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French Articles and Determiners: A Comprehensive Guide

In grammar, an article is a small word that comes before a noun to tell us if the noun is specific or not. You could think of articles as the little markers that tell us whether we’re talking about a particular thing or something more general. There are definite articles for specific things, for example “the book on the table”, and indefinite articles for general things, like “an apple”. French articles and determiners can be a little more complex than their English equivalents due to the higher number and gender agreement. In this article, we’re going to learn the French articles and much more, with an introduction to other useful determiners that you can use to identify or quantify a noun.

French articles – Definite

A definite article is used to talk about a specific thing. In English, we would use “the”, but the French language, like many other Romance languages, has several definite articles. This is because it distinguishes between masculine and feminine nouns, as well as between singular and plural forms.

The indefinite French articles are le, la, and les. We use these to show that we’re referring to a particular item or group of items.

“Le” is used for masculine nouns:

  • Le salon – the living room

“La” is used for feminine nouns:

  • La cuisine – the kitchen

“Les” is used for plural nouns:

  • Les chambres – the bedrooms

If a noun starts with a vowel, the definite article becomes l’, as this makes it flow more easily when spoken. The noun is still either masculine or feminine, although we cannot tell which from the article alone. For example: L’entrée – the entrance hall.

In English, we can sometimes drop the article for plural nouns. When we’re talking about things in a general sense, or when referring to all members of a group in a broad way, we often don’t use “the.” However, in French the plural article “les” is always required.

  • Les chiens sont des animaux loyaux – Dogs are loyal animals
  • Les enfants comprennent plus que nous ne le pensons – Children understand more than we think

Example sentences with definite articles

  • Le mur s’est effondré sur le toit de l’abri de jardin – The wall collapsed onto the roof of the garden shed
  • J’aime la robe violette, mais je n’aime pas la bleue – I like the purple dress, but I don’t like the blue one
  • Les jouets sont parfois inutiles, car les enfants aiment inventer des jeux – Toys are sometimes pointless, because children like to make up games
  • L’homme a mangé l’orange que sa femme voulait – The man ate the orange his wife wanted

Indefinite articles in French

If we want to talk about an unspecified noun or one of something, then we need to use an indefinite article. In French there are once again several different articles because of masculine and feminine, singular and plural nouns. Un and une can be translated to a/an, while des means some. While this system of agreement may seem complex to learners, it’s a fundamental aspect of French grammar.

“Un” is used for masculine nouns:

  • Un placard – a cupboard

“Une” is used for feminine nouns:

  • Une armoire – a wardrobe/closet

“Des” is used for plural nouns:

  • Des tiroirs – some drawers

Example sentences with definite articles

  • Il y avait un canapé en cuir et plusieurs fauteuils dans une petite pièce – There was a leather sofa and several armchairs in a small room
  • Regardez, il y a un papillon ! – Look, there’s a butterfly!
  • Il porte un pull gris, une chemise blanche, et des chaussures noires – He’s wearing a grey pullover, a white shirt, and black shoes

Partitive articles in French

There is another type of French article called, we call these les articles partitifs. The partitive article is used before uncountable nouns, a part of a whole, or designating an abstract thing such as courage or happiness.

DE + LE = DU

  • Vous avez du temps – You have time
  • Pourriez vous me servir du gâteau ? – Could you serve me some cake?


  • Il y a de la menthe et de la fraise dans la boisson – There’s mint and strawberry in the drink
  • Pour le dessert, j’ai mangé de la glace – For dessert, I had ice cream

DE + L’ = D’

  • Je voudrais de l’eau – I’d like some water
  • Elle met de l’huile sur la salade – She puts oil on the salad


  • Je fais des lasagnes ce soir – I’m making lasagna tonight
  • Il ne mange pas des épinards – He doesn’t eat spinach

Among the partitive articles, there is also the article “de”, which is used in negative sentences, whether the noun is singular or plural, masculine or feminine:

  • Je mange du riz → Je ne mange pas de riz

I eat rice → I don’t eat rice

  • Elle mange de la soupe → Elle ne mange pas de soupe

She likes soup → She doesn’t like soup

  • Nous avons de l’eau → Nous n’avons pas d’eau

We have some water → We don’t have any water

  • J’ai mangé des pâtes → Je n’ai pas mangé de pâtes

I ate pasta → I didn’t eat pasta

  • Vous avez de la chance → Nous n’avons pas de chance

You are lucky → You aren’t lucky

When not to use French articles?

There are certain situations where we can drop the article altogether. These include the names of cities, the days of the week, months, jobs, religions, and finally, modes of transports preceded by “en”.

  • Il habite à Paris – He lives in Paris
  • Nous allons lui rendre visite lundi – We’re going to visit him on Monday
  • Je suis né en décembre – I was born in December
  • Il est dentiste – He’s a dentist
  • Ils sont catholiques – They’re Catholic
  • Elle voyage plus en train qu’en voiture – She travels by train more than by car

French determiners

Articles are the most common French determiners, but did you know that there are many other kinds? Let’s look at the ones you’re most likely to use when learning French articles and determiners.

Demonstrative determiners

The demonstrative determiner is most often used to “show” the noun that follows. The French demonstrative determiners are ce, for masculine singular nouns, cette, for feminine singular nouns, and ces, for all plural nouns. For ease of pronunciation, “ce” becomes “cet” in front of a vowel or a silent “h”.

  • Ce sujet est intéressant – This subject is interesting
  • Cette viande est délicieuse – This meat is delicious
  • Cet homme est mon patron – This man is my boss
  • Ces vêtements sont élégants – These clothes are stylish

Possessive determiners

Possessive determiners indicate ownership of a noun. We use them to show who or what possesses something. For example, in “my book”, it’s the determiner “my” that indicates that the speaker owns the book.

There are many different possessive determiners in French so it can be hard to know which one to use. In the first, second and third-person singular, we use mon, ton and son for masculine singular nouns, ma, ta and sa for feminine singular nouns, and mes, tes, and ses for plural nouns. When it comes to the first, second and third-person plural, we no longer differentiate between masculine and feminine.

Mon, ma, mes


Ton, ta, tes

Your (informal and singular)

Son, sa, ses


Notre, nos


Votre, vos

Your (formal or plural)

Leur, leurs


That may seem like a lot of information to take in at once, but all will become clear with some examples…

  • Ma mère et mon père aiment bien mes amis – My mom and my dad really like my friends
  • Ton chapeau, ta jupe et tes chaussettes sont assortis – Your hat, your skirt and your socks are matching
  • Il porte sa valise, son sac à dos et ses documents de voyage – He is carrying his suitcase, his backpack, and his travel documents
  • Nous avons apporté notre ballon de plage, notre enceinte de musique et nos lunettes de soleil – We brought our beach ball, our music speaker and our sunglasses
  • Vous devez remettre votre carte d’identité et vos autres effets personnels à votre arrivée – You must hand in your ID card and your other belongings upon your arrival
  • Ils ont parlé à leur professeur de leurs nombreux projets – They told their teacher about their many projects

Interrogative determiners

Finally, it’s important to touch on interrogative and exclamatory determiners. Interrogative determiners, such as “which” and “what,” are used to ask questions about specific nouns or noun phrases, indicating uncertainty or a choice between several options.

The only true déterminant interrogatif in French is “quel”. Quel agrees in gender and number with the noun it determines. This means that it becomes quelle for feminine nouns, quels for masculine plural puns, and quelles for feminine plural nouns.

  • Quel est le film que vous avez préféré ? – Which film did you prefer?
  • Quels musées recommandez-vous ? – Which museums do you recommend?
  • Quelle heure est-il ? – What time is it?
  • Quelles sont vos activités préférées ? – What are your favorite activities?

The interrogative determiner is used in direct questioning, such as when asking a question, as seen in the examples above, but also in indirect questioning:

  • Je me demande quel conseil vous me donnerez – I wonder what advice you’ll give me
  • J’ignore quels sont ses goûts – I don’t know what his tastes are
  • Je me demande quelle boisson il a choisie – I wonder which drink he chose

Additionally, “combien de”, which is used to ask about quantity, is often considered to be an interrogative determiner.

  • Combien de cours as-tu eu ce matin ? – How many classes did you have this morning?
  • Combien d’enfants a-t-il ? – How many children does he have?

Exclamative determiners

The exclamative determiner “quel” is used to identify a noun in an exclamatory sentence. This might start to seem like déjà vu, because we just saw the determiner “quel” above. That’s because the same determiner is used for exclamations too. Once again, “quel” agrees in gender and number with the noun that follows.

  • Quel talent ! – What talent!
  • Quels beaux diamants ! – What beautiful diamonds!
  • Quelle performance ! – What a performance!
  • Quelles délicieuses pommes ! – What delicious apples!

There are many types of French articles and determiners, but the ones we’ve covered here are the most used and therefore the first ones you should learn. Once you get the hang of all the different determiners, they’ll start to come more naturally to you.

If you’d like to learn more about other parts of speech in French, check out the articles below:

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