French Language Blog

Back to the Basics: French Articles Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Grammar

Today we will be going back to the basics of French grammar. The very building blocks of the French language require articles. What are they? Well, in English, they would be words like the or a. In any language, articles are used to show whether a noun is specific or unspecific. For example, in English, you could say “After the long day I had, I need a good night’s sleep!” While the first article is definite, the second is indefinite. See how the meaning of the sentence changes when the definite article is changed to an indefinite article: “After a long day, I need a good night’s sleep!”

Courtesy of A. Buxo from


Definite and indefinite articles work similarly in French. The French definite articles are le, la, and les (in addition to l’ when coming before a noun that begins with a vowel). Of course, the major difference between articles in French and in English is that French articles change depending on the gender of the noun they modify. The French indefinite articles are un, une, and des.

In addition, French has what is called partitive articles. The partitive articles are du, de la, de l’, and des. Partitive articles are used to describe a quantity of something. You can read more about these articles (expressing quantity) here.


French definite articles correspond to “the” in English. They change based on the noun’s number, gender, and its first letter. For example, if you want to say “the book” you would need to know that the French word for book (livre) is masculine and that it starts with a consonant. In this case, it is singular. Thus, for a masculine singular noun that is singular, you would use le. Plural (feminine or masculine) nouns use les. Feminine singular nouns use la. And any word that begins with a vowel, regardless of its gender, is preceded by l’. A similar rule follows the use of indefinite articles, which correspond to “a” in English (une for a singular feminine noun, un for a singular masculine noun, des for male or female plural nouns, and de l’ for any noun that begins with a vowel).

These rules are pretty straightforward, although it is important to determine whether you want to use a definite article or an indefinite one (Ask yourself, for example, am I talking about the book specifically or about book in general). However, the rules get a little trickier when you add prepositions to definite  articles. We’ll go over what happens when you add the prepositions à and de to definite French articles next week.

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!


  1. Richard:


    Are there any rules to help determine if a noun is masculine or feminine?