Master the 4 French Definite Articles

There are four French definite articles – le, la, l’, and les.

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As the name suggests, definite articles in French, or les article définis are used to talk about specific nouns. These articles need to be in agreement with the number and gender of the noun.

In English, the only definite article is the word “the”. But in French, there are four definite articles: le, la, l’, and les.

We will explore each one of them so that you can speak French with confidence.

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Definite articles in French

Definite articles, like other articles in French, are based on the noun’s gender and number, as well as the first letter of the following noun.

The article le is used with masculine nouns and the article la is used with feminine nouns. Then, the article l’ is used with nouns that begin with a vowel or a silent h, and the article les is used with nouns that are plural. Check out the table below that breaks it down.

French definite articles

Article Gender Meaning
le masculine the
la feminine the
l’ masculine/feminine the
les masculine/feminine plural the

Below are some examples of nouns with the four French definite articles, followed by some examples of them being used in sentences.

French definite articles with nouns

Article Singular Meaning Plural Meaning
le le garçon the boy les garçons the boys
la la fleur the flower les fleurs the flowers
l’ l’amie The friend (female) les amies the friends (female)

See the examples below:

  • Où est le téléphone? (Where is the telephone?)
  • Les fleurs au bord du lac sont magnifiques. (The flowers by the lake are beautiful.)
  • Ajouter les œufs dans la poêle. (Add the eggs to the pan.)

French definite articles in the negative form

You would have probably seen with other types of articles that in the negative the form changes. But with l’article défini, in the negative, it remains the same (without the articles modifying into another form):

  • pas le
  • pas la
  • pas l’
  • pas les

See the examples below:

  • Je ne vois pas l’écran de mon fauteuil. (I don’t see the screen from my armchair.)
  • Je n'ai pas la clé de cette porte. (I don't have the key to this door.)
  • Il ne rendra pas les vêtements. (He will not return the clothes.)

French definite articles when preceded by prepositions

When definite articles are preceded by the prepositions à and de, the definite articles le and les must contract with them. This does not apply to the articles la or l’.

Definite articles preceded by the prepositions à and de

le les la l’
à au aux à la à l’
de du des de la de l’

As you can see, the structure of these contractions are:

  • à + le = au
  • à + les = aux
  • de + le = du
  • de + les = des

See the examples below:

  • Je dois aller aux toilettes. (I need to go to the bathroom.)
  • Nous allons dans certains des théâtres de mon oncle. (We are going to some of the theaters of my uncle.)
  • Je n'ai pas la nouvelle version du jeu. (I don’t have the new version of the game.)

Did you know?: French is spoken in 29 countries as an official language. If you are contemplating studying French or German, here is a handy guide with 5 key factors that will help you decide which one you should learn.

French definite articles with nouns as part of a list

When you have multiple nouns in a sentence, each noun requires an article in front of it.

See the examples below:

  • Le sel et le poivre vont dans ces bouteilles. (The salt and pepper go into these bottles.)
  • La fleur rouge, la fleur orange et la fleur violette vont dans le vase. (The red flower, orange flower, and purple flower go into the vase.)

Side note: Every noun in a list needs to have an article before it, whether the article is an article défini, article indéfini, or article partitif.

Definite articles have to be added before specific words

Definite articles need to be added before school subjects, languages, politics, or abstractions.

See the examples below:

  • J'apprends l'espagnol. (I am learning Spanish.)
  • Les maths sont ma matière préférée. (Math is my favorite subject.)

Definite articles before countries

When you talk about a country, you need to add an article before each country.

For example:

  • La France fait partie de l'Europe. (France is part of Europe.)

Definite articles to show possession

When you try to say that one thing belongs to someone else, you need to use the article défini to express possession.

For example:

  • Les chiens de mon voisin. (The dogs of my neighbor.)
  • Elle a mis la robe de sa sœur. (She put on the dress of her sister.)

Now that you are getting more fluent in French with our grammar rule guides, it is also a great time to improve your vocabulary as well! Read the 99 French words we use in English all the time.

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Definite article before times, days of the week, and dates

Specific dates, days of the week, and times of day, all require definite articles.

See the examples below:

  • La date d'aujourd'hui est le 31 octobre. (Today’s date is October 31st.)
  • Jean ira à la bibliothèque la semaine prochaine. (John will be going to the library next week.)

Note to reader: When you speak about a specific day of a specific week, like this Monday or Thursday, you do not use an article défini.

See the examples below:

  • Marie va au parc jeudi. (Marie is going to the park on Thursday.)

As you can see above, there is no direct article.

Definite articles before parts of the body

While not extremely common, you may find yourself in conversations that involve talking about specific parts of the body. If you do, you need to know that before using specific parts of the body, you need to use definite articles.

For example:

  • Nous avons les cheveux bouclés. (We have curly hair.)

Definite article when talking to/about someone

When you address a group of people, or you talk to or talk about a person using a title, or a title along with a name, you have to use a definite article.

See the examples below:

  • Allons-y tout le monde! (Let’s go everyone!)
  • Bonjour monsieur le maire. (Hello, Mister Mayor.)

Wrapping up

Definite articles in French or articles définis are some of the easiest grammar rules to learn in French since they are straightforward and do not change to another form in their negative form as well.

When it comes to knowing what article to use when, half of your job is done if you know what the gender and quantity of the noun is. The other half is knowing that when you want to speak about something specific, you use l’article défini.

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