French Preposition Mistake we Often Make : Sur vs Sous

under on in french sous, sur

Some French words sound too similar, they are often confused. That’s the case with French prepositions sur and sous.

The preposition sur is often equivalent to “on, while sous mean under. Prepositions are the cause of the most trouble with French learners.

Let’s learn as much as possible about these two French prepositions, and eliminate every mistake.

What Means Sur?

French preposition sur is often translated as “on” or “on top of”.

Different Meanings of Sur

Sometimes, the translation on, can be weirdly interpreted. For example, the French will say “un film sur le climate“, meaning the topic of climate is on the top of everything.

  • Location (on)

Mon cahier est sur la table.

My notebook is on the table.

But, also another type of location.

C’est qui sur cette photo?

Who is in this picture?

  • Direction

Le vol sur Hong Kong.

A flight to Hong Kong.

  • Topic

une conférence sur le climat

a conference about the climate

un film / livre sur Charles de Gaulle

a movie / book about Charles de Gaulle

  • Reason or Requirement

sur commande

commissioned, to order

sur invitation

by invitation (only)

  • Period of Time

sur une année

over the course of a year

Different Meanings of Sous

Sous is a French preposition that needs to be followed by a nominal construction.

This preposition means – lower, one rank, one degree, one level lower.

The pronunciation can be sometimes tricky, so check Collin’s dictionary to hear a pronunciation.

Il était au-dessous de ses véritables capacités.

He was under his true capacities.

  • Under

La lampe est sous le bureau.

The lamp is under the desk.

  • Beneath

Mon crayon est tombé sous ma chaise.

My pencil fell beneath my chair.

  • From

sous un angle politique

from a political angle

sous cet angle

from this angle

vu sous un angle humoristique

seen in a humorous light

Sur vs Sous

Both prepositions, sur, and sous introduce another element (over/under + something). Most French learners confound these two words because they’re similarly pronounced.

Make a difference between the pronunciation

 Il est assis sur une chaise, il écrit sur le livre, le chat est sous le lit

He is sitting under the chair. He writes about a book, the cat is under the bed.

The corresponding adverbs are dessus and dessous, and unlike sur and sous, they do not introduce anything.
For example, we can say :

Il mange dessus.

He eats on it.

Let’s see


underneath, bellow

Écrivez votre nom au-dessous.

Write your name under.

Mets tes bagages au-dessous.

Put your luggage underneath.

Au-dessous de

L’avion vole au-dessous des nuages.

An airplane flies under the clouds.

La prestation est pour les veuves à revenu restreint au-dessous de la limite annelle établie en loi.

The benefit is for widows with limited incombelow the yearllimit set by law.

Never Mix Sur or Sous

That is it !

You agree, after seeing all the examples and going through the lesson, the difference between French prepositions sous and sur, becomes easier and easier to grasp.

There are plenty of other common mistakes in French to explore.

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