Definite article in French - le, la, les
How to use the definite article in French
The definite article in French is used in more or less the same way as we use the in English. However, one of the main differences is that in French, there is more than one definite article to choose from. Moreover, all French nouns are either masculine or feminine and, just as in English, they can be either singular or plural.
Forms of the definite article
le père (the father)
la mère (the mother)
l'hirondelle (the swallow)
les pères (the fathers)
les dames (the ladies)
Le and la change to l' when they are used in front of a word starting with a vowel and most words starting with h.
If à or de are placed in front of a definite article they'll be contracted:
|à/de + article||Contracted article||Example|
|á + le||→ au||la mousse au chocolate (chocolate mousse)|
|à + les||→ aux||mentir aux collègues (lie to the colleagues)|
|de + le||→ du||parler du livre (speak about the book)|
|de + les||→ des||à l'ombre des arbres (in the shadow of the trees)|
Exceptional cases of using the definite article
You should be aware that there are some exceptional cases when it comes to using definite articles in French.
1) Abstract & concrete nouns
Different from the English language definite articles in French are used with words that describe qualities, ideas or experiences (= abstract nouns) and things you can touch with your hands (= concret nouns).
- J'ai la grippe. (I've got flu.)
- Je n'ai pas le temps (I don't have time.)
- Je n'aime pas le café. (I don't like coffee.)
2) Countries, continents & regions
ln French you always have to use the definite article in front of the names of countries, continents and regions.
- la Bretagne (Brittany)
- l'Europe (Europe)
- Je viens des États-Unis. (I come from the United States.)
3) Formal addresses
If you use an article in combination with madame or monsieur you have to put the article inbetween.
- Monsieur le Commissaire (Mister Police Inspector)
- Madame la Présidente (Miss President)
4) Use with names
The definite article in French is used before:
- family names in the plural form (les Duponts)
- proper names in the singular form (le jeune Dupont)
- titles (le docteur Knock)
5) Times & days
You use the definite article with dates, and also with the names of the days of the week and the seasons when you are talking about something that you do regularly or that is a habit
- Elle part le 7 mai. (She's leaving on the seventh of May.)
- Je vais chez ma grand-mère le dimanche. (I go to my grandmother's on Sundays.)
- Paris, le 14 juillet 1998. (Paris, on the 14. July 1998.)
Note that you do NOT use the definite article after en.
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