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

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.



J'arrive avant Marie
I arrive before Marie


Q&A

MaryK

Kwiziq community member

21 March 2018

3 replies

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

MaryK

Kwiziq community member

21 March 2018

21/03/18

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

Chris

Kwiziq community member

22 March 2018

22/03/18

"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).

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

22 March 2018

22/03/18

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 :)

Dzoan

Kwiziq community member

1 September 2017

1 reply

The opposite of arrière?

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

Ron

Kwiziq community member

1 September 2017

1/09/17

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.

Ron

Kwiziq community member

22 June 2017

2 replies

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.

Spencer

Kwiziq community member

23 June 2017

23/06/17

It means "We are in front of you in the line"
Hope this helps!

Andy

Kwiziq community member

24 June 2017

24/06/17

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.

Ron

Kwiziq community member

22 June 2017

4 replies

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

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

29 June 2017

29/06/17

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 !

Ron

Kwiziq community member

30 June 2017

30/06/17

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

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

30 June 2017

30/06/17

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 !

Ron

Kwiziq community member

30 June 2017

30/06/17

Merci, Aurélie,
C'est très clair.
Getting that for you now.