Grammar – Articles (Part 2)
Continuing on with our first grammar lesson, I will go into the usage of each of the articles I went over.
Uses of the Definite Article
As the grammatical term definite article suggests, this article is used to refer to a noun which has a precise identity. This means:
- either that the noun in question has been mentioned previously, or that it already has a specific identity in the mind of the speaker.
- or that the noun will be defined by the adjectival phrase of relative clause which follows.
These basic roles of the definite article are common to French and English. There are also some circumstances in which the definite article is not needed in English but must be included in French.
- When a noun is used generically, to denote a category or type:
Ma voisine ne supportait pas les petits enfants. -My neighbour couldn’t stand little children.
- Abstract nouns should be preceded by the definite article, when denoting a generic quality:
La vitesse est moins importante que la sécurité. – Speed is less important than safety.
- The definite article must be included before countries and languages:
La France a découvert le Canada au seizième siècle. France discovered Canada in the sixteenth century.
Est-ce que tu connais le russe ou le polonais? – Do you know Russian or Polish?
- However, the definite article is omitted with de + country:
Les vins de France se vendent bien en Angleterre. – French wines/The wines of France sell well in England.
- With languages, the definite article is omitted with parler + language:
Elle parle italien. – She speaks Italian.
- With references to periods of time (jour, semaine, année, etc.) qualified by an adjective, the definite article must be included:
Si je ne peux pas le voir la semaine prochaine, ce sera le week-end suivant. – If I can’t see him next week, it will be the following weekend.
- The definite article is used before days of the week to express “on Mondays”, etc., for actions regularly happening on that day.
Je ne travaille pas le mercredi. – I don’t work on Wednesdays. (As in, all Wednesdays.)
- The definite article is normally used in French for references to parts of the body, where English would use the possessive adjective.
Ouvrez la bouche! – Open your mouth!
- The definite article is used in French to express the relationship between price and quantity, whereas English uses the indefinite article.
Les figues sont 3 Euros le kilo. – Figs are 3 Euros a kilo.
- When a proper name is preceded by an adjective, the definite article must be used, except in exclamations.
Le pauvre Henri n’a jamais gagné. – Poor Henry has never won.
- The definite article is used before proper names which are preceded by a noun of title, rank, or professional status.
L’ambassadeur a invité le comte de Beauvois, l’amiral de Fontenay, et le docteur Michel. – The ambassador has invited Count de Beauvois, Admiral de Fontenay, and Doctor Michel.
- In commands or exclamations addressed to groups of children or subordinates, the definite article should precede the noun referring to the group.
Dépêchez-vous, les enfants! – Hurry up, children!
Arrêtez, les soldats! – Halt, men!
Uses of the Indefinite Article
As in English, in French the indefinite article refers to a noun which has not been specifically identified. Note that the plural “some” is frequently omitted in English, but must always be included in French.
J’ai acheté des pêches et des poires. – I bought peaches and pears.
The indefinite article must also be included before a noun followed by de + a singular abstract noun which is qualified.
Elle a une mère d’une tolérance exceptionnelle. – Her mother is exceptionally tolerant. (Translated literally: She has a mother of exceptional tolerance.)
Uses of the Partitive Article
The partitive article in French, as in English, expresses the notion “some”. It is useful to remember that the partitive article may sound awkward before an abstract singular noun, and is often better replaced by un certain/une certaine.
Elle a montré une certain générosité à leur égard. – She showed (some) generosity towards them.
Uses of the Preposition de + article
Students of French are often uncertain whether to use only the preposition de or the forms of de + definite article (du, de la, des). Some of the confusion stems from the fact that these forms are identical to the partitive article – but in fact represent a contraction of de + definite article. There are three major structures which require consideration:
de + noun, used adjectivally
- A first noun may be qualified by de + second noun. If the second noun denotes a general category, no article is used.
C’est un vin de qualité. – It’s a quality wine.
- However, if the second noun in such a structure refers to a person or thing which has been or will be defined, the forms du/de la/des must be used.
C’est un vin de la qualité voulue. – It’s a wine of the required quality.
Expressions of quantity + de
- After adverbs of quantity + de no article is normally required. The most common of these adverbs are:
assez – enough ; autant – as much as ; beaucoup – a lot of/many
combien – how much/how many ; moins – less ; (un) peu – (a) few/(a) little
plus – more ; tant – as much/as many ; trop – too much/too many
Adjectives + de
There are a number of common adjectives which are followed by de + noun; ex: chargé de, couvert de, plein de. No article is required before the noun when it denotes an unspecific object or category.
Le toit est couvert de tuiles. – The roof is covered with tiles.
La cave est pleine de toiles d’araignées. – The cellar is full of spider webs.
However, if the noun refers to an object or category which has been or will be defined, the adjective should be followed by du/de la/des.
Il est coupable du crime. – He’s guilty of the crime. (In which the crime has already been defined.)
(I have noticed that my grammar posts are quite long. I will work on breaking up the longer grammar posts into smaller, more easy to read posts.)