Indefinite and Partitive Articles Reduced to De

De vs du, de la, des

With partitive and indefinite articles, the de vs du, de la, des choice has to do mainly with whether the statement is affirmative or negative and whether there’s an adjective in front of the noun.

1. The partitive article indicates an unknown quantity of something, usually food or drink.

Je veux du vin.   I want some wine.
Il a mangé de la salade.   He ate some salad.

2. The plural partitive article des refers to something that is uncountable but plural in French.

J’achète des asperges.   I’m buying some asparagus.
Il a reçu des renseignements.   He got some information.

3. The plural indefinite article des refers to more than one countable thing in an indefinite sense.

Tu as des idées fascinantes.   You have some fascinating ideas.
Il y a des chaussures sur la table.   There are (some) shoes on the table.

4. When the plural indefinite or partitive article is used in front of an adjective, des changes to de.

J’ai des amis. – J’ai de jeunes amis.   I have some friends. – I have some young friends.
J’ai mangé des épinards. – J’ai mangé de bons épinards.   I ate some spinach. – I ate some good spinach.

 Note that this is not the case when the article is singular:

J’ai un jeune ami.   I have a young friend.
J’ai mangé de la bonne sauce des épinards.   I ate some good spinach sauce.

5. In a negative construction, the partitive and indefinite articles (singular and plural) change to de, usually meaning "(not) any":

Je ne veux pas de pain.   I don’t want any bread.
Il n’a pas mangé de salade.   He didn’t eat any salad.
Je n’achète pas d’asperges.   I’m not buying any asparagus.
Il n’a pas reçu de renseignements.   He didn’t get any information.
Tu n’as pas d’idées.   You don’t have any ideas.
Il n’y a pas de chaussures.   There aren’t any shoes.

 Exceptions

a. When the verb is être, the article remains the same:

C’est une poire, ce n’est pas une pomme.   It’s a pear, it’s not an apple.
C’est de la viande, ce n’est pas de la viande.   It’s meat, it’s not meat.

b. You can stress the negative aspect by keeping the article:

Je n’ai pas de sous – Je n’ai pas un sou.   I don’t have any money – I don’t have a (single) cent.
Il ne veut pas de bébé. – Il ne veut pas un bébé.   He doesn’t want a baby. – He (really) doesn’t want a baby.

 More about de vs du, de la, des

Introduction
Partitive and indefinite articles
Quantities, adjectives, and prepositional phrases
Descriptive de vs possessive de
Verbs and expressions with de
Quiz on de vs du, de la, des

 Related lessons

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De vs du, de la, des
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