Easy Learning French

The definite article: le, la, l’ and les - Easy Learning Grammar French

1 The basic rules

  • In English we only have one definite article: the. In French, there is more than one definite article to choose from. All French nouns are either masculine or feminine and, just as in English, they can be either singular or plural. The word you choose for the depends on whether the noun it is used with is masculine or feminine, singular or plural. This may sound complicated, but it is not too difficult.
  • For more information on Nouns, see Nouns.
with masculine nounwith feminine noun
Singularle (l’)la (l’)
Plurallesles
Tiple and la change to l’ when they are used in front of a word starting with a vowel and most words starting with h.
  • le is used in front of masculine singular nouns.
le roithe king
le chienthe dog
le jardinthe garden
  • la is used in front of feminine singular nouns.
la reinethe queen
la souristhe mouse
la portethe door
  • l’ is used in front of singular nouns that start with a vowel (a, e, i, o, or u), whether they are masculine or feminine.
l’ami (masculine)the friend
l’eau (feminine)the water
l’étage (masculine)the floor
  • Note that l’ is also used in front of most words starting with h but some others take le or la instead.
l’hôpitalthe hospital
le hamsterthe hamster
la hi-fithe stereo
TipIt is a good idea to learn the article or the gender with the noun when you come across a word for the first time, so that you know whether it is masculine or feminine. A good dictionary will also give you this information.
  • les is used in front of plural nouns, whether they are masculine or feminine and whatever letter they start with.
les chiensthe dogs
les portesthe doors
les amisthe friends
les hôtelsthe hotels
  • Note that you have to make the noun plural too, just as you would in English. In French, as in English, you usually add an -s.
TipWhen les is used in front of a word that starts with a consonant, you DO NOT say the s on the end of les: les chiens the dogs.When les is used in front of a word that starts with a vowel, most words starting with h, and the French word y, you DO pronounce the s on the end of les. It sounds like the z in the English word zip: les amis the friends, les hôtels the hotels.

2 Using à with le, la, l’ and les

  • The French word à is translated into English in several different ways, including at or to. There are special rules when you use it together with le and les.
  • When à is followed by le, the two words become au.
au cinémato/at the cinema
au professeurto the teacher
  • When à is followed by les, the two words become aux.
aux maisonsto the houses
aux étudiantsto the students
  • When à is followed by la or l’, the words do not change.
à la bibliothèqueto/at the library
à l’hôtelto/at the hotel
Tiple and la change to l’ when they are used in front of a word starting with a vowel and most words starting with h.

3 Using de with le, la, l’ and les

  • The French word de is translated into English in several different ways, including of and from. There are special rules when you use it together with le and les.
  • When de is followed by le, the two words become du.
du cinémafrom/of the cinema
du professeurfrom/of the teacher
  • When de is followed by les, the two words become des.
des maisonsfrom/of the houses
des étudiantsfrom/of the students
  • When de is followed by la or l’, the words do not change.
de la bibliothèquefrom/of the library
de l’hôtelfrom/of the hotel
Tiple and la change to l’ when they are used in front of a word starting with a vowel and most words starting with h.
Key points
  • With masculine singular nouns → use le.
  • With feminine singular nouns → use la.
  • With nouns starting with a vowel, most nouns beginning with h and the French word y → use l’.
  • With plural nouns → use les.
  • à + le = au
    à + les = aux
    de + le = du
    de + les = des

4 Using the definite article

  • The definite article in French (le, la, l’ and les) is used in more or less the same way as we use the in English, but it is also used in French in a few places where you might not expect it.
  • The definite article is used with words like prices, flu and time that describe qualities, ideas or experiences (called abstract nouns) rather than something that you can touch with your hand. Usually, the is missed out in English with this type of word.
Les prix montent.Prices are rising.
J’ai la grippe.I’ve got flu.
Je n’ai pas le temps.I don’t have time.
  • Note that there are some set phrases using avoir, avec or sans followed by a noun, where the definite article is NOT used.
avoir faimto be hungry (literally: to have hunger)
avec plaisirwith pleasure
sans douteprobably (literally: without doubt)
  • You also use the definite article when you are talking about things like coffee or computers that you can touch with your hand (called concrete nouns) if you are talking generally about that thing. Usually, the is missed out in English with this type of word.
Je n’aime pas le café.I don’t like coffee.
Les ordinateurs coûtent très cher.Computers are very expensive.
Les professeurs ne gagnent pas beaucoup.Teachers don’t earn very much.
  • If you are talking about a part of your body, you usually use a word like my or his in English, but in French you usually use the definite article.
Tourne la tête à gauche.Turn your head to the left.
Il s’est cassé le bras.He’s broken his arm.
J’ai mal à la gorge.I’ve got a sore throat.
  • In French you have to use the definite article in front of the names of countries, continents and regions.
la BretagneBrittany
l’EuropeEurope
La France est très belle.France is very beautiful.
J’ai acheté ce poster au Japon.I bought this poster in Japan.
Je viens des États-Unis.I come from the United States.
  • Note that if the name of the country comes after the French word en, meaning to or in, you do not use the definite article. en is used with the names of countries, continents and regions that are feminine in French.
Je vais en Écosse le mois prochain.I’m going to Scotland next month.
Il travaille en Allemagne.He works in Germany.
  • You often use the definite article with the name of school subjects, languages and sports.
Tu aimes les maths?Do you like maths?
J’apprends le français depuis trois ans.I’ve been learning French for three years.
Mon sport préféré, c’est le foot.My favourite sport is football.
  • Note that the definite article is not used after en.
Comment est-ce qu’on dit ‘fils’ en anglais?How do you say ‘fils’ in English?
Sophie est nulle en chimie.Sophie’s no good at chemistry.
  • When you use the verb parler (meaning to speak) in front of the name of the language, you do not always need to use the definite article in French.
Tu parles espagnol?Do you speak Spanish?
Il parle bien l’anglais.He speaks English well.
  • You use le 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.
  • Note that you do not use the definite article after en.
En hiver nous faisons du ski.In winter we go skiing.
  • You often find the definite article in phrases that tell you about prices and rates.
6 euros le kilo6 euros a kilo
3 euros la pièce3 euros each
On roulait à 100 kilomètres à l’heure.We were doing 100 kilometres an hour.
Key points
  • The definite article is used in French with:
  • abstract nouns
  • concrete nouns (when you are saying something that is true about a thing in general)
  • parts of the body
  • countries, continents and regions
  • school subjects, languages and sports
  • dates
  • days of the week and the seasons (when you are talking about something that you do regularly or that is a habit)
  • prices and rates

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