Definite Article – le, la, l’, les

French definite articles
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Article défini

The French definite article indicates either a particular noun or, contrarily, the general sense of a noun.

Par exemple…

Je vois les oiseaux.   I see the birds.
Le livre est sur la table.   The book is on the table.

Characteristics of definite articles

  1. Used with countable and uncountable nouns
  2. Placed directly in front of a noun or an adjective + noun
  3. Agree with the noun in number and sometimes gender
  4. Contract with certain prepositions

French definite articles

    Masculine¬†   Feminine
singular   le, l’   la, l’
plural   les   les

+ There are three singular definite articles:

  1. Masculine: le
  2. Feminine: la
  3. Contracted (masc or fem in front of vowel or mute h): l’

+ There is only one plural definite article: les.

 When preceded by the prepositions √† and de, the definite articles le and les must contract with them:

    le   les   But…   la   l’
√†   au   aux       √† la   √† l’
de   du   des       de la   de l’

Using definite articles

French definite articles are used similarly to their English counterpart, "the," to talk about specific, identified nouns.

Par exemple…

La route est bloqu√©e.   The road is blocked.
Je connais l’√©cole publique.   I’m familiar with the public school.
Le soleil se l√®ve √† l’est.   The sun rises in the east.

 However, there are many instances where a definite article is required in French but not English.

1) Multiple nouns

When there’s more than one noun, French requires a definite article in front of each one.

Par exemple…

Le chien et le chat s’entendent bien.   The dog and cat get along well.
J’ai achet√© les stylos et les crayons que tu aimes.   I bought the pens and pencils you like.

2) General sense

Definite articles are used to talk about a noun or group of nouns in a general sense:

Par exemple…

L’eau est essentielle √† la vie.   Water is essential to life.
J’aime les oignons mais pas l’ail.   I like onions but not garlic.
Les professeurs travaillent beaucoup.   Teachers work a lot.

3) Topics and Issues

Abstractions, politics, school subjects, languages* – all need a definite article in French:

Par exemple…

L’argent ne fait pas le bonheur.   Money can’t buy happiness.
L’√©cologie est un sujet important.   Ecology is an important subject.
Je n’aime pas les maths.   I don’t like math.
J’√©tudie le grec.   I’m studying Greek.

* Except after parler, when the definite article is optional: Je parle grec / Je parle le grec.

4) Per

The definite article is equivalent to "per" when talking about price per quantity.

Par exemple…

Les √©pinards co√Ľtent 2 euros le kilo.   Spinach costs 2 euros per kilo.
Combien co√Ľtent les olives les 100 grammes ?   How much do 100 grams of olives cost? (How much do olives cost per 100 grams?)

5) Countries

When talking about most countries and continents without a preposition, a definite article is required for all but a few.

Par exemple…

La France fait partie de l’Europe.   France is part of Europe.
J’ai visit√© l’Inde et la Chine.   I visited India and China.

6) Superlatives

In superlatives with adjectives that follow the noun, French requires a second definite article:

Par exemple…

J’ai achet√© les tomates les plus rouges.   I bought the reddest tomatoes.
Thomas est l’√©tudiant le moins studieux.   Thomas is the least studious student.

7) Possession

Several possessive constructions require the definite article in French.

a) Possessive de

les enfants de Daniel   Daniel’s kids
le livre de mon prof   my teacher’s book

b) Possessive pronouns

Mes parents habitent √† Menton, et les tiens ?   My parents live in Menton, what about yours?
J’ai trouv√© son sac, mais je cherche encore le mien.   I found his bag, but I’m still looking for mine.

c) Parts of the body

Je me lave les cheveux.   I’m washing my hair.
As-tu mal √† la t√™te ?   Does your head hurt?

8) Time and Date

Some references to time and date need a definite article.

a) Specific dates

C’est le 5 mai.   It’s May 5.
Nous allons le visiter le 17 octobre.   We’re going to visit it on October 17.

b) Vague periods of time

Je l’ai vu la semaine derni√®re.   I saw it last week.
Nous allons le visiter l’ann√©e prochaine.   We’re going to visit it next year.

c) Habitual actions with days of the week and times of day

Je fais les achats le vendredi.   I shop on Fridays.
Il ne travaille pas le matin.   He doesn’t work in the morning(s).

 However, one-time actions with days of the week or times of day do not take a definite article.

Par exemple…

J’ai fait les achats vendredi.   I shopped on Friday.
Il ne travaille pas ce matin.   He’s not working this morning.

9) Talking to/about people

a) Addressing a group

√áa va, les enfants ?   How are you, kids?
Allez, les filles, on y va !   All right, girls, let’s go!

b) Talking to/about a person using a title but no name

Bonjour, Monsieur le maire.   Hello, Mr. Mayor.
Merci, Madame la pr√©sidente.   Thank you, Madame Chairwoman.

c) Talking about a person using a title and name

Je connais le ministre Martin.   I know Minister Martin.
La pr√©sidente Ganot est arriv√©e.   Chairwoman Ganot has arrived.

 But when addressing a person using a title and name, there’s no article:

Bonjour, ministre Martin   Hello, Minister Martin.
Merci, pr√©sidente Ganot   Thank you, Chairwoman Ganot.

10) Euphony

In front of on and un, a meaningless l’ is often added for euphony.

Par exemple…

Il faut que l’on commence imm√©diatement.   We need to start immediately.
L’un des premiers obstacles …   One of the first obstacles …

 Related lessons

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French definite articles

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