Asking for directions is something normal, as anyone has been lost once or might be again. If you are in a French-speaking context, it will be worth knowing words like "où est/where is" or basic phrases like excusez- moi (excuse me), s'il vous plaît (please), or c'est (it is).
In this lesson, you are going to learn words and expressions used to ask for directions and how to reply to them. You will start by learning some keywords and phrases like names of places in the city, compass directions, useful verbs, and some prepositions of place. Keep on reading till the end, to be able to practice what you've learned.
French Words for the names of places in town
To be able to find your way, it is important to make sure that you know the names of places in the city. A place in French can be translated as un endroit, or un lieu. Here are a few of the common must-know places in town.
L’arrêt de bus: bus stop
La banque: bank
La bibliothèque: library
La boulangerie: bakery
La boutique / le magasin : shop
Le café: café
Le commissariat de police: police station
La gare: station (bus station or train station)
La mairie / l’hôtel de ville: the town hall
Le marché: market
La mosquée: mosque
Le parc: park
La pharmacie: pharmacy
La poste: post office
Le restaurant: restaurant
Le supermarché: supermarket
Le temple: temple
Useful direction verbs to know
The list of verbs below will be very useful for understanding directions. Most of them are movement verbs but not all of them are generally used with être in the passé composé tense.
Être => to be
Aller => to go
Chercher => to look for
Continuer => to continue
Tourner => to turn
Traverser => to cross
Dépasser=> to pass
Longer => to go along/walk along
Marcher => to walk
Monter => to go up
Passer => to go past
Descendre => to go down
Vouloir => To want
The four cardinal points in French
Another thing that is essential will be knowing how to tell directions according to the compass. So, what are the four cardinal points in French?
l'est => east
l'ouest => west
le nord => north
le sud => south.
Remember that we use the preposition à + definite article when telling directions. So, you may use ''au" instead of "à le". Examples: C'est au nord de la France. / C'est au sud de l'Allemagne./C'est à l'est du Ghana. / C'est à l'ouest du Canada.
When a place has a mixed position, you can use a combination of the cardinal points such as
le nord-ouest => North-west
le nord-est => North-south
le sud-est => South-east
le sud-ouest => South-west
Prepositions of place used to give directions
Prepositions are very useful while building sentences and especially prepositions of place when you are showing someone a direction. Here are useful prepositions that I strongly recommend you to learn to be able to tell and understand directions.
devant => in front
derrière => behind
à coté de / près de => near, next to
loin de => far from
en face de => facing, opposite
entre => in between
avant => before
après => after
Common road names and traffic words
Below is the list of common words related to road and traffic vocabulary.
L'autoroute => highway, expressway
L'avenue => avenue
Le boulevard => boulevard
Le carrefour giratoire => roundabout
Le feu rouge => traffic light
Le pont => bridge
le rond-point=> roundabout, square
La route = road
La rue => street
Le panneau de signalisation => road signal
How to ask for directions in French?
The first basic phrase to learn is Where is (où est) or where are (où sont). Once you know those, it becomes easy to ask for your way. You just have to add the name of the place that you are looking for.
Où est la banque?=> Where is the bank?
Où sont les toilettes? => Where are the toilets/washrooms?
Another easy way is to use où se trouve/où se trouvent instead of où est/où sont. The meaning still remains the same.
Où se trouve la poste? => Where is the post office?
Où se trouvent les toilettes? => Where are the toilets?
There are other expressions to ask for direction. The words in bold can be replaced by any other place that you are looking for.
Here are examples of these expressions.
Je voudrais aller au musée. c'est où? => I would like to go to the museum. Where is it?
Comment je peux me rendre à l'aéroport? => How do I get to the airport?
Je voudrais aller au restaurant. Comment je peux m'y rendre? => I would like to go to the restaurant. How can I get there?
Vous savez où se trouve le restaurant? => Do you know where is the restaurant?
Pour aller à l'église, c'est par où? => How do I go to the church?
Où est-ce que je peux trouver une pharmacie? => Where can I find a pharmacy?
Où est l’hôpital le plus proche? => Where is the nearest hospital? (Use la plus proche with a feminine noun; eg. la boulangerie la plus proche)
La banque, c'est loin d'ici? => Is the bank far from here?
Le marché est près d'ici? => Is the market close to here?
In general, when you talk to a stranger, it is polite to say excusez-moi before starting your request, and end it by s'il vous plaît. Example: Excusez-moi, où se trouve l’arrêt de bus s'il vous plait? Excuse me, where is the bus stop please?
How to reply or understand directions?
When you ask for directions people may reply to you with typical phrases. The same goes when you are the one giving directions and explanations.
Here are the most commons terms you should know.
À droite => on the right or to the right
À gauche => on the left or to the left
Tournez à gauche => turn left
Tournez à droite => turn right
Tout droit => straight
Allez tout droit => go straight
Allez jusque +name place => go until you reach ...
Continuez tout droit => continue straight
Traversez la rue/le pont => Cross Street/ the bridge
Prenez la première rue à droite => Take the first street on the right
C'est la première à droite => It's the first street on the right
C'est la deuxième à gauche=> It's the second street on the left
C'est par ici => It's this way
C'est par là => it's that way
C'est à droite => It's on the right
C'est à gauche => It's on the left
C'est à coté du supermarché => It's near the supermarket
C'est au bout de la rue => It's at the end of the street
C'est au coin de la rue => It's at the corner of the street
C'est la prochaine rue à gauche => It's the next street on the left
Note that when asking and giving directions, the most commonly used pronoun is "vous". However, if you are talking to someone you are familiar with, using 'tu" would be more appropriate. If you want to learn more about the use of tu and vous, check out this article.
How much did you learn about directions in French? Practice exercise
Here is an exercise for more practice on your directional words.
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For more content related to directions
I recommend watching this funny youtube video : it's great for learning more about directions. It is adapted from the famous French movie " le gendarme et gendarmettes" (1982) with Louis de Funès by the Youtuber Doctor French. Here is the link.
If you want to practice on cardinal points, you can use this worksheet from the website ISLCollective for those who are not members of the site.
I hope this was useful. If you like this post, consider sharing it with other people who might be interested. Merci.