Common French Mistakes : Après, Avant, Derrière, Devant

behind in front of french devant derriere avant

Before, After, Behind, In Front of.

Many students find these small words in French confusing because let’s face it, they all look similar. Après, Derrière, Devant, Avant.

Coping with so many similar words with opposite meanings can be more than a challenge.

Stay tuned to learn how to make a distinction.

Prepositions of Time


The word après means “after” in the context of time or a sequential occurrence.  It can be used with time expressions, nouns, and stressed pronouns.

  • après 11h – after 11 o’clock
  • après mardi – after Thursday
  • après l’école – after the school
  • après Vous – after you

Après can also be used with several verb tenses or verbal expressions.

1) past infinitive

après m’être réveillé – after having woken up

2) que + passé composé

après que je me suis réveillé – after l woke up

3) que + present tense

To talk about something that happens habitually.

Elle lave la voiture après qu’il pleut.

She washes the car after it rains.


Avant means “before” in terms of time or a sequence of events. It can be used with expressions of time, nouns, and stressed pronouns, equally the preposition après.

  • avant minuit – before midnight
  • avant Mardi– before Tuesday
  • avant la classe– before the class

Avant can also be used with verbs if there’s a preposition de in front of it.

1) de + infinitive

avant d’avoir des enfants

before having kids

avant de te réveiller

before waking you up

Prepositions of Place


Derrière means “behind” and specifies a position or location, whether literal or figurative. It can be only used with nouns and stressed pronouns.

  • derrière le restaurant – behind the restaurant
  • derrière mon dos – behind my back

Je veux m’asseoir derrière mon ami.

l want to sit behind my friend.


Devant means “in front of” and indicates a position or location, whether literal or figurative. It’s used only with nouns and stressed pronouns.

  • devant le restaurant – in front of the restaurant
  • devant cette situation – in front of/faced with this situation

Je veux m’asseoir devant toi.

l want to sit in front of you.

Passez devant (moi).

Go in front of me.

Common mistake # 1 Après vs Avant

The prepositions après and avant sound somewhat alike, so students often confuse them.

Je le retrouve après / avant le déjeuner.

l’ll find before / after the breakfast.

Après / avant le bois, il y a un chemin.

In front of/ behind the tree, there is a road.

Après refers to location, while avant refers to time.

Common mistake # 2 Avant vs Devant

The prepositions avant and devant sound similar, which of course means that students sometimes get confused.

Let’s take a look at these two examples first.

J’ai pris une photo devant le pont avant de le traverser.

I took a picture in front of the bridge before crossing it.

Le rapport doit être présenté avant le 31 décembre 2012.

A report has to be presented by 31 December 2012.

Avant is referring to time, while devant is referring to a location.

After the class

Aaaand, what happens after the French lesson?

The good old practice. Try making a couple of sentences using French prepositions, avant, devant, après and derrière. 

Once you have all figured it out in your head, you won’t make mistakes anymore.

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