After / before versus in front of / behind (prepositions of time and place)

It's easy to confuse avant and devant because they both mean 'before' but it's simply a question of time or space:

time:

avant
(before)

après
(after)
space

devant
(in front of)

derrière
(behind)

Il arrive après Paul 
He arrives after Paul

J'arrive avant Marie
I arrive before Marie

NB: A queue or line has both a sense of space and time so you can use both expressions (this is true in English too: "I'm in front of you / after you")

Tu es devant moi dans la queue.
Tu es avant moi dans la queue.

You are in front of me in the queue.
You are before me in the queue.

 

NB: Sometimes in English you can use both 'before' and 'in front of' in a sense of space. In these cases in French, you can only use devant as it is the space-related preposition.

Mon frère est assis dans la rangée devant moi.
My brother is sitting in the row before me.
My brother is sitting in the row in front of me.

Je me tiens devant lui.
I stand before him.
I stand in front of him.

 

Compare this with the lesson Using dans, sur, sous, devant, derrière, entre to say in, on top of, under, in front of, behind (prepositions)

See also À + [heure] = At + [time]
and En vs dans (prepositions of time)

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources


J'arrive avant Marie
I arrive before Marie


Je me tiens devant lui.
I stand before him.
I stand in front of him.


Il arrive après Paul 
He arrives after Paul


Tu es devant moi dans la queue.
Tu es avant moi dans la queue.

You are in front of me in the queue.
You are before me in the queue.


Mon frère est assis dans la rangée devant moi.
My brother is sitting in the row before me.
My brother is sitting in the row in front of me.


Q&A Forum 5 questions, 12 answers

RobinA2

looks like past tense instead of present tense

In this example, the English translation seems like the present tense ... "is sitting".  But "assis" is the past participle for the verb s'asseoir / to sit.  How would this be described gramatically, or why not use l'imparfait or present tense? 

Also is this grammatical usage of a past participle "seated", unique to the verb s'asseoir?    Thank you.

Here is the example from above: 

Mon frère est assis dans la rangée devant moi.My brother is sitting in the row before me.

Asked 8 months ago
ChrisC1Correct answer

Hi Robin, in French "to be sitting" is expressed as "to be seated". And seated is also a past participle.

Je suis assis. -- I am seated. (I am sitting.)

Grammatically, this is passive voice. And in passive voice, the past participle is used much like a normal adjective. So, yes, any verb can be used like that:

Elle était aimée. -- She was loved.

RobinA2

Merci!

Robin asked:View original

looks like past tense instead of present tense

In this example, the English translation seems like the present tense ... "is sitting".  But "assis" is the past participle for the verb s'asseoir / to sit.  How would this be described gramatically, or why not use l'imparfait or present tense? 

Also is this grammatical usage of a past participle "seated", unique to the verb s'asseoir?    Thank you.

Here is the example from above: 

Mon frère est assis dans la rangée devant moi.My brother is sitting in the row before me.

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Je me tiens devant lui - I stand before him???

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1Correct answer

"Je me tiens devant lui." is pretty common (according to a native French speaking friend of mine) among adults, less so among teens.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Replying to myself. I have seen this use of se tenir before now. Is this typical?
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour à tous les deux !

Indeed, Chris is right here. It remains a bit of a formal sentence in both languages, hence its rare us by teenagers :)

Je me tiens devant lui - I stand before him???

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The opposite of arrière?

So if devant is the opposite of derrière, what is the opposite of arrière?
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1
Bonjour Dzoan, I had to look this one up in the Collins-Robert Dictionnaire to ensure what I was thinking was, indeed, the antonym of arrière. There are two possibilities listed: avant devant So dependent of the context of how the word would be used, it could be either. Bonne chance.

The opposite of arrière?

So if devant is the opposite of derrière, what is the opposite of arrière?

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RonC1

What is the meaning of "Nous sommes avant vous dans la queue."?

time: avant (before) space devant (in front of) So given the use definitions in the lesson, I am unclear the reason that «avant» is used relative to queue. To me queue is an indication of space as opposed to time. Please explain.
Asked 2 years ago
It means "We are in front of you in the line" Hope this helps!
A queue is also, by it's nature, a line of people waiting for something. Who is going to get to the front of the queue in less time? The people speaking are in the position of having joined the queue earlier than the other person. Thus they are going to get served before (in time) than the other person, as well as being before the other person actual terms of physical space. Hope this helps.

What is the meaning of "Nous sommes avant vous dans la queue."?

time: avant (before) space devant (in front of) So given the use definitions in the lesson, I am unclear the reason that «avant» is used relative to queue. To me queue is an indication of space as opposed to time. Please explain.

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RonC1

What is the meaning of "Nous sommes avant vous dans la queue."?

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Ron ! "Nous sommes avant vous dans la queue." is considering the queue from the angle of the length of time it's going to take, and therefore means "We come before you in the queue" in the sense of "We'll be served before you". I hope that helps! À bientôt !
RonC1
Bonjour Aurélie, Bien sûr, votre réponse m'a aidé bien. J'ai penser toujours qu'une queue est une chose qui a la dimension physique bien que votre explication y define tel quelque chose par rapport au temps. Merci, Ron
AurélieKwiziq language super star
In French, you can consider both angles: you could also say ""Nous sommes *devant* vous dans la queue.", in which case it's your geographical location. The nuance is minute here :) Bonne journée !
RonC1
Merci, Aurélie, C'est très clair.

What is the meaning of "Nous sommes avant vous dans la queue."?

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