The definite article · L'article défini


The definite article agrees with a specific noun in gender and number. Like other articles (indefinite, partitive) they present a noun. In English, the definite article is always the (the noun). Unlike English, the French definite article is used also in a general sense, a general statement, or feeling about an idea or thing.

In French, the definite article is dependent on the noun's:

  1. gender
  2. plurality
  3. first letter being a vowel

There are three definite articles and an abbreviation. Le is used for masculine nouns, La is used for feminine nouns, Les is used for plural nouns (both masculine or feminine), and L' is used when the noun begins with a vowel or silent h (both masculine or feminine). It is similar to English, where a changes to an before a vowel.

singular feminine la   /la/ (lah) la fille (lah fee-yuh) the daughter
masculine le   /lə/ (luh) le fils (luh fees) the son
singular, starting with a vowel sound l’ /l/ l’enfant (lah(n)-fah(n)) the child
plural les   /le/ (lay) les filles (lay fee-yuh) the daughters
les fils Template:French/Section (''lay fees'') the sons
les enfants (lay-zah(n)-fah(n)) the children

The indefinite article · L'article indéfini


In English, the indefinite articles are a and an. While some is used as a plural article. In French, indefinite articles take on the gender of the noun it precedes if singular, but also has a plural form that is used for either gender.

singular feminine une /yn/ (ewn) une fille a daughter
masculine un /œ̃/ (uh(n)) un fils a son
plural des /de/ (day) des filles some daughters
des fils some sons

Note that des, like les, is used in French before plural nouns when no article is used in English. For example, you are looking at photographs in an album. The English statement "I am looking at photographs." cannot be translated to French as "Je regarde photographies" because an article is required to tell which photographs are being looked at. If it is a set of specific pictures, the French statement should be "Je regarde les photographies." ("I am looking at the photographs.") . On the other hand, if the person is just randomly browsing the album, the French translation is "Je regarde des photographies." ("I am looking at some photographs.")

Partitive article


The partitive article de indicates, among other things, the word some. As for prepositions, de le contracts (combines) into du, and de les contracts into des. Also, de l' is used in front of words starting with vowels.

When speaking about food, the partitive article is used sometimes, while the definite article (le, la, les) is used at other times, and the indefinite article (un, une) in yet another set of situations. In general "de" refers to a part of food (a piece of pie) whereas the definite article (le) refers to a food in general (I like pie (in general)). The indefinite article refers to an entire unit of a food (I would like a (whole) pie).

When speaking about preferences, use the definite article:

J'aime la glace. I like ice cream.
Nous préférons le steak. We prefer steak.
Vous aimez les frites You like French fries.

When speaking about eating or drinking an item, there are specific situations for the use of each article.

Def. art. specific/whole items
J'ai mangé la tarte. I ate the (whole) pie.
Ind. art. known quantity
J'ai mangé une tarte. I ate a pie.
Part. art. unknown quantity
J'ai mangé de la tarte. I ate some pie.
J'ai mangé beaucoup de tarte. I ate a lot of pie.
Je n'ai pas mangé les tranches de tarte ! I didn't eat the slices of pie!
Part. art. known quantity
J'ai mangé deux des tartes. I ate two of the pies.

If the noun taken in a partitive sense happens to be preceded by a qualifying adjective, or a negative verb, then de is used alone.

  • un, une, du, de la, des change to de.
  • for specific quantities;however, the quantity rather than de is used.
Nous avons mangé une tarte. We ate a pie.
Nous n'avons pas mangé de tarte. We did not eat a pie/ We did not eat any pie.
Nous n'avons pas mangé deux tartes. We did not eat two pies
Nous avons mangé de la tarte. We ate some pie.
Nous n'avons pas mangé de tarte. We did not eat some pie/ We did not eat any pie.