Le, La, L', Les, Un, Une, Des: A guide to the French articles (2023)

What is a French article? Articles are important elements of French grammar, enabling us to indicate some level of specifics to nouns. In this postwe’ll examine the three different types of French articles, and go over how to use all of them!

French Articles: The Basics

There are three types of French articles: definite articles, indefinite articles, and partitive articles. Each type has a different meaning, but they all follow a set of standard rules:

1. An article comes before a noun. A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.

2. As nouns have gender in French, the article must match the gender of the noun (masculine or feminine).

3. Each noun’s article must also match its number (singular or plural).

4. While articles can often be omitted in English, they cannot be omitted in French. In English, for example, we can say “I like bread,” whereas in French we would have to say “J’aime le pain,” which literally translates to “I like thebread.”

Definite Articles: “The” in French

Definite articles refer to known or specific nouns. All of the Frenchdefinite articlestranslate to English asthe. Theymust match the gender and number of the noun they precede. The definite articles in Frenchare:

Definite articles: FrenchMasculineFeminine
Singular, before a vowel soundl’l’

Both leand la will form contractions with nouns that begin with a vowel or vowel sound (like a silent “h”) in French. To make these contractions, we simply drop the last letter from the article and add an apostrophe. Both leand lawill become l’ before a noun that begins with a vowel, regardless of whether that noun is masculine or feminine. This is the closest comparison we have to your English article an, which is also placed before vowel sounds.

Lesis used before both masculine plural nouns and feminine plural nouns.

Let’s see the French definite articles with some examples:

  • Lecahier – Thenotebook (masculine)
  • Larecette – Therecipe (feminine)
  • L’ordinateur – Thecomputer (masculine)
  • Lescahiers – Thenotebooks (masculine, plural)
  • Lesrecettes – Therecipes (feminine, plural)
  • Lesordinateurs – Thecomputers (masculine, plural)

Masculine vs feminine nouns

Unfortunately, there is not a simple way to tell whether a French noun is masculine or feminine on its own, so you’ll need to memorize each noun’s gender as you learn it. You can do this by memorizing the definite (or indefinite) article that precedes it. If the noun begins with a vowel (preceded by l’) or is plural (preceded by les), however, the definite article will not indicate the noun’s gender, so you’ll need to identify the noun’s gender in another way. Most language resources indicate a noun’s gender with an abbreviation, usually “m.” for masculine and “f.” for feminine.

Contractions with “à” and “de”

When used with the prepositions à(indicating to, at, or in) and de(indicating from, of, or about), the masculine and plural definite articles leand lesbecome contractions. We’ll look at these specifics in the following tables, along with examples demonstrating each one. Note that with the feminine definite article la, as well as with the definite article preceding a vowel l’, there is no change.

Àis a preposition that generally translates as to, at, or in, so all four forms shown in this table can translate as to the, at the, or in the.

à + leau
à + laà la
à + l’à l’
à + lesaux
  • Auparc (m.)– To thepark, At thepark, In thepark
  • À la librarie (f.) – To the bookstore, At the bookstore, In the bookstore
  • À l’école (f.) – To [the] school, At [the] school
  • Auxmagasins (m.) – To thestores, At thestores, In thestores

Deis a preposition that generally translates as from, of, or about, so all four forms shown in this table can translate as from the, of the, or about the.

de + ledu
de + lade la
de + l’de l’
de + lesdes
  • Duparc (m.) – From thepark, Of thepark, About thepark
  • De la plage (f.) – From the beach, Of the beach, About the beach
  • De l’ambassade (m.) – From the embassy, Of the embassy, About the embassy
  • Desamis (m.) – From thefriends, Of thefriends, About thefriends

Indefinite Articles: “A,” “An,” and “Some” in French

Indefinite articles refer to unknown or general nouns. The French indefinite articles un and uneare for singular nouns, which in English can be either aor an, while the indefinite article desfor plural nouns generally translates as some. The indefinite articles in Frenchmust match the gender and number of the nouns they precede. The indefinite articles in Frenchare:

Indefinite articles: FrenchMasculineFeminine

The indefinite articles unand unecan also mean one, and will still agree with the noun’s gender.

Desis used for both masculine plural nouns and feminine plural nouns.

Now let’s see the French indefinite articles with the same nouns we saw when introducing the French definite articles:

  • Uncahier – Anotebook, Onenotebook
  • Unerecette – Arecipe, Onerecipe
  • Descahiers – Somenotebooks
  • Desrecettes – Somerecipes

Partitive Articles: “Some” or “Any” in French

Partitive articlesin Frenchrefer to “part of” or “some of” a whole object, or to several objects among many. The partitive articles du, dela, del’, and desgenerally translate as somein French, while they can also take other translations depending on the context, namely any.

When the noun is singular, the partitive article indicates “part of” or “some of” a whole object, or “some” of a noncount noun. A noncount noun is a noun that cannot be counted and only exists in abstract quantities (such as “butter” or “water”). When the noun is plural, the partitive article indicates several objects. The partitive articles in Frenchare:

Partitive articles: FrenchMasculineFeminine
Singulardude la
Singular, before a vowel soundde l’de l’


  • Veux-tu dugâteau. – Do you want somecake? – Do you want anycake?
  • Je mets toujours de la moutarde dans mes sandwichs. – I always put [some] mustard in my sandwiches.
  • Le chanteur utilise toujours de l’argot dans ses textes. – The singer always uses someslang in his lyrics.
  • Il nous faut despièces de monnaie pour les parcomètres – We need somechange for the parking meters.

“Du,” “De la,” “De l’,” “Des”: Contraction or partitive article?

You may have noticed that the definite article contractions with de and the partitive articles in French are the same words. You can tell the difference from the context of the phrase or sentence.

Examples of contractions:

  • C’est le bureau duprofesseur. – That’s the desk of theteacher. (Here, the contraction dumeans of theand indicates possession.)
  • Je viens de labibliothèque. – I am coming from thelibrary. (Here, de lameans from theand indicates direction.)
  • Tu parles destrains ? – Are you talking about thetrains? (Here, the contraction desmeans about theand indicates subject matter.)

Examples of partitive articles:

  • Je voudrais dubacon, s’il vous plaît. – I would like somebacon, please. (Here, the partitive article dumeans someof a noncount noun: bacon.)
  • Tu veux de labaguette ? – Would you like somebread? (Here, the partitive article de lameans someof a whole object: a long, thin loaf of French bread.)
  • Reste-t-il de l’avocat ? – Is there anyavocado left? (Here, the partitive article de l’means anyof an object: avocado.)
  • Elle mange desraisins. – She is eating somegrapes. (Here, the partitive article desmeanssomegrapes. We could also simply consider this to be an indefinite article on its own.)

Conclusion: Articles in French

We’ve written a lot here to give a full explanation on all the ways to say theand ain French. Known respectively as the definite articlesand indefinite articles, the main difference with their English counterparts is that French has different forms of each one to match the gender and number of the nouns they precede. In plural, the indefinite article generally translates as some.

In addition to getting to know the basic list of French articles, we saw some specific contractions where the masculine and plural forms of the articles combine with the prepositions àand de. Finally, we looked at the partitive articlesin French, which enable us to talk about imprecise portions of whatever noun we’re describing.

We hope this post has helped you clear up all the differences between the various articles in French, while also helping to understand their parallels with the English articles you’re already familiar with. As one of the fundamental building blocks of basic grammar, mastering the French articles will come quickly enough as you imrove your skills in the language!

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