Definite Articles in French (Le, La, Les)

french definite articles learn grammar

The French language is one of the languages where nouns have two genders, masculine and feminine. Articles help you determine the gender of the noun, as they stand in front of each noun.

All nouns in French are either masculine, feminine, singular or plural.

There are two types of articles in the French language, definite and indefinite, and are an essential part of a noun, meaning you cannot make a sentence without them.

Today, we’ll learn all about definite articles and when to use them in French.

Definite Articles

The definite article indicates the number and gender of the noun it refers to. There is only one definite article in English: the, as opposed to French, which has four of them.

The French definite articles

  1. Le (masculine singular),
  2. La (feminine singular),
  3. L’ (followed by a vowel),
  4. Les (plural)

If a noun begins with a vowel or a silent h, le and la become l’. The process is called élision.  

Let’s look at the examples

  • la chaise
  • le professeur
  • l’étudiant
  • le sac à dos
  • les bureaux
  • les amies
  • les devoirs
  • l’affiche
  • la craie
  • le stylo

French and English Definite Articles Compared

The definite article is also used with general concepts in French, where in English you’ll use no article in such cases. This can be quite challenging for English speakers, cause they’ll have to add a word even though there is no need in English.  For that reason, it’s important to understand why French uses definite articles in the first place.  If you are having trouble, try adding “in general” to the end of your sentence, and if it works, use the definite article.

In French, the choice of the article depends on the gender of the noun, not necessarily on its sexe. So, we have to use une personne (a person), or une vedette (a star), even if talking about a male; these are feminine nouns.

To describe a specific thing, French uses definite articles. Just like English uses “the”.

Je cherche le téléphone.

I’m looking for the phone.

Où sont les toilettes ?

Where is the bathroom?

When to Use French Definite Article

The following situations require the use of the definite article:

1. After Certain Verbs

  1. aimer – to like, love enjoy
  2. adorer – to love, worship
  3. admirer – to admire
  4. detester – to hate
  5. préférer – to prefer

Elle adore les chevaux.

She adores horses.

2. Talking about a specific person or thing

Léna est la copine de François.

Léna is François’s girlfriend.

3. Referring to an individual or thing that has already been mentioned or is well known to the listener.

Elle éteint la lumière.

She turned off the light.

When Not to Use Definite Articles in French

When indicating a person’s job

Elle est laborantine.

She is a professor.

but, when talking about a specific person, the usage of definite articles is then obligatory.

Je connais le professeur.

l know the professeur.

the same when talking about a particular quality, such as “good” in this sentence.

C’est un bon professeur.

It’s a good professor.

After quantifiers like quelques, plusieurs

When generalizing cases after de. This includes cases that follow quantifiers such as beaucoup de (lots of), peu de (few), trop de (too much/many), etc.

Names of towns

Ils habitent à Paris.

They live in Paris.

Days of the week

Nous l’avons vu mardi.

We saw him on Tuesday.


Je suis né en mai.

l was born in May.

Phrases with en+transport

As-tu voyagé en train ou en voiture ?

Did you travel by train or by car?


Il est bouddhiste.

He is Buddhist.

but again, when talking about a specific person, a definite article is necessary. 

C’est le bouddhiste qui va tous les jours à l’église.

It’s a Buddhist who goes to church every day.

Specific Pronunciation of French Articles

When les is followed by a word starting with a vowel, the normally silent final s of les is pronounced, making a /z/ sound. Liaison refers to this additional sound that links two words.
If you wish to practice more, take a look at how Alexa explains the usage of definite articles in French. 

Mastering the Art of French Articles

Think of French articles as a way to get closer to French thinking patterns. Mastering the Art of French articles is one of the most challenging points in French grammar. The sooner you start understanding the nature of French articles, you’ll be able to adapt to the new way of thinking.

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