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French Articles

How to use definite and indefinite articles in French?

By: Céline Bateman-Paris Thu Mar 21 2024
French
Articles

In French, we use definite and indefinite articles before a noun, as equivalents to “the” and “an”/“a,” respectively. To use articles in French, keep the following points in mind:

  • Unlike English, 99 percent of the time, you’ll need to use an article in French!

  • Le, la and les are definite articles and designate specific people, objects, and places whereas un, une, and des are indefinite articles and designate unspecified people, objects, and places.

  • Unlike English, you’ll need to use an article before every single noun in a list.

Take a look at the following examples:

definite article

Le sucre est addictif.

Sugar is addictive.

indefinite articledefinite article

Il y a un chat dans la cour.

There is a cat in the courtyard.

definite articleindefinite article

Dans la salade, il y a des pommes, des poires et des bananes.

In the salad, there are apples, pears, and bananas.

In this post, we’ll review how and when to use the articles le, la, les, un, une , and des, as well as cases where no article is used at all. Check it out!

Table of Contents

    What are the French definite articles?

    The French definite articles are le, l', la, and les. Most of the time, these articles stand for "the." These French articles are used to designate people, objects, or places that are specific or have already been mentioned. To help you select the appropriate article for a noun, you will need to look at the gender of the noun in French. The number of the French noun will also be important to look at. Take a look at the examples of each below:

    le / l'+ masculine word
    la / l'+ feminine word
    les+ plural word

    le parc

    the park

    la chambre

    the bedroom

    les garçons

    the boys

    l'aimant

    the magnet

    l'herbe

    the grass

    les filles

    the girls

    Tip

    Did you notice l' was used above for singular nouns beginning with a vowel or a silent h? L’ can be used for masculine or feminine nouns!

    Some nouns beginning with h have an aspirated h instead of a silent, or mute, h in French. In front of an aspirated h, you will use the regular form of le and la.

    Important

    Add a French liaison between les and the noun. It is compulsory and it sounds much more beautiful!

    les avions

    /lezavio(n)/

    Now let’s take a look to see when and how to use definite articles in French:

    • Le, l', la, and les are used with verbs expressing tastes.

      Verbs like the following need the French articles le, l', la, or les before the noun.

      French
      English

      aimer

      to love

      apprécier

      to like

      adorer

      to adore

      détester

      to hate

      préférer

      to prefer

      J’aime les musiques du monde et je préfère la salsa.

      I love world music and I prefer salsa.

      J’aime le sport mais je déteste l'athlétisme.

      I love sports but I hate athletics.

    • While a definite article would not be added before these types of nouns in English, you will need to use a definite article in French before:

      • Non-count nouns:

        la confiture(jam), le ciel(the sky), le lait(milk)

      • Abstract nouns:

        l'argent(money), la patience(patience), la politique(politics)

      • Languages (hint: they are all masculine!):

        le français(French), le latin (Latin), l’espagnol(Spanish)

        Exception!

        With the verb parler(to speak), you do not use the articles with languages. For example, compare parler with apprendre(to learn) in the sentence below:

        Je parle anglais et j'apprends le français.

        I speak English and I am learning French.

      • School subjects:

        les sciences(sciences), la géographie(geography)

      • Countries*:

        la Finlande(Finland), le Mali(Mali), les Philippines(Philippines)

        * When French prepositions of place are used, the rules change a bit!
      • Titles:

        M. le Président(Mr. President), Mme la Ministre(Madam Minister)

      Some more examples:

      Le riz sauvage est bon pour la santé.

      Wild rice is healthy.

      L’hypocrisie est insupportable.

      Hypocrisy is unbearable.

      Tip

      If you can add en général(in general) at the end of the sentence, use a definite article!

    • Le is used for dates and regular events.

      Use le to express the date in French when giving a specific day. Why? Because all days are masculine, coming from the noun le jour(the day).

      Il est né le 21 juin 2004.

      He was born on June 21st, 2004.

      Le concert aura lieu le 5.

      The concert will be on the 5th.

      When an event occurs on a day every week, use le too.

      Le vendredi, je vais au cinéma.

      Every Friday, I go to the cinema.

      Not equal

      Vendredi je vais au cinéma.

      This Friday, I will go to the cinema.

    Now let’s take a look at the indefinite articles!

    What are the French indefinite articles?

    The French indefinite articles are un, une and des and they typically stand for “a,” “an,” or “one.” Des is the plural form of un and une. It has no equivalent in English but could be thought of as “some.” These French articles designate people, objects, or places as a generality.

    Dans mon sac j’ai un livre et des trucs.

    In my bag I have a book and some bits and bobs.

    un+ masculine word
    une+ feminine word
    des+ plural word

    un homme

    a hammock

    une casserole

    a saucepan

    des gens

    people / some people

    un fauteuil

    an armchair

    une heure

    an hour

    des livres

    books / some books

    • The articles un, une, des turn into de or d' in negative sentences in French:

      • unpas de / d’

      • unepas de / d’

      • despas de / d’

      J’ai un chien mais je n’ai pas de chat.

      I have a dog but I don’t have cats.

      Important

      This only happens with the indefinite articles. Le, l', la, and les do not change in negative sentences:

      • lepas le

      • lapas la

      • l'pas l'

      • lespas les

      J’aime la neige mais je n’aime pas le froid.

      I love snow but not the cold.

    • Des becomes de in front of a French adjective + noun combination.

      J’ai des commodes anciennes et de grandes armoires.

      I have antique chests of drawers and large wardrobes.

      → You can practice with this exercise.
    • Add a liaison between un, des, and nouns starting with a vowel or a silent h. It sounds more beautiful!

      un étage, un homme

      a floor, a man

      des enfants, des herbes

      children, herbs

    When not to use any articles in French?

    Sometimes, no article is used at all in French, such as in expressions without articles or in front of professions, religions, or days of the week. Remember how you need to use French articles 99 percent of the time? Well, here is the one percent!

    • Expressions without articles

      Some expressions in French are fixed and will not call for an article. This is the case for many of the expressions with avoir(to have), such as the following:

      • J'ai peur

        I'm scared

      • J'ai soif

        I'm thirsty

      • J'ai faim

        I'm hungry

      • J'ai sommeil

        I'm sleepy

    • No articles in front of professions

      Il est prof d’anglais et elle est comptable.

      He’s an English teacher and she is an accountant.

    • No articles in front of religions

      Il est catholique.

      He is a Catholic.

      Important

      With the French expression c'est(he/she is) and when you describe someone’s job or skills, you’ll need an article.

      C’est un prof d’anglais.

      He’s an English teacher.

      C’est une danseuse incroyable.

      She is an incredible dancer.

    • No articles in front of days of the week

      Samedi, je rentre de vacances et dimanche, je me repose.

      On Saturday, I’ll be back from holidays and on Sunday, I’ll rest.

    In brief: Tips to understand French articles!

    When using definite and indefinite articles in French, keep the following tips in mind:

    • Use a French article 99 percent of the time and learn the rare expressions without one.

    • When you think of “the” in English, use le, l', la, or les!

    • When you think of “a,” “an,” or “one,” use un or une in French and use des for their plural form.

    • Do not use articles in front of nouns referring to the professions and religion of someone.

    • Add liaisons, it’s grammatically correct and more beautiful!

    Why not practice with some exercises on definite and indefinite articles in French and also check our post on French partitive articles?

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