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In French, articles and determiners are required on almost every common noun, much more so than in English. They are inflected to agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they determine, though most have only one plural form (for masculine and feminine). Many also often change pronunciation when the word that follows them begins with a vowel sound.
While articles are actually a subclass of determiners (and determiners are in turn a subclass of adjectives), they are generally treated separately; thus, they are treated separately here as well.
French has three articles: a definite article, corresponding in many cases to English the; an indefinite article, corresponding to English a/an; and a partitive article, used roughly like some in English.
The French definite article derives from a Latin distal demonstrative. It evolved from the Old French article system, which shared resemblance to modern English and acquired the marking of generic nouns. This practise was common by the 17th century, although it has been argued that this became widely used as early as in the 13th century. In French, the definite article is analogous to the English definite article the, although they are sometimes omitted in English. The French definite article can vary according to the gender (feminine or masculine) and number (singular or plural) of the noun. The definite article takes the following forms:
|before consonant||before vowel or mute h[a]|
Like the, the French definite article is used with a noun referring to a specific item when both the speaker and the audience know what the item is. It is necessary in the following cases:
|General categories and abstractions||La patience est une vertu.|
Patience is a virtue.
|Name and adjective clusters||Le vieux Londres est fascinant.|
Old London is fascinating.
|Languages[c] and academic subjects||Je comprends l’allemand.|
I understand German.
|Countries||Je veux visiter la France.|
I want to visit France.
|Seasons||Le printemps est ma saison favorite.|
Spring is my favourite season.
|Titles, family names||Voici les Moreau.|
Here are the Moreaus.
|Parts of the body||Il se lave les mains.|
He washes his hands.
|Days[d]||Je sors le vendredi soir.|
I go out every Friday night.
Unlike the, the French definite article is also used with mass nouns and plural nouns with generic interpretation, and with abstract nouns. For example:
The French indefinite article is analogous to the English indefinite article a/an. Like a/an, the French indefinite article is used with a noun referring to a non-specific item, or to a specific item when the speaker and audience do not both know what the item is; so, « J'ai cassé une chaise rouge » ("I broke a red chair"). Unlike a/an, the French indefinite article has a plural form, often translated as some but usually simply omitted in English; so, « Il y a des livres là-bas » ("There are some books over there" or "There are books over there").
The indefinite article takes the following forms:
The French partitive article is often translated as some, but often simply omitted in English. It is used to indicate an indefinite portion of something uncountable, or an indefinite number of something countable: « J'ai du café » ("I have some coffee" or simply "I have coffee").
The partitive article takes the following forms:
|before consonant||before vowel or mute h[a]|
Notice that, except after a negative verb, the partitive article is formed by combining the preposition de (of, from) with the definite article. Also note that in the plural, and after a negative verb, the indefinite and partitive articles take the same form; this makes sense, as there is no clear difference in meaning in these cases. (Some grammarians actually classify des as either exclusively indefinite or exclusively partitive, and say that the other article has no plural form. This does not affect the interpreted meaning of des.)
Determiners, like other adjectives, agree in gender and number with the noun they modify (or, in this case, determine).
The possessive determiners (also called possessive adjectives or, misleadingly, possessive pronouns; analogous to English my, their, etc.) are used to indicate the possessor of the noun they determine. They lexically mark the person and number of the possessor, and are inflected to agree with their noun in gender and number. While English distinguishes between masculine and feminine singular possessors (his vs. her), French does not. As in English, possessive determiners do not necessarily express true possession in the sense of ownership.
Their forms are as follows:
|possessor||first person||singular||mon, ma[e]||mes|
|second person||singular||ton, ta[e]||tes|
|third person||singular||son, sa[e]||ses|
cet (before vowel and mute h)
The demonstrative determiners (or demonstrative adjectives) can mean either this or that, these or those. To be more precise or to avoid ambiguity, -ci or -là can be inserted after the noun:
The interrogative determiner quel means which or what. It agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies:
Examples: quel train, quelle chaise, quels hommes, and quelles classes.
Quel can be used as an exclamation.
A quantifier is a determiner that quantifies its noun, like English "some" and "many". In French, as in English, quantifiers constitute an open word class, unlike most other kinds of determiners. In French, most quantifiers are formed using a noun or adverb of quantity and the preposition de (d' when before a vowel).
Quantifiers formed with a noun of quantity and the preposition de include the following:
Quantifiers formed with an adverb of quantity and the preposition de include the following:
Other quantifiers include:
|Look up le or la in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|For a list of words relating to French articles, see the French articles category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|