
    @Feelew Merci ! J'espère que la correction va.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 11, 2018 at 13:59

As in English or German prepositions can have several meanings. There is not an one-to-one correspondance between English and French prepositions. It depends on the context. It is true that generally from can be translated with de but it is not always true. In your example:

Je rentrais de+le tennis => Je rentrais du tennis. (contracted article)

Je rentrais de la maison (no contraction).

Other exemples in which is translated by de include:

C'est loin de la maison. (...far from...)

Dites-lui cela de ma part. (tell him/her that from me)

Voici la lettre de ma mère.

Note that en can remplace in this context de. Thus,

Je rentre du tennis => J'en rentre (I returned from it).

Regarding rentrer+à here is an example:

Elle est rentrée à la maison. She returned to the home.

Note that y can remplace à in this context.

Elle y est rentrée. She returned to it.


"de" means "from"

"à" means "to", with the verb "rentrer" in the sense "again"

  • So, "Je rentrais de tennis" would mean "I returned from tennis"? If the dictionary doesn't give an entry from "de", does "de" always mean "from"? Also: can you give an example sentence that uses "rentrer + à"?
    – silph
    Apr 7, 2018 at 15:12
  • 1) Yes. 2) No, "de" has many meaning and uses, i.e "fait de" means "made of". 3) Je rentre à la maison = I return home.
    – kaksi
    Apr 7, 2018 at 16:59

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