Using le, la, l' to say "the" (definite articles)

Look at these cases:

Le garçon mange une pomme.
The boy is eating an apple.

La fille est jolie.
The girl is pretty.

L'animal est timide.
The animal is shy.

Elle est dans l'hôtel.
She is in the hotel.

French has three words for the : le, la and l'.

Unlike English, all nouns (words for things) in French are masculine or feminine.

  • Use le with masculine nouns
  • Use la with feminine nouns
  • Use l' with words of either gender that begin with a vowel or the letter h.

Grammar jargon: le, la and l' are definite articles (the is the definite article in English).

In some cases, French and Englisgh use these definite articles in a different way, look at these lessons for such cases:

Using le, la, l', les before nouns when generalising (definite articles)
Using le, la, les with titles, languages and academic subjects (definite articles)
Using le, la, l', les with continents, countries & regions names (definite articles)
Using le, la, les with weights and measures (definite articles)
Using le, la, les with body parts and clothing (definite articles)

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Le garçon mange une pomme.
The boy is eating an apple.


La fille est jolie.
The girl is pretty.



Le vampire est caché.
The vampire is hidden.



L'animal est timide.
The animal is shy.


Elle est dans l'hôtel.
She is in the hotel.


Q&A Forum 6 questions, 15 answers

ManpreetA0Kwiziq community member

Difference between article definis and article indefinis

What is the difference between article definis and article indefinis. Why can't we use les or des for a plural, or any of these?

Asked 1 month ago
LisaA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributorCorrect answer

Hi Manpreet, 

 I’m not sure what your second question is asking but it sounds like you’re wondering if the definite articles and indefinite articles are interchangeable. They are not and they mean different things. Chris gave a good explanation of the difference between the definite and indefinite articles. 

Furthermore, in French, nouns require an article before them which is often not translated in English and makes it a little confusing.

 

All nouns, except for cities as far as I understand, have a gender- masculine or feminine which you will learn as you go. And you have to use the correct form of the article for that gender. (Best way to learn this is to write down the article with the noun when you’re learning vocabulary.) The definite and indefinite articles have to agree in gender and number with the noun.

 

Definite articles are le (masculine), la (feminine) and les which is the plural for both masculine and feminine and for simplicity, are translated as “the.”

Je veux le livre (masculine) de la bibliothèque. = I want the book from the library. (a specific book)

Je veux la fleur (féminine). = I want the flower. (a specific flower)

If you want more than one specific book or flower then the noun would be plural and therefore, the definite article would also be plural. Les is the plural article for both masculine and feminine nouns.

Je veux les livres. = I want the books.

Je veux les fleurs. = I want the flowers. 

 

The indefinite articles are un (masculine) and une (feminine) and are translated as “a or an” in English. The plural indefinite article is des and is generally equivalent to “some.”

Je veux un livre de la bibliothèque. = I want a book from the library. (Any book, just a book.)

Je veux une fleur. = I want a flower. (any flower, not specified)

If you want more than one unspecified book or flower, then the noun would be plural and the article would also be plural.

Je veux des livres de la bibliothèque. = I want some books from the library. (More than one unspecified books)

Je veux des fleurs. = I want some flowers. (unspecified)

I hope this helps. 

 

 

 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

A definite article is an article which refers to a particular thing; an indefinite article refers to a general thing. Doesn't mean much? Let's see an example:

the house -- la maison: definite article, because it refers to a specific house.
The house I live in. -- La maison dans laquelle je vis.

a house -- une maison: indefinite article, because it isn't talking about a specific house.
I live in a house. -- J'habite dans une maison.

Regarding your second question, I am not quite sure what you're asking.

Difference between article definis and article indefinis

What is the difference between article definis and article indefinis. Why can't we use les or des for a plural, or any of these?

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BETHSAINAA0Kwiziq community member

is it required to be specific about the genders

what does it matter if you are saying le ou la in front of the different subjects

Asked 1 month ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Bethsaina,

I am afraid it does, the best way to tackle this problem is to learn words with an article in front of it -

La table The table

Le bureau The desk

La clé -----> Les clés The keys/ The keys

Le document ----> Les documents = The document /The documents 

Hope this helps!

LisaA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Hi Bethsaina! Cécile answered your question. I just thought I’d add something that helped me initially. Hopefully it doesn’t just add confusion. Just about every noun and proper noun (eg., a country) has a gender. So far the only things that I have found that don’t have a clear gender are cities. And you have to know the gender for multiple reasons as you’ll learn.

I used to think I could try and guess the gender based upon the noun, like dog should be masculine while cat seems more feminine! But it does not work that way! Silly me. Well, aside from nouns that refer to males like “l’homme” (masc.) (the man) and nouns that refer to females are feminine like “la femme” (the woman.) (This is taken from one of my favorite French books “Easy French Step-By-Step.”)

You can’t really guess the gender but there are some spelling differences in the ENDINGS of a noun that can help distinguish masculine from feminine:

Masculine endings:

-eau.  -ment.  and -isme.

So in the answer Cécile gave, “le bureau” is masculine because it ends in -eau. “Le tourisme” because it ends in -isme. Of course there are exceptions.

Feminine endings:

-ence.  -té.  -ie.  -ude.  -ure and -ion.

“la difference,” “l’attitude” and “la beauté” are feminine because of their endings.

I hope I haven’t confused you more. This helped me a lot. 

SimonKwiziq team member

Hey Bethsaina, 

great answer Lisa!  Aurélie did a good lesson on this too which may add to your thoughts on this:

Identifying gender by some word endings

is it required to be specific about the genders

what does it matter if you are saying le ou la in front of the different subjects

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BarbaraA1Kwiziq community member

Why is it le écharpe and not l’écharpe?

Asked 9 months ago
MarinaKwiziq community memberCorrect answer

It is, “ L'écharpe" because of the vowel following the article.

BrianC1Kwiziq community member

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BrianC1Kwiziq community member

If it is l'écharpe and not le écharpe, could someone please correct the exercise?

Why is it le écharpe and not l’écharpe?

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PeterA0Kwiziq community member

When to use the definite articles

In English, we often drop the definite article but it seems in French, that it is always used or used more often than in English, is this the case? What is the correct rule
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Peter,

We offer a few lessons addressing the different cases where the definite articles are used differently in French.
Thanks to your question, we've now added links to them in the main lesson. Please have a look:
https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/revision/grammar/using-le-la-l-to-say-the-definite-articles

A bientôt !

When to use the definite articles

In English, we often drop the definite article but it seems in French, that it is always used or used more often than in English, is this the case? What is the correct rule

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PeterA0Kwiziq community member

Le garcon, la fille, l'hotel, les enfants

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Peter,

We offer a few lessons addressing the different cases where the definite articles are used differently in French.
Thanks to your question, we've now added links to them in the main lesson. Please have a look:
https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/revision/grammar/using-le-la-l-to-say-the-definite-articles

A bientôt !

Le garcon, la fille, l'hotel, les enfants

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MeganA0Kwiziq community member

L'

I still don't understand when do you do l'.
Asked 3 years ago
GruffKwiziq team member
Hi Megan, If the next word starts with the letter a, e, i, o or u, then you contract le or la to l'. If it starts with an h, but the h is silent/mute/unpronounced when the word is spoken (so in effect the next letter which is a vowel is the real first letter) then again, contract le or la to l'. It just makes the words a bit easier to say and that's reflected in how they're written. Does this answer your question?
JoakimC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Are there no French nouns beginning with "y" ?
LauraKwiziq team member
Joakim, Yes, there are, but you don't contract in front of them: le yaourt, le yurt, etc.
GruffKwiziq team member

You would contract "le" + "y" though (the adverbial pronoun) - again because it's pronounced as a vowel here. "Je l'y rejoins" for example.

MeganA0Kwiziq community member
Yes that answers my question. Thanks

L'

I still don't understand when do you do l'.

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