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By Veronique Mazet

A sure way to know the gender of a noun is to look at its article — when it’s available, of course! Like English, French has definite articles, indefinite articles, and partitive articles. The French definite article is the equivalent of the. But French has four forms of article défini.

French Definite Articles
French Article Usage in French Example
le Before masculine singular nouns le matin (the morning)
la Before feminine singular nouns la vie (life)
l’ Before masculine or feminine singular nouns beginning with a
vowel or a mute –h
l’amour (love)
les Before masculine or feminine plural nouns les bonbons (candies)

Le and les disappear completely when they are preceded by the prepositions à (at) and de (of/from). This omission is called a contraction, and here’s what happens:

  • à + le changes to au

  • de + le changes to du

  • à + les changes to aux

  • de + les changes to des

Here are some examples:

Il va au (à + le) travail. (He goes to work.)

Nous rentrons des (de + les) îles. (We’re returning from the islands.)

So when can you use definite articles?

  • Use a definite article to accompany a noun when you’re expressing a preference, using a verb like aimer (to like/to love), préférer (to prefer), or détester (to detest). Here are some examples:

    • J’aime le chocolat. (I like chocolate.)

    • Il déteste les huîtres. (He hates oysters.)

    Negative preferences still count as preferences

    • Elle n’aime pas les bananes. (She does not like bananas.)

    • Tu n’aimes pas le froid. (You don’t like the cold.)

  • Use a definite article to name a category in general, like les hommes (men) or le pain (bread), or a concept, like la vie (life) or l’amour (love). Note that in English, the article is often skipped in such instances. Here are some examples:

    • C’est la vie. (That’s life.)

    • Le prix de l’essence a encore augmenté. (The price of gas went up again.)

  • Use a definite article to refer to something known to the listeners because it is unique (there’s only one). For example:

    • Le président va faire un discours. (The president is going to make a speech.)

    • Le Pape est allé au Mexique. (The pope went to Mexico.)

  • Use a definite article to refer to something made specific by what follows it. For example:

    • Le chat des voisins est un siamois. (The neighbors’ cat is a Siamese.)

    • Le livre que tu m’as prêté est formidable. (The book you lent me is great.)

  • Use a definite article to name a geographical place.

    • la France (France)

    • les États-Unis (the United States)

  • Use a definite article before a day of the week to indicate every.

    • le lundi (every Monday or on Mondays)

    • le dimanche (every Sunday or on Sundays)

  • Use a definite article (instead of a possessive adjective like in English) before a part of the body, with a reflexive verb. Here are a few examples:

    • Tu te brosses les dents. (You’re brushing your teeth.)

    • Nous nous lavons les mains. (We wash our hands.)

  • Use a definite article to name languages. For example:

    • Il apprend l’italien. (He’s learning Italian.)

    • J’étudie le français. (I study French.)