Articles are words that modify a noun (place, object, person or idea). Definite articles signal that a particular noun is coming. In English, we often translate these words to “the.” While using French definite articles and all their forms can seem complicated, this guide will teach you what you need to use them properly.
Take a look at the table below. You must’ve noticed or come across sentences in French that make use of these common words, known as articles.
|Indefinite Article||Definite Article|
|M+F followed by a vowel||L’|
* In the negative, definite articles keep their forms.
– pas le
– pas la
– pas les
– pas l’
Today we’ll focus on definite articles and their contracted forms. These contracted forms are called the “mutant” forms (de la, du, des, à la, au, aux).
The biggest hint for French definite articles is that they often mean “the” in the English language. However, there are rules to using them. Let’s start with understanding how definite articles can be used to talk generally.
1. Definite Articles for General Notions
In English, we often speak in general ways that don’t employ articles. This is different from French.
La Justice est un élément important de notre société. (Justice is an important part of our society.)
* Justice as a general notion is used with a definite article in French, but without in English.
Sometimes, a missing word in English (I drank [some] juice) is indicated using partitive articles in French (J’ai bu du jus.) Try adding “in general” to the sentence — if it works, you’re probably dealing with definite articles.
Je n’aime pas le jus. (I don’t like juice.)
* The speaker means juice generally, not a particular juice.
Practice choosing the correct French article, using repetition to work on your speaking skills, with this video:
2. Definite Articles to Show Specificity
Remember how “the” in English can indicate its use in French too? This works in the case of specific things.
Il utilise la voiture. (He is using the car.)
J’aime les chaussures rouges. (I like the red shoes.)
3. Definite Articles After Some Verbs
There are a few verbs, which come before more general nouns, that signal a definite article in French. Definite articles are then used before such verbs such as détester (to hate), adorer (to adore), aimer (to like), etc.
J’admire les infirmiers. (I admire nurses.)
4. Definite Articles to Show Possession
When we talk about something that belongs to someone else, we use an apostrophe in English: This is my grandmother’s jewellery. In French, there isn’t any such concept. We use definite articles (and de).
Ce sont les bijoux de ma grand-mère. (This is my grandmother’s jewellery.)
* If we translate this literally to English, the sentence would be “This is the jewellery of my grandmother.”
The Mutant Forms
The following table shows the mutant forms of definite articles and how they’re used. These can be tricky, but practice makes perfect.
|Definite Article + à||Definite Article + de|
|Known As||Contracted articles||Partitive articles|
|When is it used?||English translation of preposition is “to” or “at”||English translation of preposition is “of” or “from”|
|Masculine Singular||À + le = au
|De + le = du
|Feminine Singular||À + la = à la (no contraction)
|De + la = de la (no contraction)
|Plural||À + les = aux
|De + les = des
|Masculine + Feminine Before a Vowel||À + l’ = à l’ (No contraction)
|De + l’ = de l’ (No contraction)
Now that you’re off to a great start, keep forming sentences and solving exercises so that the definite articles and their mutant forms become a reflex for you. For even more insight, you can contact our French tutors. See you next lesson!