Grammar – Articles

Grammar – Articles (Part 1)

There are three types of article in the French language:

  1. the definite article (le, la, les) – the
  2. the indefinite article (un, une, des) – a/an, any/some
  3. the partitive article (du, de la, des) – some/any

Usually every noun in French will be preceded either by one of these articles, or by a demonstrative, possessive, or interrogative adjective. There are some occasions on which the article is regularly omitted, and I will go over this later on in this post.

The Definite Article

le for masculine singular nouns beginning with a consonant or the aspirated h.

le chat – the cat

le hibou – the owl

la for feminine singular nouns beginning with a consonant or an aspirated h.

la pomme – the apple

la haie – the hedge

l’ for masculine or feminine singular nouns beginning with a vowel or a muted h.

l’oiseau – the bird

l’hiver – the winter

les for all plural nouns.

les enfants – the children

les frères – the brothers

The Indefinite Article

un before a masculine singular noun.

un lapin – a rabbit

un pays – a country

une before a feminine singular noun.

une semaine – a week

une fille – a girl

des before any plural noun.

des jeux – any/some games

des poupées – any/some dolls

The Partitive Article

du before a masculine singular noun beginning with a consonant or an aspirated hDu is a contraction of de le; you will never use the two articles side by side.

du temps – some/any time

du hommard – some/any lobster

de la before a feminine singular noun beginning with a consonant or an aspirated h, and is never contracted the way du is.

de la chance – some/any luck

de la haine – some/any hatred

de l’ before a masculine or feminine singular noun beginning with a vowel or a muted h.

de l’or – some/any gold

de l’eau – some/any water

des before any plural noun. Des is a contraction of de les.

des animaux  – some/any animals

des voitures – some/any cars

Note that the indefinite article has the same form as the partitive article in the plural.

Prepositions à or de + Definite Article

à:

au before a masculine singular noun beginning with a consonant or an aspirated hAu is a contraction of à le.

au parc – at/to the park

au hasard – at random

à la before a feminine singular noun beginning with a consonant or an aspirated h.

à la gare – at/to the train station

à la ville – at/to the town

à l’ before a masculine or feminine singular noun beginning with a vowel or a muted h.

à l’aube – at dawn

à l’oncle – to the uncle

aux before any plural noun. Aux is a contraction of à les.

.aux élèves – to the students

aux boutiques – at/to the shops

de:

du before a masculine singular noun beginning with a consonant or an aspirated h.

du ministère – of/from the ministry of magic

du haut – off/from the top

de la before a feminine singular noun beginning with a consonant or an aspirated h.

de la guerre – of/from the war

de la hiérarchie – of/from the hierarchy

de l’ before a masculine or feminine singular noun beginning with a vowel or a muted h.

de l’angle – of/from the corner

de l’origine – of/from the beginning

de l’hôtel – of/from the hotel

des  before any plural nouns.

des hommes – of/from the men

des femmes – of/from the women

Omission of the Article

Even advanced French students are sometimes unsure when an article should be included or omitted. The general principle is that the article should always be included unless there is a specific rule of grammar or usage which justifies its omission.

It’s important to note that if you have two or three items in a sentence in French, you must repeat the article before each item, unlike in English where the article will often be used in front of the first item only.

Elle a apporté le pain et le frommage. She brought the bread and cheese.

The most common instances in which the article is regularly omitted are:

  • After a negative, the partitive or indefinite articles (du, de la, des, un, une) are replaced by de (English “any” after a negative). Pas de problem!  – No problem!

– However, the definite article (le, la, les) stands unchanged after all forms of the negative:

Je n’ai pas vu les chevaux. – I didn’t see the horses.

  • In formal written (or spoken) French, the plural form of the partitive or indefinite article (des) is replaced by de when an adjective precedes the noun:

Il faudra nous apprêter à d’énormes sacrifices. – We must prepare ourselves for enormous sacrifices.

– In spoken and informal written French, this rule is now frequently ignored:

Nous avons vu des jolies maisons hier. – We saw some pretty houses yesterday.

However, in formal French, it is preferable to observe the formal rule.

  • When a noun or a nominal phrase is used close together, or side by side, the article is usually omitted. This structure occurs in formal or literary rather than colloquial style:

Ma mère, fille unique, voulait voyager. – My mother, an only child, wanted to travel.

  • The article is omitted when giving someone’s profession or status, especially following verbs such as devenir, élire, être, (se) faire, (se) nommer.

Ma soeur va devenir actrice. – My sister is going to become an actress.

  • With lists of nouns, it is common to omit the article before all items:

Robes, chandails et jupes, elle a ramené tous ces articles d’Italie. – Dresses, sweaters, and skirts, she brought all these items back from Italy.

  • The indefinite article is omitted before divers or différents + plural noun:

Différents auteurs ont abordé ce problème. – Different authors have tackled this problem.

This is the end of Part 1. The second part will follow soon. A demain!

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One thought on “Grammar – Articles

  1. Pingback: Parts of a Sentence | Learn French Avec Moi

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