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.
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.
Explanation of French articles and contractions
If you want to speak French the right way, you must consider contracting articles when they are coupled with the prepositions à and de.
de le becomes du
de les becomes des
à le becomes au
à les becomes aux.
We never say⛔
Je bois de le thé
Je fais de les activités sportives
Je vais à le théâtre
Je pense à les enfants de ma soeur
But we say 👍
Je bois du thé
Je fais des activités sportives.
Je vais au théâtre.
Je pense aux enfants de ma sœur.
Situations where no article is used in French
In some situations, articles are omitted in French.
the days of the week. Example : Samedi, nous ferons de la plongée.=> We’ll be diving on Saturday
the months of the year. Example : Juillet est le mois le plus chaud. => July is the hottest month.
names of cities/towns. Example : Je vais à Dakar. => I go to Dakar.
after negation. Example : Je n’ai pas de sœur => I don’t have a sister.
after some adverbs of quantity like beaucoup de, trop de, ... Example : Il y a beaucoup de personnes.
to say professions (unless it is specific). Example : Je suis professeur de français. => I am a French teacher. But i can also say " Je suis le professeur de français recommandé par Louis." => I am the French teacher recommended by Louis. In that case, I need to use the article as it is a specific situation.
Practice your knowledge of articles in French with this quiz
Take the quiz below to check your knowledge about articles in French language. And don't forget to this post with your friends and subscribe to our mailing list for regular updates. 😊
I hope this will help you easily identify French articles and be able to make the difference between the definite article, the indefinite, and the partitive.