French: Exploring the town

When exploring a place, it is useful to know how to talk about key places and means of transport in French to help you to find your way around.

'Where are you going?' in French

To ask where someone is going in French, you can say:

  • listen Où vas-tu ? – Where are you going?

means 'where' and tu means 'you'. Vas is part of the verb listen aller (to go).

You use this verb in your answer and add the preposition listen à (to):

  • listen Je vais à – I am going to
listen Je vais au cinémaI am going to the cinema
listen Je vais à la maisonI am going home
listen Je vais à l'écoleI am going to school
listen Je vais à l'hôpitalI am going to the hospital
listen Je vais aux magasinsI am going to the shops

Did you know?

Did you notice that the spelling of the à changes, depending on whether it is followed by a masculine or feminine singular noun, a noun beginning with a vowel or a h or a plural noun?

You can learn more about masculine, feminine and plural nouns in Indefinite and definite articles.

Here's a table to help you to remember which form of à you use to say 'to the'.

masculine nounfeminine nounvowel or hplural noun
auà laà l'aux

Places in a town

Here are some useful words so you can talk about places in a town.

listen le caféthe café
listen le centre de loisirsthe leisure centre
listen le cinémathe cinema
listen l'écolethe school
listen le magasinthe shop
listen la maisonthe home
listen le muséethe museum
listen le restaurantthe restaurant
listen le parcthe park
listen la piscinethe swimming pool
listen le supermarchéthe supermarket
listen la villethe town
listen le zoothe zoo

Transport in French

If you want to say how you are getting somewhere, you can also use the verb listen aller + the preposition listen en (by). Then add which method of transport you're using.

  • listen Je vais en bus – I go by bus

  • listen Je vais en train – I go by train

  • listen Je vais en voiture – I go by car

You can use a similar phrase for these expressions, but notice the different preposition - listen à instead of listen en.

  • listen Je vais à pied – I go on foot

  • listen Je vais à vélo – I go by bike

Here are some different modes of transport so you can practise saying this.

listen le busthe bus
listen le taxithe taxi
listen le trainthe train
listen le vélothe bike
listen la voiturethe car

Asking for directions in French

If you want to ask where something is, you need the verb listen être (to be).

You say:

  • listen Où est le marché ? – Where is the market?

To answer, you need to use est (is) which is also part of the verb être. So you say:

  • listen C'est (it is) and explain where it is.

If you need to stop someone and ask them directions politely, you say:

  • listen Excusez-moi, où est le marché, s'il vous plaît ? - Excuse me, where is the market, please?

Prepositions of place

Here are some useful phrases you might need when describing where something is. They are called prepositions of place.

listen au coinon the corner
listen derrièrebehind
listen devantin front of
listen à droiteon the right
listen en faceopposite
listen à gaucheon the left
listen tout droitstraight on

Try using these prepositions to create your own phrases:

  • listen C'est devant le cinéma – It's in front of the cinema

  • listen C'est derrière le centre de loisirs – It's behind the leisure centre

  • listen C'est tout droit – It's straight on

  • listen C'est à gauche – It's on the left

  • listen C'est à droite – It's on the right

Giving directions in French

You might want to give directions to someone and to do this you need to give instructions. When you give instructions in French, you change the verb to its imperative form.

Imperatives are also known as 'bossy verbs', because they tell someone to do something.

For example, in English if you tell someone to 'sit down' or 'stand up', these would be imperatives and it is the same in French.

How do I use the imperative in French?

In French, the imperative verb changes depending on who you are giving an instruction to. Let's have a look at some examples using the verb listen tourner - to turn.

If you give a friend or someone you know instructions, you use the tu form of the verb, so you remove the -er and add -e:

  • listen tourne - turn

If you're talking to more than one person or to someone you don't know that well, you use the vous form of the verb, so you remove the -er and add -ez on the end:

  • listen tournez - turn

Did you notice that with imperatives, you don't need the tu or the vous at the beginning?

So to someone you know you could say:

  • listen Tourne à droite – turn right

  • listen Tourne à gauche – turn left

To more than one person or someone you don't know you could say:

  • listen Tournez à droite – turn right

  • listen Tournez à gauche – turn left

You do the same with the verb listen continuer – to continue:

To someone you know:

  • listen Continue – continue

  • listen Continue tout droit – continue straight on

To more than one person or someone you don't know:

  • listen Continuez – continue

  • listen Continuez tout droit – continue straight on

Key French sounds

Below are some important French sounds that you have heard in this topic. Try practising them yourself out loud.

  1. à

This letter makes a similar sound to a in the English word apple. It can be written as a, â or à.

listen à vélo – by bike

  1. é

This is a short, sharp sound which you might use to attract the attention of someone.

listen le café – the cafe

  1. c

A c before e, i or y and ç makes a s sound.

listen le cinéma – the cinema
listen la piscine – the swimming pool

Where next?

Discover more from around Bitesize.

A story in French: On the beach
French grammar: Indefinite and definite articles
Culture: Exploring Montpellier
Dash and Blink - Forgotten French
Regenerators: Green Classroom!