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Everything about French articles: definite, indefinite and partitives

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

One of the difficult parts for beginner French learners is using articles in French. When to use them? Which one to use? A definite article, indefinite or partitive article? A feminine or masculine article? These are the kind of questions that are often asked and that keep coming when dealing with French grammar. Luckily there are lots of resources like this where you can learn French grammar online for free.

In this post, I’ll explain the different types of articles used in French, and when to use them with examples. In the end, you’ll find some exercises to practice what you would have learned.

Let’s start by defining an article.

What is an article?

An article in French as in any other language is a word placed before a noun and that gives an indication about its gender and number. Like possessives and demonstrative adjectives, it is a determiner.

There are basically 3 types of articles in French: the definite article, the indefinite article, and the partitive article.

The definite article in French

Unlike in English, where the is the only article used as a definite article, in French there are different ways of saying the:

  • Le is used in front of masculine words

  • La is for feminine words

  • Les is for plural words

  • L’ is for words starting with a vowel or a silent h.

The French indefinite article

In French, we use the indefinite articles un/une to express a/an, and des for some.

  • Un is used for masculine words

  • Une is for feminine words

  • Des for plural words.

🛑 In front of an adjective placed before the noun, des becomes de. Example : Ce sont de belles fleurs. => These are beautiful flowers.

What is the difference between definite and indefinite articles in French?

The French definite article is used

  • for a specific noun. Example : la maison de Julie. => Julie’s house.

  • for the general meaning of a noun. Example : la joie, la tristesse. => Joy, Sadness. You will notice that in English Joy and Sadness are said without using the article “The”. This makes it sometimes difficult for English speaking learners who tend to skip the article when speaking in French.

  • for somebody or something already mentioned previously. Example : C’est la femme dont je t’ai parlé. => It’s the lady I told you about.

  • after the verbs aimer, adorer, détester, préférer. We generally use the definite articles. Example : J’aime la danse => I like dancing.

The indefinite article is used for

  • an unspecified thing or person. Example : C’est une chaise. => This is a chair.

  • referring to one thing. Example : Nous avons une voiture. => We have one car.

Let’s take the following example in order to highlight the difference between the definite and the indefinite article.

  • C’est une maison => This is a house. (It can be any house).

  • C’est la maison de Cédric. => This is Cedric’s house (This is a specific house belonging to Cedric).

Partitive articles in French or les articles partitifs

Another category of articles used in French is partitive articles.

They are used for an undetermined amount of something or for uncountable nouns. In general, there is no equivalent in English.

They are a combination of de + a definite article and there are four partitive articles :

  • Du (=de le) is used for masculine words

  • De la for feminine

  • De l’ for words starting with a vowel or a silent H

  • Des (de les) for plural words.

In general, we use them for talking about food, sports with the verb faire or music instruments with the verb jouer.

Examples :

  • Je mange du Poulet. => I am eating (some) chicken.

  • Je bois de l’eau => I am drinking water.

  • Je fais de la natation => I practice swimming.

  • Je joue du piano => I play piano.