French articles

Les articles en français

Salut, and welcome to our lesson about French articles at Language Easy! Indeed, you have noticed those little words like le, or la, or the unpronounceable un, that are everywhere ? Well, we’ll study them today.

Allez, on y va !

French articles in Albert Camus

What are French articles?

Que sont les articles en français ?

Articles (les articles) are small words that are placed are placed before a noun (and any possible adjective that precedes that nouns).

They vary in gender (masculine and feminine) and in number (singular and plural) according to the noun they precede.

French articles are a subset of the family of the determiners (les déterminants), along with the numeral, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, exclamatory, and indefinite adjectives. Altogether they regroup all the small words that are used to actualize a noun in a sentence, to give it reality. The article are the simplest determiners that exist and the only contextual information they convey is of gender and number.

Example of French articles :

  • Sans aucun doute, le loup est un ennemi pour les bergers.
    Undoubtedly, the wolf is an ennemi of the shepherds.

French articles are divided into three types :

  1. the definite articles
  2. the indefinite articles
  3. the partitive indefinite articles

French definite articles : le, la, les

Les articles définis en français

Definite articles are used to refer at

  1. someone or something that is already known ;
  2. a general category or species.
Masculine Singular Feminine singular Plural
le la les

Let’s first see some examples of usage for case 1:

  • Le renard et le loup sont revenus soudainement près de la maison.
    The fox and the wolf suddenly came back next to the house.
  • Regarde les étoiles !
    Look at the stars!

And now for case 2, referring to a general category or species :

  • Le tigre est un mammifère.
    Tigers are mammals.
  • J’aime les fêtes.
    I like parties.

When the definite articles le and la precede a word starting by a vowel or a silent h, they contract to « l’ ».

before a vowel or silent h
le = l´
la = l´

That would be, for example :

  • Je connais le homme qui a vu le ours
    I know the man who saw the bear.
  • Ma mère vit dans la autre maison.
    My mother lives in the other house.

When the definite articles le and les are preceded by the preposition à or de, a contraction (une contraction) happens between the two of them.

with “de” with “à”
de+le = du à+le = au
de+les = des à+les = aux

Letś give a few examples :

  • Je vais à le au marché.
    I’m going to the market.
  • Donner à les aux pauvres.
    To give to the poor.
  • Je viens de les des montagnes.
    I’m coming from the mountains.

Note that the contraction doesn’t happen with the feminine articles, nor when there is already a contraction of the article before a vowel or a silent h :

  • Alors, tu viens à la fête ?
    So, are you coming to the party ?
  • Au fait, tu te rappelles de la semaine dernière ?
    By the way, do you remember last week ?
  • La tête du de l’horrible monstre.
    The head of the horrible monster.

French Indefinite articles : un, une, des

Les articles indéfinis en français

Indefinite articles are used to refer at

  1. someone or something that is determined, but that is not known yet (they have an value of introduction)
  2. someone or something as an undetermined member of its category
  3. all the members of a category in a general way
Masculine Singular Feminine singular Plural
un une des
de, d´

de is an alternative form to des used only when the noun is preceded by an adjective. Similarly to the case of the definite articles, it also contracts to d’ when this adjective is starting by a vowel or a silent “h”.

French indefinite articles used to introduce a determined entity :

  • Autrefois, j’ai eu un chien.
    Once, I had a dog.
  • Il y a des maisons sur cette colline.
    There are houses on this hill.
  • Voici des fauteuils. De beaux fauteuils. D’autres fauteuils.
    Here are armchairs. Nice armchairs. Other armchairs.

French indefinite articles used to refer to an undetermined object :

  • Veux-tu un gâteau ?
    Do you want a cake ?
  • Un jour, j’irai là-bas.
    Someday, I’ll go there.

French indefinite articles used to refer to all members of a category in a general way :

  • Un lièvre court plus vite qu’une tortue.
    A hare runs faster than a turtle.
  • Un cycliste ne roule pas sur l’autoroute.
    A cyclist doesn’t use the highway.

French partitive articles : du, de la, des

Les articles partitifs en français

The indefinite partitive articles (articles partitifs indéfinis), or partitive articles, are used to refer to an indefinite quantity of something.

They are formed by using the preposition de in conjunction with the definite articles, making the contraction as mentioned above if necessary.

Masculine Singular Feminine singular Plural
du, de l´
de la, de l´

Let’s give two examples :

  • Je mange du pain.
    I’m eating bread. It could be either a lot, or a little, just a bite or all of it.
  • Il faut de l’eau pour que les plantes poussent.
    Plants need water to grow.

Omitting french articles

Omission de l’article

French nouns are most generally used with a French article, but there are some cases where it can (or must) be omitted.

Proper nouns usually don’t go with an article :

  • Paul était le disciple de Jésus.
    Paul was Jesus‘s disciple

Name of days and months usually don’t go with an article, except (for days) when they are determined, or if they are used to express a repeated habit :

  • Nous verrons cela lundi.
    We’ll see this on Monday.
  • Il va a la messe le dimanche
    He goes to the mass every Sunday.
  • Rendez-vous le premier mardi de décembre.
    We’ll meet on the first Tuesday of December.

The article can be omitted for attributes and job names :

  • Paul est (un) ingénieur.
    Paul is an engeneer.
  • William est anglais.
    William is English.

The article must be omitted when a name complements another name as a definition :

  • Une maison de bois
    a wooden house

There is no article in some fixed expressions like :

  • Prendre peur
    to get afraid
  • Crier victoire
    to shout for victory
  • Perdre patience
    to loose one’s patience

The proverbial style often omits the article :

  • Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse.
    rolling stone gathers no moss.

We don’t put an article before self-designating nouns :

  • Démocratie est un mot qui vient du grec.
    Democracy is a word that comes from Greek.

Ads or inscriptions are usually made without the article :

  • Voiture à vendre
    Car for sale

Articles can be omitted in some dynamic enumerations :

  • Hommes, femmes et enfants s’échappaient du navire.
    Men, women and children were escaping the boat.

Nouns in apposition can come without an article :

  • Amélie Poulain, film français de 2001, est un chef-d’oeuvre.
    Amélie Poulain, a French movie from 2001, is a masterpiece.

Did you know ?

Le saviez-vous ?

The two French articles le and un rank #1 and #3 in the list of the 1500 words the most used in French written language as compiled by Etienne Brunet, a renowned French linguist. Presently, the top 5 is :

  1. le (the, determiner) : 1050561 times
  2. de (of, preposition) : 862100 times
  3. un (a, déterminer) : 419564 times
  4. être (to be, verb) : 351960 times
  5. et (and, conjunction) : 362093 times

Here is the complete list.

What’s next?

C’est quoi, la suite ?

Et voilà, we reached the end of our lessons about French articles. Thumbs up ! because articles are truly everywhere. And this would a prefect time to take another step : if you haven’t read it already, how about reading our course on French adjectives ?

Allez, à bientôt !

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