Definite and Indefinite Articles in French

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  • 0:04 Articles in English
  • 1:27 Definite Articles in French
  • 3:06 Indefinite Articles in French
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

French has three times as many definite articles as English, since French articles indicate whether something is considered masculine or feminine. Read on to learn what French definite and indefinite articles are and how to use them.

Articles in English

French, like English, has definite and indefinite articles. You may be asking: Wait, English has what, now? You can speak English all day long and never stop to think about all the articles you're using. Articles are a kind of adjective, which is to say they describe nouns. Handsome, witty, and intelligent are all adjectives that could describe a person.

A definite article is used to describe a specific object, and in English, we only have one definite article: 'the.' For example:

He thought the kitten was winking at him.

Since we're talking about a specific kitten, we use a definite article.

An indefinite article, then, is the opposite. It can refer to any one of a number of objects, or one part of a group. In English we have two indefinite articles: 'a' and 'an.' Which one you use depends on the first letter of the word it's modifying. Generally, we use 'a' before a word that begins with a consonant and 'an' before a word that begins with a vowel, although there are exceptions to that rule. For example:

All his life, he wanted a pet kitten.

In this example, he doesn't have a specific kitten in mind; any kitten will do. Therefore, we use the indefinite article. Because 'pet' begins with a consonant, we use 'a.'

He had been waiting for an awfully long time.

Since we're not discussing a specific time, the indefinite article is correct. We use 'an' because 'awfully' begins with a vowel.

Definite Articles in French

Things are a bit more complicated in French. French has more definite and indefinite articles than English, because French nouns are gendered. For example, a French boat is male (le bateau) but a car is female (la voiture); beer is female (la bière) but wine is male (le vin). It can be a tough concept to wrap your head around if you were raised only speaking English.

As you might have noticed from the examples of masculine nouns, the definite article for masculine nouns is le:

Le chaton était adorable.
The kitten was adorable.

'Kitten' is a masculine noun in French, so we use the definite article le.

The definite article for feminine nouns is la:

Le chaton était blanc comme la lune.
The kitten was as white as the moon.

Since the moon is a feminine noun, la is the correct definite article to use.

A French article can also signal whether the noun is plural. The French indicate a plural noun by using the definite article les:

Le chaton a voulu que les gâteries pour chats dans sa poche.
The kitten wanted the cat treats in his pocket.

Here we used le for the kitten again, but you would use les to describe the plural treats.

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