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How to use the French articles ‘le,’ ‘la,’ ‘les,’ ‘un,’ ‘une,’ and ‘des’

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  • A French article comes before a noun. It is the equivalent of the and an/a. 

  • 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 random people, objects, and places as general categories. 

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

Le sucre est addictif. Sugar is addictive. (no article in English)
Il y a un chat dans la cour. There is a cat in the courtyard. (random)
Dans la salade, il y a des pommes, des poires et des bananes. 
In the salad, there are apples, pears, and bananas. (listing)

 

  • A French article comes before a noun. It is the equivalent of the and an/a. 

  • 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 random people, objects, and places as general categories. 

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

Le sucre est addictif. Sugar is addictive. (no article in English)
Il y a un chat dans la cour. There is a cat in the courtyard. (random)
Dans la salade, il y a des pommes, des poires et des bananes. 
In the salad, there are apples, pears, and bananas. (listing)

 

French definite articles: ‘le,’ ‘la,’ ‘les’

Most of the time, le, l’, la, and les stand for ‘the.’ These French articles designate people, objects, or places that are specific or have already been mentioned. You now need to learn which words are masculine and feminine. For a review of the grammar concept of “gender,” check out “Unpacking the grammar” at the end of this post.

Screen Shot 2021-09-06 at 2.56.38 PM

⤷ TIP: Did you notice l’ was used in front of a vowel or a silent h? It can be masculine or feminine. 

(See “Unpacking the grammar” for more information about silent h’s and aspirated h’s.)

→ Check this website to learn which nouns have a silent h and this website to learn which nouns are pronounced with an aspirated h.

 

  IMPORTANT

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

les avions   
is pronounced: /lezavio(n)/

Let’s take a look to see when and how to use 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.

Screen Shot 2021-09-06 at 3.04.24 PM

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.

  • Le, la, and les are used before non-count nouns, abstract nouns, general topics, and the other categories on the list below. (Head down to “Unpacking the grammar” to review non-count and abstract nouns.)

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

  • non-count nouns: la confiture, le ciel, le lait [jam, sky, milk]

  • abstract nouns: l’argent, la patience, la politique [money, patience, politics]

  • languages (they are all masculine!): le français, le latin, l’espagnol [French, Latin, Spanish]

⤷ TIP: With the verb parler [to speak], you do not use the articles with languages. For example, compare parler with apprendre in the sentence below:

Je parle anglais et j'apprends le français.
I speak English and I am learning French.

  • school subjects: les sciences, la géographie [science, geography]

  • countries: la Finlande, le Mali, les Philippines [Finland, Mali, Philippines] 

  • titles: M. le Président, Mme la Ministre [Mr. President, Madam Minister]

Some 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 in front of a date, when giving a specific day. Why? Because all days are masculine.

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.

Vendredi je vais au cinéma.
This Friday, I will go to the cinema. 


→ You can practice with this exercise.

French indefinite articles: ‘un,’ ‘une,’ ‘des’

Most of the time, un and une 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.

Screen Shot 2021-09-06 at 3.13.16 PM

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

un    →   pas de / d’
une  →  pas de / d’
des  →  pas de / d’

J’ai un chien mais je n’ai pas de chat.
I have a dog but I don’t have cats.

But in negative sentences, le, l’, la, and les do not change:

le   →   pas le
la   →   pas la
l’    →   pas l’
les →   pas 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 an 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 the noun that starts 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

No articles at all!

Remember how you need to use French articles 99 percent of the time? Well, here is the one percent!

  • Expressions without articles

Screen Shot 2021-09-06 at 3.22.33 PM

  • 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 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: 5 tips to understand French articles!

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

  2. When you think of ‘the’ in English, use le, l’, la, or les!

  3. When you think of ‘a,’ ‘an,’ or ‘one,’ use un, or une in French and use des for their plural form. 

  4. No articles in front of nouns referring to the professions and religion of someone.

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

 

Unpacking the grammar

  • Gender represents categories in which nouns are split. In French, there are two: masculine and feminine.

le garçon (m.)                     the boy
la fille (f.)                             the girl

  • A silent h means you pronounce the words as if there was no ‘h’ at all:

l’hiver                                  the winter

  • An aspirated h means you cannot add a liaison.

le haricot                            the bean

  • A non-count noun is something that belongs to a mass and cannot be counted, like rice, water, or coffee.

  • An abstract noun refers to concepts like time, life, and patience.

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Feel welcome to practice with some exercises.

Céline Bateman-Paris

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