Definite Article – le, la, l’, les

Article défini

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

Par exemple…

Je vois le chien.   I see the dog.
Il n’aime pas les oignons.   He doesn’t like onions.

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 articles:

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

+ There is only one plural definite article: les.

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

    le   les   But…   la   l’
à   au   aux       à la   à 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 bloquée.   The road is blocked.
Je connais l’école publique.   I’m familiar with the public school.
Le soleil se lève à 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.

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

2) General sense

Talking about a noun or group of nouns in a general sense:

L’eau est essentielle à 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:

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

*Except after parler: Je parle grec.

4) Per

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

Les épinards coûtent 2 euros le kilo.   Spinach costs 2 euros per kilo.
Combien coûtent 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, an article is required for all but a few (lesson coming soon).

La France fait partie de l’Europe.   France is part of Europe.
J’ai visité 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:

J’ai acheté les tomates les plus rouges.   I bought the reddest tomatoes.
Thomas est l’étudiant 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) Posssessive pronouns

Mes parents habitent à Menton, et les tiens ?   My parents live in Menton, what about yours?
J’ai trouvé 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 à la tête ?   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 dernière.   I saw it last week.
Nous allons le visiter l’année 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).

* One-time actions with days of the week or times of day do not take an article.

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

Ça 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 présidente   Thank you, Madame Chairwoman.

c) Talking about a person using a title and name

Je connais le ministre Martin.   I know Minister Martin.
La présidente Ganot est arrivée.   Chairwoman Ganot has arrived.

* When addressing a person using a title and name, there’s no article:

Bonjour, ministre Martin   Hello, Minister Martin.
Merci, présidente Ganot   Thank you, Chairwoman Ganot.

10) Euphony

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

Il faut que l’on commence immédiatement.   We need to start immediately.
L’un des premiers obstacles …   One of the first obstacles …
   
Quiz: Definite article

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