A sweet and simple guide to definite and indefinite articles in French

Welcome to the fascinating world of French grammar. Where accents have wings, where verbs go bananas, and where nouns dance with articles. In my head, it looks a bit like this.

And if you like the idea of nouns dancing with articles, you’re going to love… this article!

You’ll discover not only the amazing universe of definite and indefinite articles in French, but also partitive articles. If you have no idea what these are, it might be time to learn some French!

You’ll need articles to define any type of noun. Basically, you can’t speak nor write in French without articles. Well, you can, but you’ll sound like our dear friend Tarzan.

Yes, small things matter, so keep reading to learn about “les articles”. Petits mais costauds !

What are articles in French grammar?

Just like possessive adjectives, articles are essential words in French and other romance languages. They are one of the eight parts of speech and modify a noun by stating if the noun is partial, specific or unspecific.

In French, there are three types of articles with one thing in common: they all agree in number and gender with the nouns they relate to.

The three articles types are:

  1. Definite articles
  2. Indefinite articles
  3. Partitive articles

Learn more about them below!

Woman learning about definite and indefinite articles in French.

1. What is a definite article in French?

A definite article defines the gender of the noun it relates too.

It’s basically used the same way as “the” in English, but in four different forms:

  • Le: For masculine, singular nouns.
  • La: For feminine, singular nouns.
  • L’: For masculine or feminine singular nouns, when the word starts with a vowel or a silent “h”.
  • Les: For plural nouns.

You’ll need definite articles in French to refer to:

  • Specific objects
  • Specific people
  • Specific events

“Specific” means that they have been defined by the speaker/writer, or the context.

GenderSingularPluralExamplesTranslation in English
MasculineLe, l’LesRegarde le chien blanc, là-bas !
Regarde les chiens blancs, là-bas !
Regarde l’arc-en-ciel là-haut !
Look at the white dog, there!
Look at the white dogs, there!
Look at the rainbow, up there!
FeminineLa, l’LesVoici la robe dont je t’ai parlé.
Voici les robes dont je t’ai parlé.
Voici l’amie dont je t’ai parlé.
This is the dress I told you about.
These are the dresses I told you about.
This is the friend I told you about.

Contractions of the French definite articles

As you could see, French articles are not very complicated — as long as you know the masculine and feminine!

But remember, this is French we’re talking about. So here comes the “fun” part!

“Le” and “les” contract. What? Yes, they shrink with the prepositions “à” and “de”, becoming… compound articles.

If that sounds confusing, have a look at the table below.

Preposition + articleContractionExample sentenceTranslation in English
À + leAuTu veux aller au restaurant ce soir ?Would you like to go to the restaurant tonight?
À + lesAuxJe rêve d’aller aux Canaries.I’m dreaming of going to the Canary Islands.
De + leDuJ’ai envie de manger du chocolat.I feel like eating chocolate.
De + lesDesAs-tu des frères et sœurs ?Do you have siblings?

What doesn’t contract?

I’m sure you were waiting for “L’exception qui confirme la règle”. Well, here it is!

The rule above doesn’t apply to articles included in people’s name. For example: J’adore le style architectural de Le Corbusier. (I love Le Corbusier’s architectural style).

Also, “le” and “les” only contract when they are definite articles, and not when they are direct object pronouns. You can learn more about direct object pronouns and other types of pronouns in French in this article. Below are a few examples.

Preposition + articleExample sentenceTranslation in English
À + leJe continue à le voir de temps en temps.I’m still seeing him from time to time.
À + lesN’hésite pas à les contacter.Feel free to contact them.
De + leIl m’a demandé de le faire.He asked me to do it.
De + lesJe suis obligée de les inviter.I have to invite them.

2. What is an indefinite article in French?

On the other side of the French articles spectrum, we find the indefinite article. They are used like “a”, “an” or “some” in English.

They come in 3 different forms:

  • Un: For masculine, singular nouns.
  • Une: For feminine, singular nouns.
  • Des: For plural nouns, whatever the gender is.

While definite articles are used to refer to specific nouns, indefinite articles in French refer to:

  • Unspecified, but countable objects
  • Unnamed or unidentified, but countable people
  • Unspecified, but countable events
GenderSingularPluralExamplesTranslation in English
MasculineUnDesRegarde, un chien perdu !
Regarde, des chiens perdus !
Look, a lost dog!
Look, lost dogs!
FeminineUneDesJe veux m’acheter une robe d’été.
Je veux m’acheter des robes d’été.
I want to buy a summer dress.
I want to buy some summer dresses.


Here again, there are some exceptions — bien sûr !

When NOT to use the indefinite article in French

Unlike in English, French speakers do not use the indefinite article when talking about someone’s religion or profession. Examples:

Mon frère est vétérinaire.
My brother is a vet.

François est catholique.
François is a Catholic.

Learn when not to use the indefinite article in French.

When the indefinite becomes “de”

In the constructions below, the indefinite becomes “de”, or its contraction “d’”.

With negation

Je ne veux pas de fromage.
I don’t want any cheese. (whaaaaat?)

Je n’ai pas d’argent.
I don’t have any money

After expressions of quantity

Il y a beaucoup de monde
There are a lot of people.

Il a peu d’idées
He has few ideas.

With “avoir envie” and “avoir besoin” in plural form

J’ai envie d’évasion.
I feel like going away.

As-tu besoin d’un coup de main ?
Do you need a hand?

When an adjective comes before the noun in plural form

Tu as de beaux yeux, tu sais ?
You have beautiful eyes, you know? (More pickup lines in French here, and more body parts in French in this article).

Ce sont d’adorables chiots.
These are adorable puppies.

3. Partitive articles in French

As indefinite articles, partitive articles refer to something unspecified. However, the noun it relates too must be uncountable. This means you can’t ask “how many”.

For example, “de l’eau” is uncountable, but “un verre d’eau” is countable.

In English, the closest translation is “some” or “any”.

They come in 3 different forms:

  • Du: For masculine, singular nouns.
  • De la: For feminine, singular nouns.
  • Des: For plural nouns, whatever the gender is.
  • De l’: For masculine or feminine singular nouns, when the word starts with a vowel or a silent “h”.

Besides uncountable nouns, indefinite articles are also used with musical instruments: “Je joue du piano” (I play the piano).

GenderSingularPluralExamplesTranslation in English
MasculineDu/de l’DesJe peux avoir du pain, s’il te plaît ?
El vr de l’argent.
Achète des épinards.
Can I have some bread, please?
She would like to have money.
Buy some spinach.
FeminineDe la/de l’DesC’est pas de la tarte.
Je boirai de l’eau, merci.
On mange des pâtes à midi.
It’s not pie (French expression meaning it’s not easy).
I’ll have some water, thanks.
We’re having pasta for lunch.

When the partitive becomes “de”

Just like the indefinite article, the partitive article becomes “de” or “d’” in certain constructions:

  • After negation
  • After expressions of quantity
  • After “avoir besoin” and “avoir envie”
  • When an adjective precedes the noun

Are you still a bit confused with French indefinite and definite articles? Or maybe with the partitive articles? Actually, you might be tired of reading THIS article. Well, it might help to switch to another learning support with this video guide!

The complete guide to articles in French - Definite, contracted, indefinite, partitive…

And if you love the fascinating world of French grammar — remember, in my head, it looks a bit like this — don’t miss our French blog! You’ll find a rainbow of vocabulaire, grammaire, expressions utiles and even argot!

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