The indefinite article: un, une and des - Easy Learning Grammar French
1 The basic rules
- In English we have the indefinite article a, which changes to an in front of a word that starts with a vowel. In the plural we say either some, any or nothing at all.
- In French, you choose from un, une and des, depending on whether the noun is masculine or feminine, and singular or plural.
|with masculine noun||with feminine noun|
- un is used in front of masculine singular nouns.
|un roi||a king|
|un chien||a dog|
|un jardin||a garden|
- une is used in front of feminine singular nouns.
|une reine||a queen|
|une souris||a mouse|
|une porte||a door|
- des is used in front of plural nouns, whether they are masculine or feminine, and whatever letter they start with.
|des chiens||(some/any) dogs|
|des souris||(some/any) mice|
|des amis||(some/any) friends|
- 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.
- For more information on des, see à, de and en.
TipWhen des is used in front of a word that starts with a consonant (any letter except a, e, i, o or u), you DO NOT say the s on the end of des: des chiens (some/any) dogs.When des is used in front of a word that starts with a vowel, and most words starting with h, you DO pronounce the s on the end. It sounds like the z in the English word zip: des amis (some/any) friends, des hôtels (some/any) hotels.
2 The indefinite article in negative sentences
- In English we use words like not and never to indicate that something is not happening or is not true. The sentences that these words are used in are called negative sentences.
- I don’t know him.
- I never do my homework on time.
- 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. When un, une or des is used after this type of expression, it has to be changed to de.
|Je n’ai pas de vélo.||I don’t have a bike.|
|Nous n’avons pas de cousins.||We don’t have any cousins.|
- For more information on Negatives, see Negatives.
Tipde changes to d’ in front of a word starting with a vowel and most words starting with h.
|Je n’ai pas d’ordinateur.||I don’t have a computer.|
|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.|
- For more information on Word order with adjectives, see Word order with adjectives.
3 The meaning of des
- des can mean different things in English, depending on the sentence. Some is often the best word to use.
|J’ai un chien, deux chats et des souris.||I’ve got a dog, two cats and some mice.|
|Tu veux des chips?||Would you like some crisps?|
- In questions and negative sentences des means any, or is not translated at all.
|Tu as des frères?||Have you got any brothers?|
|Il n’y a pas d’œufs.||There aren’t any eggs.|
|Avez-vous des timbres?||Do you have stamps?|
TipAs an English speaker, you will know what sounds right in your own language. The important thing to remember is that des can NEVER be missed out in French, even if there is no word in English.
4 Using the indefinite article
- The indefinite article is used in French in much the same way as we use a, some and any in English, but there are two places where the indefinite article is NOT used:
- with the adjective quel (meaning what a), in sentences like
|Quel dommage!||What a shame!|
|Quelle surprise!||What a surprise!|
|Quelle bonne idée!||What a good idea!|
- For more information on quel, see Question words.
- when you say what jobs people do
|Il est professeur.||He’s a teacher.|
|Ma mère est infirmière.||My mother’s a nurse.|
TipWhen you use c’est (to mean he/she is), you DO use un or une. When you use ce sont (to mean they are), you DO use des.
|C’est un médecin.||He’s/She’s a doctor.|
|Ce sont des acteurs.||They’re actors.|
- For more information on c’est and ce sont, see Demonstrative pronouns: ce, cela/ça, ceci, celui.
- With masculine singular nouns → use un.
- With feminine singular nouns → use une.
- With plural nouns → use des.
- un, une and des → change to de or d’ in negative sentences.
- The indefinite article is not usually used when you say what jobs people do, or in exclamations with quel.