Dessus and dessous were originally prepositions, but today are more commonly used as adverbs. They are found in a number of adverbial phrases, such as au-dessus/au-dessous, là-dessus/là-dessous, and par-dessus/par-dessous, as well as in various idiomatic expressions.
Despite their similar spelling and subtle (to untrained ears) difference in pronunciation,* dessus and dessous are exact opposites. If you have trouble remembering which means above and which means below, try this: dessous has an extra letter, which makes it heavier, so it sinks below. Dessus is lighter, and thus floats on top. ;-]
Dessus and Dessous
Dessus means on or on top of
and is similar in meaning to the preposition sur. However, as you can see in the following examples, sur must be followed by a noun, while dessus can only be used when the noun
has already been mentioned.
La valise est sur la table.
> Voici la table - mettez la valise dessus.
The suitcase is on the table.
> There's the table - put the suitcase on it.
Son nom est marqué sur le papier.
> Prenez le papier, son nom est marqué dessus.
His name is on the paper.
> Take the paper, his name is on it.
Assieds-toi sur le siège.
> Tu vois le siège ? Assieds-toi dessus.
Sit down on the seat.
> You see the seat? Sit on it.
Dessous means under, beneath, or below and is similar in meaning to sous, with the same distinction as between dessus and sur, above.
La valise est sous la table.
> Voici la table - mettez la valise dessous.
The suitcase is under the table.
> There's the table - put the suitcase under it.
Le prix est marqué sous le verre.
> Prenez le verre, le prix est marqué dessous.
The price is marked on the bottom of the glass.
> Take the glass, the price is marked on the bottom.
Jean s'est caché sous le siège.
> Tu vois le siège ? Jean s'est caché dessous.
Jean hid under the seat.
> You see the seat? Jean hid underneath it.
Au-dessus and Au-dessous
The construction au-dessus (de)/au-dessous (de) is used to indicate a fixed object's position: on top of, above / below, underneath. It can replace sur/sous or dessus/dessous; i.e., it may or may not be followed by a noun. When au-dessus/au-dessous is followed by a noun, the preposition de must be placed in between.
Personne ne vit au-dessus de mon appartement.
No one lives above my apartment.
J'aime mon appart - personne ne vit au-dessus.
I like my apartment - no one lives above (it).
La valise est au-dessous de la table.
The suitcase is under the table.
Tu vois cette table ? La valise est au-dessous.
You see that table? The suitcase is underneath (it).
Ci-dessus and Ci-dessous
Ci-dessus/Ci-dessous is used in writing, to indicate
that something can be found above or below that point.
Regardez les exemples ci-dessus.
See the above examples.
Veuillez trouver mon adresse ci-dessous.
Please see my address below.
De dessus and De dessous
De dessus/De dessous is fairly rare. It means from on top of / from underneath.
Prenez vos livres de dessus la table.
Take your books from/off the table.
Il a tiré de dessous sa chemise un livre.
He took a book from underneath his shirt.
When indicating a position, en dessous is interchangeable with au-dessous. However, it can also mean underhandedly or shiftily. The construction "en dessus" does not exist.
Le papier est en dessous du livre.
The paper is under the book.
Il m'a jeté un coup d'œil en dessous.
He glanced at me shiftily.
Là-dessus and Là-dessous
Là-dessus/Là-dessous designates something that is on
top of / underneath something "over there."
Les livres sont là-dessus.
The books are (on that thing) over there.
Tu vois l'escalier ? Mets le sac là-dessous.
Do you see the staircase? Put the bag under it.
Par-dessus and Par-dessous
Par-dessus/Par-dessous indicate a sense of movement and may or may not be followed by a noun.
Il a sauté par-dessus.
He jumped over it.
Je suis passé par-dessous la barrière
I went under the barrier.
*Pronunciation: OU vs U
Expressions with dessus and dessous