Learning French In Provence: French Grammar – De vs A

Every year, between the months of June and August, thousands of people from all around the world travel to France to see something beautiful and uniquely French.
Not la tour Eiffel or even le mont Saint Michel. It’s the lavender fields of Provence!

You’ve probably seen photos of these rolling purple fields — but have you ever wondered who grows lavender, when the harvest happens, and how the flowers are used? I’ll tell you all about it in today’s lesson.

And of course I’ve snuck a grammar lesson in today’s video too! As you learn more about the French lavender harvest, you’ll also learn which French verbs use “à” versus which use “de” — and more important, you’ll learn WHY, so you never feel stuck again.

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1) Lavender fields of Provence and first grammar tip

In the region of Alpes de Haute Provence, cultivation of la lavande (= lavender), is part of the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage – most famously on le plateau de Valensole. It grows on the sunny side of Southern French mountains, as in nearby la Drôme provençale as well. Lavender fields are gorgeous, and the flower smells amazing of course!

You have to check it out:
Si vous venez à Valensole, ça change de Paris !
(= If you come to Valensole, it changes from Paris!)

Grammar tip #1: “à” and “de”

The prepositions de and à can get a little tricky in French. They’re used in many ways, with nouns for instance to express possession, but today we’ll take a look at one case: when they come après un verbe (= after a verb)

In a nutshell:

  • à = “at” / “to” / “towards”. (Pronounced “ah”.)
  • de = “from” / “of” / “out of” (pronounced “duh”)

In a slightly bigger nutshell:

  • à = Destination, consequence, outcome. → Je vais à Valensole. (= I’m going to Valensole, my destination.)
  • de = Origin, cause, belonging. → Je viens de Paris. (= I come from Paris, I’m from Paris)

That’s the guideline. But they tend to overlap, and they’re also used with verbs where these rules don’t really apply. We’ll take a deeper look into it below.

We also use “de” and “à” for possession. “De” is used with nouns, “à” is used with pronouns.
As in:
Le lapin de Gilles. = Gilles’ rabbit
Ce lapin est à moi. = This rabbit is mine.

We also use “à + nom” in informal French but it’s incorrect (but often used)
As in: C’est le lapin à Gilles. (= It’s Gille’s rabbit)
Again, the correct version should be “de Gilles.” But here, we give an extra pass for the pun: it sounds like le lapin agile = the agile rabbit. This pun is the name for a famous cabaret in Montmartre.

2) Lavender fields of Provence: When?

So, when should you go to Provence to see lavender fields in bloom?
The flowering and harvest of lavender happens between early June and early August. That’s where the fields are at their most purple and fragrant. The best period to visit is between mid-June and mid-July, but it depends on the specific place and the local weather.

You can get specific information en demandant aux offices du tourisme (= by asking the local Tourism Board.)

Un office du tourisme is a local board that can give you a lot of information on a given area, they often have very informative websites.

And here, we see changing prepositions!

Grammart tip #2: au, aux, du, des

  • à + le = au
    → When “à” comes before “le”, they fuse and become “au”. [“oh”]
  • à + les = aux
    → When “à” comes before “les” (plural), they become “aux” [“oh”]

As in:

Je vais à + “le bureau”Je vais au bureau. (I’m going to the office.)
Je demande à + “les offices du tourisme” → Je demande aux offices du tourisme. (The silent “x” is “aux” sounds like “z” with la liaison)

Similarly:

  • de + le = du
  • de + les = des
  • de + (word starting with a vowel) = d’ + word

As in:
Je mange de + le gâteau → Je mange du gâteau. (I’m eating some cake.)

Here, I use “de” to mean “a piece of something” or “some part of.” It’s another common use of “de” !

Je viens de + “les États-Unis” → Je viens des États-Unis. (= I come from the US.)

Je rentre de + “Europe demain.” → Je rentre d’Europe demain. (= I come back from Europe tomorrow)

Notice that, however, nothing changes with la and l’ :

  • À + la = à la
  • De + la = de la
  • À + l’ = à l’
  • De + l’ = de l’

In informal French, “de” can become d’ before a consonant too; we cut the “e” to speak faster. As in “Je viens d’Paris.” It’s not correct French, never write it this way. But it’s very common in spoken French.
However, we never use d’ when there’s no word after it. That’s why shortening maître d’hôtel into maître d’ doesn’t make sense in French.

3) Lavender fields of Provence: True lavender, hybrid lavender

Circling back to lavender, its production has roots in the Roman empire. In Provence, it picked up during the Middle Ages, and especially in the XIXth century, thanks to local les parfumeries (= perfumeries.)

La lavande” is actually two main species: la lavande vraie, true lavender, that grows in the wild or in high-altitude fields, with a stronger scent for perfumes, and le lavandin, a hybrid plant that’s easier to cultivate, for industrial use.

If you’re in the area, you might participate in the Corso de la Lavande, a popular festival in Digne-les-Bains.
Or go for a nice hike to visit the farms, production sites, and museums around lavender. Or even simply passer au marché local (= take a look at the local market there!)

You’ll find many products for offrir des cadeaux à des amis (= giving gifts to your friends.)

Grammar tip #3: Expressions with “à”

Passer à [un endroit] → Je suis passée à la boulangerie.
(= “to go through,” to stop by → I stopped by the bakery.)

Faire un cadeau à [quelqu’un]
= Bringing someone a gift
Donner (or offrir) [quelque chose] à [quelqu’un]
= Giving [something] to [someone]

J’aime faire des cadeaux à mes amis, j’ai offert un parfum à Julie.
= I love giving gifts to my friends, I gave Julie a perfume.
Je donne un conseil à mon frère.
= I give my brother a piece of advice.

Lire [quelque chose] à [quelqu’un] = Reading someone something, reading something for someone, to someone.
Tu lis une histoire aux enfants.
= You read a story to the children. = You’re reading the children a story.

Dire [quelque chose] à [quelqu’un] → Elle dit “Bonjour” à ses voisins.
= Saying (or telling) someone something. → She says “Hello” to her neighbours.

4) Lavender fields of Provence: Gifts

But really, what lavender souvenirs can you bring back to your friends?

Well, you can buy une navette de lavande (= a lavender bundle) or even make it yourself! It’s quite easy and it smells great on clothes. That’s the original use of lavender, by the way: the name “la lavande” comes fromlaver” (= to clean.) The flowers are often placed inside the cupboard where you keep freshly washed clothes, to make them smell nicer and repel the moths away.

But lavender is also used in many different products. Mainly as une huile essentielle (= essential oil,) but also in perfumes, in bath salts, in le savon (= soap), and other house cleaning products.

Il est même possible de boire de la lavande !
= It’s even possible to drink some lavender, as an infusion!

It seems like lavender has nice medicinal properties too, by the way.
Especially against anxiety. Here’s a nice review of scientific studies.

Grammar tip #4 : Expressions with “de”

C’est possible de [faire quelque chose] → C’est possible d’arriver à 20 heures ?
(= Is it possible to… arrive at 8pm?)

Boire de / Manger de [quelque chose] → Je mange du pain.
(= Drinking / Eating a piece of something – I’m eating some bread.)
Je mange le pain. = I’m eating the whole bread.

Se souvenir de quelque chose → Elle se souvient de toi !
(= To remember something → She remembers you!)
(However :Ah oui, je me souviens ! = Ah yes, I remember!)

Sometimes, the meaning changes with what comes after:

  • Je viens de [quelque part] = I come from [somewhere]
  • Je viens de [faire (infinitif) quelque chose] = I just [did something]

It’s the near past tense! It’s an easy way to talk about the past, much simpler than, say, le passé composé !

Click here to learn more: Using “Venir De” in French Conversation

5) Lavender fields of Provence: Harvest

Meanwhile, in the lavender fields, it’s time for harvest!
Most flowers are harvested by a machine, but some people still harvest it by hand, especially on the smaller fields or to keep up the tradition. Picking your lavender by hand is also the only option with wild flowers or lavender in your own garden!

Good luck to arriver à y faire entrer un tracteur (= get to fit a tractor in your garden!)

Grammar tip #5 : Changing meanings

I used that last sentence to show how a verb can change its meaning with “à”.

  • Arriver : to arrive, to comeElle arrive demain (= She arrives tomorrow)
  • Arriver à : to achieve, to manage, to get [something]Elle arrive à récolter de la lavande (= She manages to harvest some lavender. )

Or with tenir:
Tenir: to hold → Il tient le livre. (= He’s holding the book.)
Tenir à: to hold dear, to care about → Il tient à ce livre. (= He cares about this book.)

6) Lavender fields of Provence: Selling

But now, what happens to the lavender once it’s been harvested?
Well, it’s often sent to la coopérative agricole (= the farm co-op), where farmers pool their lavender together to put it in la distillerie (= the distillery), sometimes let it dry for a few days, and then sell it.

The “true lavender” goes to les parfumeurs (= perfumers,) while the lesser kind of lavender goes to l’industrie.

Grammar tip #6: Changing meaning between “à” and “de”
Just like different kinds of lavender look alike but have different uses, “à” and “de” can follow the same verb for different meanings !

For instance:
Jouer (= to play)
Jouer à →for sports or games: Vous jouez au foot.(= You’re playing football.)
Jouer de → for instruments: Elles jouent de la guitare. (= They play the guitar.)

Penser (= to think)
Penser à →thinking about: Est-ce que tu penses à lui ? (= Are you thinking about him?)
Penser de →thinking of, having an opinion → Qu’est-ce que tu penses de lui ? (= What do you think of him?)

Manquer (= to miss): J’ai manqué mon bus. (= I missed my bus.)
Manquer à → to be missed by [someone]: Tu manques à Julien. (= Julien misses you.)
Manquer de →to lack [something]: Ça manque de sel. (=It’s lacking salt, there’s not enough salt.)

Click here to learn more: Tu Me Manques: How to say “I miss you” in French

But also:
Changer (= to change)
Changer à → To change at [a station]: Changez à Montparnasse. (= Change at Montparnasse, get off the subway line in Montparnasse station and take another subway line from there.)
Changer de → To replace something, to use another instead:

  • Changer de chemise (= changing shirt)
  • Changer de vie (= starting a new life)
  • Changer de train, à Montparnasse = Take another train, in Montparnasse

Ça change de Paris ! = It’s a change from Paris!

7) Lavender fields of Provence: a French point of view

But really now, how do French people view the lavender industry?

Well, we do buy plenty of products or de l’artisanat (= local handicrafts,) made with lavender flowers.

But the truth is, the lavender fields are more of an iconic sight for tourists and travelers, than for French people themselves. The traditional harvesting by hand is a bit of a gimmick, to sell the experience of authenticity.
All in all, less than half a percent of Provence is covered in lavender, so we know that Southern France has much more to offer.

However, we all agree that the rolling fields of lavender make for breathtaking pictures. They’re sometimes difficult to get to, but they can be a great place to spend a summer afternoon!

Don’t worry if you can’t visit them when you’re in France. Even if you stay in Paris for your whole trip, there’s a lot to see.

Click on the link to keep learning grammar while seeing France:
Learn French Grammar + Explore Parisian Architecture With Me!

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!


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Join the conversation!

  • Bonjour Géraldine, ça va ? J’espère tu vas super bien ! Je viens d’Irlande et aujourd’hui je viens de apprendre à nouvelle expression « je viens de » Merci beaucoup.
    Sur la photo avec les tulipes, les fleurs bleues sont une variété de jacinthe… pas de lavande. J’aime bien les leçons ! Je t’embrasse très fort. À bientôt. Gavin 🥰

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