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 abouts 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

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


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.


Q&A

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

9 October 2018

7 replies

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,

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 October 2018

9/10/18

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.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

10 October 2018

10/10/18

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!

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

10 October 2018

10/10/18

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?

Alan

Kwiziq community member

10 October 2018

10/10/18

According to A Student Grammar of French by Malcolm Offord, the articles are also often omitted (in lists) in journalism.

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

12 October 2018

12/10/18

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!

 

Stewart

Kwiziq community member

12 October 2018

12/10/18

Thank you for your clarification Cécile ... all my confusion has now been removed.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

15 October 2018

15/10/18

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 :)

Madeleine

Kwiziq community member

22 September 2018

1 reply

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?

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

4 October 2018

4/10/18

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!

Johnny

Kwiziq community member

26 September 2016

1 reply

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.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

11 October 2016

11/10/16

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 !

Susan

Kwiziq community member

3 September 2016

2 replies

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

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

5 September 2016

5/09/16

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

Kwiziq community member

5 September 2016

5/09/16

Bonjour Aurélie! Thank you for your very thorough answer. À bientôt! s.

Joakim

Kwiziq community member

3 June 2016

1 reply

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?"

Prateek

Kwiziq community member

3 June 2016

3/06/16

he hates the coffee is "il déteste le café". It is the same in this case.
Clever stuff underway!