Using le, la, l', les before nouns when generalising (definite articles)

Look at these general statements:

Il déteste le café.
He hates coffee.

La vie est compliquée.
Life is complicated.

Il déteste l'alcool.
He hates alcohol.

J'adore les concombres!
I love cucumbers!

 

In English, we drop the when talking about things in general, but notice that in French, when talking about things in general or abstractly, you must use le, la, l', or les (the definite article).

ATTENTION:

Whereas partitive articles du, de la, de l', des and indefinite articles un, une become de or d' in negative sentences [See Du, de la, de l', des all become de or d' in negative sentences (partitive articles) and Un, une become de or d' in negative sentences (indefinite articles)], this rule doesn't apply to definite articles le, la, l' or les which remain the same in negative sentences:

On n'aime pas la musique classique.
We dont like classical music.

Elle n'aime pas les bonbons.
She doesn't like sweets.

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

On n'aime pas la musique classique.
We dont like classical music.


Les plantes produisent l’oxygène.
Plants produce oxygen.


Il déteste l'alcool.
He hates alcohol.


Il déteste le café.
He hates coffee.


Ils cherchent le bonheur.
They seek happiness.


La vie est compliquée.
Life is complicated.


J'adore les concombres!
I love cucumbers!


Elle n'aime pas les bonbons.
She doesn't like sweets.


J'adore la France!
I love France!


La nourriture est chère.
Food is expensive.



Elle aime le chocolat!
She loves chocolat!


Le vin blanc me donne des maux de tête.
White wine gives me headaches.


J'adore les toiles d'araignées
I love spider webs!


Q&A Forum 11 questions, 22 answers

VanessaB2Kwiziq community member

Differentiating between using le/la/les and du/de la/des

For example if you were to say 'I like carrots', can't you say j'aime des carottes as well as j'aime les carottes ?

Or do they mean different things?

Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Vanessa,

To say, 'I like carrots', you have to use the definite article,  les and say -

J'aime les carottes 

It sort of indicates in French that you like all the carrots in the world. very strange!

Des is a partitive article meaning 'some' so you might say -

Je voudrais des carottes,  s'il vous plait I'd like some carrots, please

or 

Donnez-moi des carottes = Give me some carrots

Hope this helps!

Differentiating between using le/la/les and du/de la/des

For example if you were to say 'I like carrots', can't you say j'aime des carottes as well as j'aime les carottes ?

Or do they mean different things?

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AlanA1Kwiziq community member

Text box for answer seems to be slightly undersized when full width of text box is used.

There seems to be some kind of error associated with the text input for Studyplan questions based on this lesson.

Here is the question:

"_________  des légumes." (Carrots are vegetables.)

HINT: "carottes"

[End of question]

I type the following reasonable answer:

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

On my screen, as soon as I type the thirteenth "x", the first "x" is slightly truncated at the left.  (The remainder of the question is pushed to the right, which is expected behaviour.)

If I arrow left to completely expose the first "x", the final "x" then becomes partially truncated at the right. Adding further x's are correctly expanding the text box, but either the initial character or the final character are partially truncated.

If I adjust the screen font size using Ctrl++ or Ctrl+-, the truncation persists.

Additional question:  Why are there quotes round some of the questions (see my example above, with the final quotes after "légumes").

On the specific Studyplan test page that I'm currently looking at, 2 questions have quotes and 8 questions have no quotes. Without being condescending, I'm sure the average guy will not notice any difference, but for techies who are trained to look for tiny clues (think "Boeing 337 Max"), these things can be irritating if they are unintentional and random. I spent some time trying to figure out what I was missing.

Thanks.

Asked 3 months ago
RowenB1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Hi Alan - this looks like a technical / system question, so I'm replying to you via email about this. Please check your inbox. Thanks!

Text box for answer seems to be slightly undersized when full width of text box is used.

There seems to be some kind of error associated with the text input for Studyplan questions based on this lesson.

Here is the question:

"_________  des légumes." (Carrots are vegetables.)

HINT: "carottes"

[End of question]

I type the following reasonable answer:

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

On my screen, as soon as I type the thirteenth "x", the first "x" is slightly truncated at the left.  (The remainder of the question is pushed to the right, which is expected behaviour.)

If I arrow left to completely expose the first "x", the final "x" then becomes partially truncated at the right. Adding further x's are correctly expanding the text box, but either the initial character or the final character are partially truncated.

If I adjust the screen font size using Ctrl++ or Ctrl+-, the truncation persists.

Additional question:  Why are there quotes round some of the questions (see my example above, with the final quotes after "légumes").

On the specific Studyplan test page that I'm currently looking at, 2 questions have quotes and 8 questions have no quotes. Without being condescending, I'm sure the average guy will not notice any difference, but for techies who are trained to look for tiny clues (think "Boeing 337 Max"), these things can be irritating if they are unintentional and random. I spent some time trying to figure out what I was missing.

Thanks.

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JoanA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

In a writing practice, the translation for 'she has long blond hair' is either 'elle a de longs cheveux blonds'

or 'elle a les cheveux longs et blond'. I wonder if 2 of the following are correct also?

elle a des cheveux longs et blonds

elle a les longs cheveux blonds

Asked 5 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Joan,

I have just answered a couple of questions relating to the writing exercise which (I think)is the one you mention -

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/exercises/overview/968

The text actually says -

"..with her long blond hair "= "...avec ses longs cheveux blonds"

But if it was -

'She has long blond hair' , the only translation which sounds 'French' to me is -

'Elle a de longs cheveux blonds'

Hope this helps!

In a writing practice, the translation for 'she has long blond hair' is either 'elle a de longs cheveux blonds'

or 'elle a les cheveux longs et blond'. I wonder if 2 of the following are correct also?

elle a des cheveux longs et blonds

elle a les longs cheveux blonds

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SylviaC1Kwiziq community member

Is it possible to say: le chômage c'est un gros problème - with c'est instead of just est?

Asked 6 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Sylvia,

You can say either -

'Le chômage est un gros problème' 

or 

Le chômage, c'est un gros problème 

Both meaning, 

'Unemployment is a big problem'

Hope this helps!

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

It's a French style thing. In French you often times repeat the subject.

SylviaC1Kwiziq community member

thx, I just asked because it counts as wrong if you put it this way (with c'est) in the test ;)

Is it possible to say: le chômage c'est un gros problème - with c'est instead of just est?

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BrunoA0Kwiziq community member

So if I want to say: "I like girls" I would have to say "J'aime les filles"???? I can't just say: "J'aime filles"? & cant I use the partitive here ?

Asked 7 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Bruno,

Yes,

j'aime les filles

is correct...

CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Bruno,

 As is said in the lesson -

"In English, we drop the when talking about things in general, but notice that in French, when talking about things in general or abstractly, you must use le, la, l', or les (the definite article). "

So you will say :

J'aime les filles, le chocolat, le football, ....

Hope this is clearer...

BrunoA0Kwiziq community member

But is there an explanation for this??? Why do I have to use 'les'? 

So if I want to say: "I like girls" I would have to say "J'aime les filles"???? I can't just say: "J'aime filles"? & cant I use the partitive here ?

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JoanA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

J'aime écouter la musique.

In this case, I refer musique as general thing. Am I correct?

Asked 8 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Yes, Joan , you are correct ....

J'aime écouter la musique.

In this case, I refer musique as general thing. Am I correct?

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StewartC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Articles OR no articles depending on the context?

In this Weekend Workout (5-10-2018) in the 'Californian Dream' level C1 quiz we are asked to translate:

'But what fascinated her the most remained this image of a land both arid and lush, which comprised desert, forests, ocean and mountains,'

Two possible anwers were given (see below) one with articles and the other without articles.

Is this perhaps because the one with articles relates to general things BUT the one without articles relates to specific things (a specific forest, say, rather than forests in general)? Could you please advise/explain.

Answer 1. qui comprenait le désert, les forêts, l'océan et les montagnes,

Answer 2. qui comprenait désert, forêts, océan et montagnes,

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Stewart,

It is just a stylistic tool used to recite/declame in literature which you would not find in spoken French.

It made me think of a beautiful Lamartine poem ( French romantic poet) called Le Lac where he  asks time to stand still so that he can savour the moment :

"... ô lac! rochets muets! grottes! forêt obscure 

Vous que le temps épargne ou qu'il peut rajeunir..."

Here is a link to it if you are interested -

https://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/alphonse_de_lamartine/le_lac

Hope this helps!

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Both refer to general things but are stylistically different. You can find traces of this in English as well:

I love forest, sea and sky.
I love the forest, the sea and the sky.

Both versions say the same thing but they have a different "ring" to it.

Input from a native speaker would be greatly appreciated.

StewartC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Hi Cécile (and Chris) Thank you for the response.

Do I understand correctly thay the sentence without the articles would typically be found only in, say, a novel or a poem but the sentence with the articles is the one that should be used in spoken French?

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
According to A Student Grammar of French by Malcolm Offord, the articles are also often omitted (in lists) in journalism.
CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Stewart,

Yes, your last comment is correct, the lack of articles is used for lyrical purposes.

In normal speech you will need an article unlike ( sometimes) in English.

Look at the following examples:

If you have time, come and see me = Si vous avez le temps, passez me voir

Or, describing what a person might have going for her -

Elle a beaucoup d'humour, des amis merveilleux, un mari adorable, de beaux enfants She has humour, wonderful friends, a wonderful husband, beautiful children

Knowing which one to use is more tricky!

Hope this helps!

 

StewartC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Thank you for your clarification Cécile ... all my confusion has now been removed.
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

English is actually quite tricky in this respect. Consider this:

If you have time, I'd love to visit.
If you can spare the time, I'd love to visit.

The article is used for some verbs and not for others in English. Try to explain that to someone learning English :)

Articles OR no articles depending on the context?

In this Weekend Workout (5-10-2018) in the 'Californian Dream' level C1 quiz we are asked to translate:

'But what fascinated her the most remained this image of a land both arid and lush, which comprised desert, forests, ocean and mountains,'

Two possible anwers were given (see below) one with articles and the other without articles.

Is this perhaps because the one with articles relates to general things BUT the one without articles relates to specific things (a specific forest, say, rather than forests in general)? Could you please advise/explain.

Answer 1. qui comprenait le désert, les forêts, l'océan et les montagnes,

Answer 2. qui comprenait désert, forêts, océan et montagnes,

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MadeleineC1Kwiziq community member

When to use the partitive article when talking about general things?

It looks like sometimes you use the partitive article 'des' even when referring to general things, for example:

Le vin blanc me donne des maux de tête.

or the following sentence from an exercise: 'J'étudierais un sujet qui me plaît, en rencontrant des gens intéressants

Can someone explain this please?

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Madeleine,

Thank you for your very interesting question and I will try and answer it.

In French for generalities you imply that it is almost a fact as in,

'Les enfants aiment le chocolat et les bonbons.'

It is not true of every child but of most of them.

I think you have to use the partitive in the two examples you give because: 

 'white wine clearly give you (some/a) headache'

In the second example 'you will meet (some) interesting people while studying...'

You might say: ' J'aime les gens intéressants'  in that case it is all of the people under that genus.

It is so instinctive it's quite hard to explain...

Hope it helps!

When to use the partitive article when talking about general things?

It looks like sometimes you use the partitive article 'des' even when referring to general things, for example:

Le vin blanc me donne des maux de tête.

or the following sentence from an exercise: 'J'étudierais un sujet qui me plaît, en rencontrant des gens intéressants

Can someone explain this please?

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JohnnyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

des maux de tête

Maux is the plural of mal? When do we use maux instead of mal? I thought headache is mal à la tête. How come à/aux is not even in the sentence? Thanks.
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Johnny ! Here it's a difference of usage of the noun "un mal" (an ache). In the expression "J'ai mal à la tête.", you're using "mal" without an article, similarly to the expression "avoir pitié de" (to have pity for). You're literally saying "I have ache to the head.". When you're using the expression "des maux de tête" (literally: head aches), you're using the plural of "mal", which is "maux". It's just another way to say "headache" in French. I hope that's helpful !

des maux de tête

Maux is the plural of mal? When do we use maux instead of mal? I thought headache is mal à la tête. How come à/aux is not even in the sentence? Thanks.

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Susan C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Why is "de" necessary in, "Les plantes produisent de l'oxygène?"

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
Bonjour Susan ! In this sentence, it's because we're considering that oxygen is not a countable thing (i.e. "Plants produce some oxygen."), therefore you need to use the partitive article, i.e. de l' . However, I agree that in this case, plants produce oxygen in general, therefore it would be more accurate to say : "Les plantes produisent l'oxygène.". Thanks to you, I edited the example. Merci et à bientôt !
Susan C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Bonjour Aurélie! Thank you for your very thorough answer. À bientôt! s.

Why is "de" necessary in, "Les plantes produisent de l'oxygène?"

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JoakimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Meaning of 'le'

I'm sure you've heard this a million times already, but if "il déteste le café" is "he hates coffee" then how does one say "he hates the coffee?"
Asked 3 years ago
PrateekB1Kwiziq community member
he hates the coffee is "il déteste le café". It is the same in this case.

Meaning of 'le'

I'm sure you've heard this a million times already, but if "il déteste le café" is "he hates coffee" then how does one say "he hates the coffee?"

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