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French Articles

What are partitive articles in French?

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

The French partitive articles are du, de la, de l', and des, which sometimes become de or d'. They are used before a noun to help you express quantity. There is no strict equivalent to these words in English, but sometimes they are translated as “some.” Unlike in English, in French you will need an article before a noun 99 percent of the time. When using the partitive articles, keep in mind the following:

  • Du, de l', de la, de l' and des designate an uncertain quantity or things that cannot be quantified like air, coffee, or jam.

  • De is used with expressions of a specific quantity, negation, or with generalities introduced by a verb followed by de.

    Je veux bien du café.

    I’d gladly have some coffee.

    Je mange des pâtes mais pas de riz.

    I eat pasta but not rice.

    J’ai beaucoup de travail.

    I have a lot of work.

    J’ai besoin de temps.

    I need time.

In this post, we’ll review when to use partitive articles with undefined quantities, weather, and activities, as well as the differences between de and du, de la, de l' and des. Keep reading to find out more!

Table of Contents

    When to use partitive articles in French?

    Use the partitive articles du, de la, de l', des, and de when talking about undefined quantities of things, the weather, or activities. These “partitive articles” are used in addition to the French indefinite and definite articles. This use of articles in French is different from in English. Let’s take a look at cases which require a partitive article.

    How to use partitive articles with undefined quantities in French?

    Use French partitive articles when talking about undefined quantities. In English, you would use “some” or nothing at all.

    French partitive articles
    Examples

    du (de + le) + masculine noun

    du fromage

    cheese

    de la + feminine noun

    de la confiture

    jam

    de l' + masc. or fem. noun starting with a vowel or mute h

    de l'eau

    water

    des+ plural noun (masculine or feminine)

    des papiers

    papers

    de + adjective + noun

    de belles chaussures

    nice shoes

    Important

    With negation in French, du, de l', de la, and des all become de.

    Dans ma recette, il y a de la farine, des œufs, du lait, de l’huile mais pas de levure.

    In my recipe there is flour, eggs, milk, oil but no baking powder.

    → You can practice with this exercise!
    Exception!

    With sans(without) and ne...ni...ni(neither…nor) there is no article!

    Il boit du café avec du lait mais sans sucre.

    He drinks coffee with milk but no sugar.

    On ne mange ni viande ni poisson.

    We eat neither meat nor fish.

    How to use partitive articles with the weather in French?

    Partitive articles are used to talk about the weather in French. When describing the weather with il y a, you'll use a partitive article before the noun:

    Il y a des nuages.

    It is cloudy.

    (lit. "There are clouds.")

    Il y a du soleil.

    It is sunny.

    (lit. "There is sun.")

    Il y a du vent.

    It is windy.

    (lit. "There is some wind.")

    Il y a de la grêle.

    It’s hailing.

    (lit. "There is some hail.")

    Il y a de l’orage.

    It’s stormy.

    (lit. "There is a storm.")

    How to use partitive articles with activities in French?

    You’ll also use partitive articles to talk about disciplines such as sports, music, and school subjects, where in English you’ll use “the” or nothing:

    Il joue de la guitare.

    He plays the guitar.

    Ils font du jiu jitsu et du karaté.

    They practice jiu jitsu and karate.

    Il fait du droit.

    He studies law.

    What is the difference between ‘de’ and ‘du,’ ‘de la,’ ‘des’ in French?

    The difference between de and the partitive articles du, de la, and des is that de is used after a specific quantity (like "of" in English) and it is also used with a negative quantity, which would be "not any" in English. The great thing about when you determine a quantity with de is that you don’t need to know if what you are talking about is masculine or feminine!

    How to use ‘de’ with quantities in French?

    De is used with quantities in French. Below is a list of some frequently used quantity expressions that are followed by de:

    un peu de

    a (little) bit of

    un soupçon de

    a dash of

    beaucoup de

    a lot of

    assez de

    enough

    trop de

    too much of

    100g de

    100g of

    une cuillère à café de

    a teaspoon of

    un paquet de

    a packet of

    une douzaine de

    a dozen of

    un morceau de

    a piece of

    pas de

    not any

    plus de

    not anymore of

    jamais de

    never any

    Il prend son café avec un soupçon de lait et un peu de sucre.

    He drinks his coffee with a dash of milk and a little bit of sugar.

    Il a acheté un kilo de fraises pour faire de la confiture.

    He bought a kilo of strawberries to make jam.

    Important

    De turns into d' in front of a vowel or mute h (not pronounced, as in the word l'hiver).

    Il y a trop d’air, ferme la fenêtre !

    There is too much draft, close the window!

    How to use ‘de’ with negation in French?

    De is also used with negation in French; du, de la, and des turn into de after a negation phrase:

    Partitive articles
    Affirmative
    Negative

    dupas de

    Tu veux du café ?

    Do you want some coffee?

    Tu ne veux pas de café ?

    Don’t you want some coffee?

    de lapas de

    Je mange de la confiture.

    I eat jam.

    Je ne mange pas de confiture.

    I don’t eat jam.

    despas de

    Je fais des gâteaux.

    I make cakes.

    Je ne fais pas de gâteaux.

    I don’t make cakes.

    Important

    With être(to be), or when you want to contradict a statement, the rule is different. You can then use pas du, pas de la, pas de l', and pas des.

    Ce n’est pas de la salsa, c’est de la samba !

    It is not salsa, it is samba!

    Il ne joue pas du violon, il joue du piano !

    He does not play the violin, he plays the piano!

    How to use the French partitive articles with the preposition ‘de’ and possession?

    The partitive articles in French can also be used alongside the preposition de and to indicate possession. Let’s take a look at both situations!

    How to use French partitive articles with the preposition ‘de’?

    Partitive articles can be used with the preposition de, which can sometimes also be the plural form of d'un, d'une when you refer to something in general. Again, de becomes d' in front of a vowel or a mute h.

    Singular
    Plural

    Ils rêvent d’un pays exotique.

    They dream of an exotic country.

    Ils rêvent de pays exotiques.

    They dream of exotic countries.

    Elle parle d’un article.

    She talks about an article.

    Elle parle d’articles.

    She talks about articles.

    How to use French partitive articles with possession?

    The partitive articles du, de la, de l', des, and de can also be used to indicate possession. A way to determine which article to use is to see if the noun introduced by de is specific or general. Here, de means "of."

    Example with du, de la, de l', des
    Example with de

    Où est-ce que j’ai mis les clés de la voiture ?

    Where did I put the keys of the car?

    Here, voiture is specific.

    Où est-ce que j’ai mis mes clés de voiture ?

    Where did I put the car keys?

    Here, voiture is general.

    Voici un plan des métros de Paris.

    Here is a metro map of Paris.

    Here, plan de métro is specific.

    Voici un plan de métro.

    Here is a metro map.

    Here, plan de métro is general.
    → You can practice with this exercise.

    In brief: Tips to understand French partitive articles!

    When using partitive articles in French, keep the following tips in mind:

    • In French, always (99 percent of the time) use an article! So, don’t say Je bois café, but Je bois du café!(I drink coffee!)

    • Partitive articles don’t really exist in English, so practice a lot to get familiar with this new concept.

    • Du, de la, de l', and des are used as "some" to express an undefined quantity.

    • pas du, pas de la, pas de l', pas des pas de

    • When you don’t know if a noun is masculine or feminine, use a quantity and you’ll avoid the issue!
      Je veux ? lait Je veux un peu de lait. (I want a bit of milk.)

    Practice the French partitive articles with some activities!

    Downloadable Resources

    Elevate your language-learning journey to new heights with the following downloadable resources.

    What are partitive articles in French~Activities

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