Articles – le, la, les, un, une, des, du, de la

 

Les articles

One of the eight parts of speech, an article is a word that modifies a noun in a particular way, by stating whether the noun is specific, unspecific, or partial. There are three types of French articles and they all asgree in gender and number with the nouns they modify.

1) Definite / Défini

The definite article indicates that the speaker is referring to either a specific noun or to a class of nouns in a general sense. The English definite article, the, has four equivalent forms in French, depending on the gender and number of the noun as well as what letter it begins with.

Singular Plural
Masculine le le livre the book les les livres the books
Feminine la la table the table les tables the tables
l’ l’abricot the apricot les abricots the apricots

2) Indefinite / Indéfini

The indefinite article indicates that the speaker is referring to either an unspecific noun or to one/some of something. The English indefinite article has two forms, a and an, while the French has three, depending on the gender and number of the noun.

The English equivalent of des is some, which is considered an adjective rather than an article.

Singular Plural
Masculine un un abricot an apricot des des livres some books
Feminine une une table a table des tables some tables

 

3) Partitive / Partitif

The partitive article indicates that the speaker is referring to only a portion or some of an uncountable noun, often food or drink. There are four forms in French, depending on the gender and number of the noun as well as what letter it begins with.

Singular Plural
Masculine du du beurre some butter des des asperges some asparagus
Feminine de la de la tarte some pie des épinards some spinach
Vowel or h muet de l’ de l’argent some money des pâtes some pasta

 

Article défini

The French definite article indicates either a particular noun or, contrarily, the general sense of a noun.

Par exemple…

Je vois les koalas. I see the koalas.
Le livre est sur la table. The book is on the table.

Characteristics of definite articles

  1. Used with countable and uncountable nouns
  2. Placed directly in front of a noun or an adjective + noun
  3. Agree with the noun in number and sometimes gender
  4. Contract with certain prepositions

French definite articles

Masculine Feminine
singular le, l’ la, l’
plural les les

+ There are three singular definite articles:

  1. Masculine: le
  2. Feminine: la
  3. Contracted (masc or fem in front of vowel or mute h): l’

+ There is only one plural definite article: les.

When preceded by the prepositions à and de, the definite articles le and les must contract with them:

le les But… la l’
à au aux à la à l’
de du des de la de l’

Using definite articles

French definite articles are used similarly to their English counterpart, “the,” to talk about specific, identified nouns.

Par exemple…

La route est bloquée. The road is blocked.
Je connais l’école publique. I’m familiar with the public school.
Le soleil se lève à l’est. The sun rises in the east.

However, there are many instances where a definite article is required in French but not English.

1) Multiple nouns

When there’s more than one noun, French requires a definite article in front of each one.

Le chien et le chat s’entendent bien. The dog and cat get along well.
J’ai acheté les stylos et les crayons que tu aimes. I bought the pens and pencils you like.

2) General sense

Definite articles are used to talk about a noun or group of nouns in a general sense:

L’eau est essentielle à la vie. Water is essential to life.
J’aime les oignons mais pas l’ail. I like onions but not garlic.
Les professeurs travaillent beaucoup. Teachers work a lot.

3) Topics and Issues

Abstractions, politics, school subjects, languages* – all need a definite article in French:

L’argent ne fait pas le bonheur. Money can’t buy happiness.
L’écologie est un sujet important. Ecology is an important subject.
Je n’aime pas les maths. I don’t like math.
J’étudie le grec. I’m studying Greek.

* Except after parler, when the definite article is optional: Je parle grec / Je parle le grec.

4) Per

The definite article is equivalent to “per” when talking about price per quantity.

Les épinards coûtent 2 euros le kilo. Spinach costs 2 euros per kilo.
Combien coûtent les olives les 100 grammes ? How much do 100 grams of olives cost? (How much do olives cost per 100 grams?)

5) Countries

When talking about most countries and continents without a preposition, a definite article is required for all but a few (lesson coming soon).

La France fait partie de l’Europe. France is part of Europe.
J’ai visité l’Inde et la Chine. I visited India and China.

6) Superlatives

In superlatives with adjectives that follow the noun, French requires a second definite article:

J’ai acheté les tomates les plus rouges. I bought the reddest tomatoes.
Thomas est l’étudiant le moins studieux. Thomas is the least studious student.

7) Possession

Several possessive constructions require the definite article in French.

  1. a)Possessive de
les enfants de Daniel Daniel’s kids
le livre de mon prof my teacher’s book
  1. b)Posssessive pronouns
Mes parents habitent à Menton, et les tiens ? My parents live in Menton, what about yours?
J’ai trouvé son sac, mais je cherche encore le mien. I found his bag, but I’m still looking for mine.
  1. c)Parts of the body
Je me lave les cheveux. I’m washing my hair.
As-tu mal à la tête ? Does your head hurt?

8) Time and Date

Some references to time and date need a definite article.

  1. a)Specific dates
C’est le 5 mai. It’s May 5.
Nous allons le visiter le 17 octobre. We’re going to visit it on October 17.
  1. b)Vague periods of time
Je l’ai vu la semaine dernière. I saw it last week.
Nous allons le visiter l’année prochaine. We’re going to visit it next year.
  1. c)Habitual actions with days of the week and times of day
Je fais les achats le vendredi. I shop on Fridays.
Il ne travaille pas le matin. He doesn’t work in the morning(s).

However, one-time actions with days of the week or times of day do not take a definite article.

J’ai fait les achats vendredi. I shopped on Friday.
Il ne travaille pas ce matin. He’s not working this morning.

9) Talking to/about people

  1. a)Addressing a group
Ça va, les enfants ? How are you, kids?
Allez, les filles, on y va ! All right, girls, let’s go!
  1. b)Talking to/about a person using a title but no name
Bonjour, Monsieur le maire. Hello, Mr. Mayor.
Merci, Madame la présidente. Thank you, Madame Chairwoman.
  1. c)Talking about a person using a title and name
Je connais le ministre Martin. I know Minister Martin.
La présidente Ganot est arrivée. Chairwoman Ganot has arrived.

* When addressing a person using a title and name, there’s no article:

Bonjour, ministre Martin Hello, Minister Martin.
Merci, présidente Ganot Thank you, Chairwoman Ganot.

10) Euphony

In front of on and un, a meaningless l’ is often added for euphony.

Il faut que l’on commence immédiatement. We need to start immediately.
L’un des premiers obstacles … One of the first obstacles …

 

 

 

Article indéfini

The aptly named indefinite article indicates an unspecific or unidentified noun.

Par exemple…

Je veux un chat ou un chien. I want a cat or a dog.
Achète des oignons. Buy some onions.

Characteristics of indefinite articles

  1. Used with countable nouns*
  2. Placed directly in front of a noun or an adjective + noun
  3. Agree with the noun in number and sometimes gender

* As opposed to uncountable nouns like money and water, which take the partitive article.

French indefinite articles

Masculine Feminine
a, an, one un une
some des des

+ There are two singular articles, each of which can mean a, an, or one:

  1. Masculine: un
  2. Feminine: une

+ There is only one plural indefinite article: des.

Using indefinite articles

You can use indefinite articles in front of unnamed, unidentified, or unspecified nouns, as long as they are countable.

Par exemple…

Il y a un problème. There’s a problem. (What problem?)
Un touriste a été blessé. A tourist was wounded. (Who?)

The nouns may be modified by

1) adjectives

Par exemple…

J’ai une bonne idée. I have a good idea.
C’est un pays extraordinaire. It’s an extraordinary country.

2) noun phrases

Par exemple…

Je cherche des livres de cuisine. I’m looking for (some) cookbooks.
Voici une photo de notre fils. Here’s a picture of our son.

3) relative clauses

Par exemple…

Je veux un chien quí n’aboie pas trop. I want a dog that doesn’t bark too much.
C’est une journée dont on se souviendra. It’s a day we’ll remember.

The indefinite article is not used when talking about a person’s profession, religion, or any other defining noun in the following construction:

Noun / Name / Subject pronoun + être + profession / religion / noun

Par exemple…

Ma sœur est avocate. My sister is a lawyer.
Marc est musulman. Marc is a Muslim.
Ils sont cousins. They are cousins.

In certain constructions, the indefinite reverts to simply de (or its contraction d’).

With negation

Je ne veux pas de chien. I don’t want a dog.
N’achète pas d’oignon. Don’t buy any onions.

After expressions of quantity

J’ai vu beaucoup de chats. I saw a lot of cats.
Il a très peu d’idées. He has very few ideas.

After avoir envie and avoir besoin (plural only)

J’ai envie de tomates. I want some tomatoes.
As-tu besoin d’idées ? Do you need some ideas?
But: J’ai besoin d’un stylo. I need a pen.

When an adjective precedes the noun (plural only)

J’ai reçu de beaux cadeaux. I received some beautiful gifts.
Il a écrit d’autres livres. He has written other books.
But: Tu as un joli chien. You have a pretty dog.