Articles

What is an article?

In French, nouns are almost always preceded by an article or a determiner. This indicates the gender of the noun (masculine or feminine) and its number (singular or plural). There are two types of articles: definite articles (articles définis) (le, la, les) and indefinite articles (article indéfinis) (un, une, des).

Learn how to use definite and indefinite articles in French with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

Léna est une copine de Lara et la copine de François.

Léna a acheté une glace. Elle aime beaucoup la glace.

Advertisement

When to use the indefinite article in French

In French, the indefinite articles (articles indéfinis) are un (masculine singular), une (feminine singular) and des (plural for both genders). We use the indefinite article in the following cases:

  • to talk about something non-specific
    Example:
    Léna est une copine de Lara.Léna is a friend of Lara. (one of many)
  • in an introductory capacity to mention something for the first time in a text
Example:
Léna a acheté une glace.Léna bought an ice cream.

Info

The French indefinite article for the plural (des) is similar to the English “some”.

Example:
Léna et Lara ont acheté des glaces Léna and Lara bought some ice-cream

However, if there is an adjective before a plural noun, the indefinite article des becomes de.

Example:
Léna et Lara ont acheté de bonnes glaces.Léna and Lara bought nice ice creams.

When to use the definite article in French

The French definite articles (articles définis) are le in the masculine singular, la in the feminine singular, l’ for singular nouns that start with a vowel, and les in the plural (both genders). They correspond to the English article the.

We use the definite article in the following cases:

  • to talk about a specific person or thing
    Example:
    Léna est la copine de François.Léna is François’ girlfriend.
  • to refer to a person or thing that has already been mentioned or is already known to the listener/reader
    Example:
    Elle éteint la lumière.She turns off the light.
  • after the verbs aimerto like, adorerto love, préférerto prefer, détesterto hate
    Example:
    Elle adore les chevaux.She loves horses.

What is the partitive article in French?

The partitive article (l’article partitif) is used to talk about an undetermined amount of something. It is formed using the preposition de + article. English uses no article in these cases, but French employs the partitive article:

  • with uncountable nouns
    Example:
    Il faut acheter de l’eau et du café.We have to buy water and coffee.
  • to talk about sports and musical instruments with the verb faire
    Examples:
    Il fait du foot.He plays football.
    Il joue de la flûte.He plays the flute.

How to contract articles and prepositions in French

When the masculine singular definite article (le or les) follows the prepositions à or de we combine them to make one word. This is known as contraction (la contraction).

Preposition Preposition + Article Example
à à + le = au la glace au chocolatechocolate ice cream
à à + les = aux Fais attention aux enfantsLook out for the children
de de + le = du parler du jeuto talk about the game
de de + les = des c’est la table des enfantsthat’s the kids’ table

When to use no article in French

In French we don’t use an article for:

  • names of towns
    Example:
    Ils habitent à Paris.They live in Paris.
  • days of the week
    Example:
    Nous l’avons vu lundi.We saw him on Monday.
  • months
    Example:
    Je suis né en juillet.I was born in July.
  • phrases with en + transport
    Example:
    As-tu voyagé en train ou en voiture?Did you travel by train or by car?
  • jobs (in a general context)
    Examples:
    Elle est laborantine.She is a technician.
    but: Je connais la laborantine.I know the technician. → to talk about a specific person
    C’est une bonne laborantine.She’s a good technician. → to talk about a particular quality
  • religions
    Examples:
    Il est catholique.He’s Catholic.
    but: C’est le catholique qui va tous les jours à l’église.That’s the Catholic who goes to church every day. → to talk about a specific person
    C‘est une bonne catholique.He’s a good Catholic.

In some cases, the partitive article de appears without another article:

  • to express quantities (except after bien, la plupart, une partie, la majorité and la moitié)
    Example:
    J’ai bu beaucoup de café.I drank a lot of coffee.
  • after a negation
    Example:
    Il n‘a plus d’eau dans son verre.There’s no more water in his glass.
  • after certain verbs or expressions that contain de
    Examples:
    J’ai besoin d’argent.I need money.
    J’ai envie de fraises.I feel like strawberries.