Use French definite and indefinite articles before a noun as the equivalent of the English “the” and “an”/“a,” respectively. To use articles, keep the following points in mind:
- Unlike English, 99 percent of the time, you’ll need to use an article in French!
- Le, la, and les are definite articles and designate specific people, objects, and places whereas un, une, and des are indefinite articles and designate random people, objects, and places as general categories.
- Unlike English, you’ll need to use an article before every single noun in a list.
Take a look at the following examples:
Le sucre est addictif.
Sugar is addictive.
Il y a un chat dans la cour.
There is a cat in the courtyard.
Dans la salade, il y a des pommes, des poires et des bananes.
In the salad, there are apples, pears, and bananas.
In this post, we’ll review how and when to use the articles le, la, les, un, une, and des, as well as cases where no article is used at all. Check it out!
Table of Contents
For a review of grammar terms used in this post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.
What are the French definite articles?
The French definite articles are le, l’, la, and les. Most of the time, these articles stand for “the.” These French articles are used to designate people, objects, or places that are specific or have already been mentioned. To help you select the appropriate article for a noun, you will need to look at the gender of the noun in French. The number of the French noun will also be important to look at. Take a look at the examples of each below:
+ masculine word
le parc, l’aimant
the park, the magnet
+ feminine word
la chambre, l’herbe
the bedroom, the grass
+ plural word
les garçons, les filles
the boys, the girls
⤷TIP Did you notice l’ was used above for singular nouns beginning with a vowel or a silent h? L’ can be used for masculine or feminine nouns!
Some nouns beginning with h have an aspirated h instead of a silent, or mute, h in French. In front of an aspirated h, you will use the regular form of le and la.
Add a French liaison between les and the noun. It is compulsory and it sounds much more beautiful!
is pronounced: /lezavio(n)/
Now let’s take a look to see when and how to use definite articles in French:
- Le, l’, la, and les are used with verbs expressing tastes.
Verbs like the following need the French articles le, l’, la, or les before the noun.
J’aime les musiques du monde et je préfère la salsa.
I love world music and I prefer salsa.
J’aime le sport mais je déteste l’athlétisme.
I love sports but I hate athletics.
- Le, la, and les are used before non-count nouns, abstract nouns, general topics, languages, school subjects, countries, and titles.
While a definite article would not be added before these types of nouns in English, you will need to use a definite article in French before:
- non-count nouns: la confiture (jam), le ciel (sky), le lait (milk)
- abstract nouns: l’argent (money), la patience (patience), la politique (politics)
- languages (hint: they are all masculine!): le français (French), le latin (Latin), l’espagnol (Spanish)
With the verb parler (to speak), you do not use the articles with languages. For example, compare parler with apprendre (to learn) in the sentence below:
Je parle anglais et j’apprends le français.
I speak English and I am learning French.
- school subjects: les sciences (science), la géographie (geography)
- countries: la Finlande (Finland), le Mali (Mali), les Philippines (Philippines)
- titles: M. le Président (Mr. President), Mme la Ministre (Madam Minister)
Some more examples:
Le riz sauvage est bon pour la santé.
Wild rice is healthy.
L’hypocrisie est insupportable.
Hypocrisy is unbearable.
⤷TIP If you can add en général (in general) at the end of the sentence, use a definite article!
- Le is used for dates and regular events.
Il est né le 21 juin 2004. He was born on June 21st, 2004.
Le concert aura lieu le 5. The concert will be on the 5th.
When an event occurs on a day every week, use le too.
Le vendredi, je vais au cinéma.
Every Friday, I go to the cinema.
Vendredi je vais au cinéma.
This Friday, I will go to the cinema.
→ You can practice more with this exercise.
Now let’s take a look at the indefinite articles!
What are the French indefinite articles?
The French indefinite articles are un, une, and des and they typically stand for “a,” “an,” or “one.” Des is the plural form of un and une. It has no equivalent in English but could be thought of as “some.” These French articles designate people, objects, or places as a generality.
Dans mon sac j’ai un livre et des trucs.
In my bag I have a book and some bits and bobs.
+ masculine word
un homme, un fauteuil
a hammock, an armchair
+ feminine word
une casserole, une heure
a saucepan, an hour
+ plural word
des gens, des livres
The articles un, une, and des turn into de or d’ in negative sentences in French:
un → pas de / d’
une → pas de / d’
des → pas de / d’
J’ai un chien mais je n’ai pas de chat.
I have a dog but I don’t have cats.
This only happens with the indefinite articles. Le, l’, la, and les do not change in negative sentences:
le → pas le
la → pas la
l’ → pas l’
les → pas les
J’aime la neige mais je n’aime pas le froid.
I love snow but not the cold.
- Des becomes de in front of a French adjective + noun combination.
J’ai des commodes anciennes et de grandes armoires.
I have antique chests of drawers and large wardrobes.
→ You can practice with this exercise.
- Add a liaison between un, des, and nouns starting with a vowel or a silent h. It sounds more beautiful!
un étage, un homme a floor, a man
des enfants, des herbes children, herbs
When not to use any articles in French?
Sometimes, no article is used at all in French, such as in expressions without articles or in front of professions, religions, or days of the week. Remember how you need to use French articles 99 percent of the time? Well, here is the one percent!
- Expressions without articles
Some expressions in French are fixed and will not call for an article. This is the case for many of the expressions with avoir (to have), such as the following:
- No articles in front of professions
Il est prof d’anglais et elle est comptable.
He’s an English teacher and she is an accountant.
- No articles in front of religions
Il est catholique.
He is a Catholic.
With the French expression c’est (he/she is) and when you describe someone’s job or skills, you’ll need an article.
C’est un prof d’anglais.
He’s an English teacher.
C’est une danseuse incroyable.
She is an incredible dancer.
- No articles in front of days of the week
Samedi, je rentre de vacances et dimanche, je me repose.
On Saturday, I’ll be back from holidays and on Sunday, I’ll rest.
In brief: Tips to understand French articles!
- Use a French article 99 percent of the time and learn the rare expressions without one.
- When you think of “the” in English, use le, l’, la, or les!
- When you think of “a,” “an,” or “one,” use un or une in French and use des for their plural form.
- Do not use articles in front of nouns referring to the professions and religion of someone.
- Add liaisons, it’s grammatically correct and more beautiful!
Why not practice with some exercises on definite and indefinite articles in French.
Gender represents categories in which nouns are split. In French, there are two: masculine and feminine.
le garçon (m.) the boy
la fille (f.) the girl
A silent, or mute, h means you pronounce the words as if there was no ‘h’ at all:
l’hiver the winter
An aspirated h means you cannot add a liaison.
le haricot the bean
A non-count noun is something that belongs to a mass and cannot be counted, like rice, water, or coffee.
An abstract noun refers to concepts like time, life, and patience.