I saw that “au” comes before “Portugal”. But, “au” means “the”, doesn't it? Should then “the” come before “Portugal”?

Also, when do we use “aux”?

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Au” does not mean “the”*. “Le” (or “la”, or “l’”, or “les”) means “the”. “Au” is the contraction of *“à le” (*“à le” is grammatically incorrect). Similarly, “aux” is the contraction of *“à les”.

In French, the name of a country is indeed preceded by an article. We say “la France, le Portugal, l’Allemagne, les Pays-Bas”. Thus, whenever “le Portugal” is preceded by “à” (which has various meanings), it becomes “au Portugal”; similarly, when “les Pays-Bas” is preceded by “à”, it becomes “aux Pays-Bas”.

Note, however, that when countries which are feminine1 and singular are preceded by “à”, it becomes “en”: “en France, en Allemagne”. This only occurs with names of countries or regions.

  1. Or masculine but begin with a vowel sound.
  • Note that aux is also used before some féminines including a definite plural (aux Antilles) while some masculines starting with a vowel take en...
    – GAM PUB
    Sep 26 '17 at 19:49
  • I can't think of any "masculine" country beginning with an vowel. Do you have one in mind?
    – Édouard
    Sep 28 '17 at 11:08
  • Afghanistan, Ouzbékistan, Israel,...
    – GAM PUB
    Sep 28 '17 at 14:59

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