Chez is a common French word without a direct equivalent in English. Since it’s used very frequently, in this post we’ll take a close look at the different uses and meanings of chez in French.
The most obvious use of chez in French is when we talk about going over to somebody’s place, with chez mes parents, for example, meaning to my parents’ place, or at my parents’ home. We’ll start off with this chez meaning in French, which we’ve actually already introduced in our broader post on French prepositions, and then get into each of the other contexts where we can use chez in French.
At someone’s home or place
This is perhaps the most straightforward use of chez in French. It’s used when we refer to someone’s home, or to indicate that something is taking place at a person’s house or dwelling.
- Je vais chez Pierre. – I’m going to Pierre’s house.
- J’ai laissé mes clés chez toi. – I left my keys at your place.
At a professional’s workplace or establishment
Chez can also be used to refer to a professional’s workplace or business. This can include doctors, dentists, hairdressers, and other similar professionals. In this application, we use chez followed by the professional in question.
- Je vais chez le coiffeur. – I’m going to the hairdresser’s.
- Il est chez le dentiste. – He is at the dentist’s.
We should add some detail here, since it’s also often common to use variants of à when talking about commercial establishments. Let’s look specifically at when to use chez vs à. (Remember that depending the gender and number of the noun after à, we’re considering all of its variants here: à, à la, au, aux.)
Chez is used when referring to a professional’s workplace in a more personal sense. It’s often used when the professional is seen as performing their trade on an individual basis, or when the business is small or independently owned. In general, if you can picture the individual whose establishment you’re visiting, you can use chez.
À is used when referring to a professional establishment in a more institutional or impersonal sense. In this application we use à followed by the establishment, not by the individual. Compare these examples with their more-personal counterparts from above:
- Je vais au salon de beauté – I’m going to the beauty salon.
- Il est à la clinique dentaire. – He is at the dental clinic.
For bigger establishments, we always use à, whereas for small places of commerce we can refer either to the individual who keeps shop using chez, or to the shop itself using à:
- Ma mère fait ses courses au supermarché. – My mom does her shopping at the supermarket.
- Mon père achète toujours son fromage chez le fromager du coin. – My dad always buys his cheese at the local cheese seller’s shop.
- Je vais à la fromagerie à chaque fois que je retourne en Normandie. – I go to the cheese shop every time I go back to Normandy.
In summary, the choice between chez and à / au / à la / aux often depends on the degree of personal interaction implied with the professional.
Referring to a characteristic of a group or culture
This is a more abstract usage of chez, where it refers to a particular characteristic or trait found within a group or culture.
- Chez les Français, le repas du soir est souvent léger. – Among the French, the evening meal is often light.
- Chez les Romains, les gladiateurs étaient très respectés. – Among the Romans, gladiators were highly respected.
In the works or style of an artist or author
Chez can be used to refer to a particular style or characteristic found in the works of an artist, author, or thinker.
- Chez Shakespeare, le tragique et le comique sont souvent mêlés. – In Shakespeare’s works, the tragic and the comic are often mixed.
- Chez Picasso, on retrouve souvent des formes géométriques. – In Picasso’s works, we often find geometric shapes.
In the mind or body of an individual
This use of chez in French is somewhat philosophical, referring to a characteristic or trait within a person’s mind or body.
- Chez Mahatma, la patience est une vertu. – For Mahatma, patience is a virtue.
- Chez ma sœur, la maladie a commencé très tôt. – In my sister’s case, the illness started very early.
Conclusion: Chez in French
As we’ve just seen, chez is a versatile word that can be used in many different contexts.
While its most common use is to refer to somebody’s place, it can also have several other nuances when referring to specific people. The other frequent use of chez is to refer to the establishment of a professional where there’s some direct personal interaction between individuals. The other uses of chez are more abstract, referring more to intrinsic qualities of the people it refers to.
With this easy guide on how to use chez in French, you’re all set to adopt this useful word into your vocabulary!