Easy Learning French

The partitive article: du, de la, de l’ and des - Easy Learning Grammar French

1 The basic rules

  • du, de la, de l’ and des can all be used to give information about the amount or quantity of a particular thing. They are often translated into English as some or any.
  • In French, you choose between du, de la, de l’ and des, depending on whether the noun is masculine or feminine, singular or plural.
 with masculine nounwith feminine noun
Singulardu (de l’)de la (de l’)
Pluraldesdes
Tipde + le and de la change to de l’ when they are used in front of a word starting with a vowel, most words starting with h, and the French word y.
  • du is used in front of masculine singular nouns.
du beurre(some/any) butter
du jus d’orange(some/any) orange juice
  • Note that du is also a combination of de + le and has other meanings, such as saying who something belongs to or where something is from.
  • de la is used in front of feminine singular nouns.
de la viande(some/any) meat
de la margarine(some/any) margarine
  • de l’ is used in front of singular nouns that start with a vowel and most nouns starting with h, whether they are masculine or feminine.
de l’argent (masculine)(some/any) money
de l’eau (feminine)(some/any) water
de l’herbe (feminine)(some/any) grass
  • des is used in front of plural nouns, whether they are masculine or feminine and whatever letter they start with.
des gâteaux(some/any) cakes
des lettres(some/any) letters
des hôtels(some/any) hotels
  • Note that des is also a combination of de + les and has other meanings, such as saying who something belongs to or where something is from.

2 The partitive article in negative sentences

  • In French, you use word pairs like ne … pas (meaning not) and ne … jamais (meaning never) to say that something is not happening or not true. In this type of expression, du, de la, de l’ and des all change to de.
Nous n’avons pas de beurre.We don’t have any butter.
Je ne mange jamais de viande.I never eat meat.
Il n’y a pas de timbres.There aren’t any stamps.
  • For more information on Negatives, see Negatives.
Tipde changes to d’ in front of a word starting with a vowel and most nouns starting with h.
Il n’a pas d’argent.He doesn’t have any money.
Il n’y a pas d’horloge dans la salle.There isn’t a clock in the room.
Grammar Extra!There are some very common adjectives, like beau, bon and petit, that can come BEFORE the noun instead of after it. When an adjective comes before a plural noun, des changes to de.
J’ai reçu de beaux cadeaux.I got some lovely presents.
Cette région a de très jolis villages.This area has some very pretty villages.

3 The meaning of du, de la, de l’ and des

  • du, de la, de l’ and des are often translated into English as some or any, but there are times when no word is used in English to translate the French.
Il me doit de l’argent.He owes me (some) money.
Je vais acheter de la farine et du beurre pour faire un gâteau.I’m going to buy (some) flour and butter to make a cake.
Est-ce qu’il y a des lettres pour moi?Are there any letters for me?
Elle ne veut pas de beurre.She doesn’t want any butter.
Je ne prends pas de lait.I don’t take milk.
TipRemember that du, de la, de l’ and des can NEVER be missed out in French, even if there is no word in English.
Key points
  • With masculine singular nouns → use du.
  • With feminine singular nouns → use de la.
  • With singular nouns starting with a vowel and some nouns beginning with h → use de l’.
  • With plural nouns → use des.
  • du, de la, de l’ and des → change to de or d’ in negative sentences.

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