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In French, we often use an article or another small word, such as a demonstrative (this, that, etc...) or possessive adjective (my, your, his, our, etc...). It would be impossible to use the word "chocolat" (chocolate) alone - we would need a word of some kind in front of it - le chocolat (the chocolate), un chocolat (a chocolate), du chocolat (some chocolate),etc... Some nouns, however, can go without articles (or other small words), most often people's names, cities, countries. Some examples:

People's names: Monsieur Dupont, Jean, Carole, Sophie, Nicolas Sarkozy, etc.
Cities: Paris, Los Angeles, Londres, New York, Hanoï, Tokyo, Beijing, etc.
Islands: Taiwan, Hawaï, Haïti, Madagascar, etc.

 

In other words, the article is more present in French than it is in English and like English, it is always before the noun.

Unlike English, where there are two kinds of articles (definite and indefinite), French adds a third kind, the partitive article, used to give an idea of quantity - and most often translated in English as some.

Again, unlike English, French nouns have gender even when referring to objects. The article always bears the mark of the gender (masculine/feminine) and also number (singular/plural) of the noun. In essence, the same article will look and sound differently in function of the noun it accompanies. If the noun is masculine and singular, the article that precedes it will also be masculine singular, something totally different to the English article, which bears no such marks.

Examples:

      Masculin Féminin  
    Singulier
    le livre (the book)
    la table (the table)
     
    Pluriel
    les livres (the books)
    les tables (the tables)
     

To summarize:

• In most cases, use an article with a noun
• Always put the article before the noun
•The article must always be  in agreement with the noun (male/female, singular/plural)

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    THE DEFINITE ARTICLE

    The definite article has four forms:

      Masculin Féminin  
    Singulier
    le – l’
    la – l’
     
    Pluriel
    les
     

French nouns are always either male or female, ( in French, either masculin or féminin). Neither the form, the sound, nor the spelling of the noun itself will help you remember whether a noun is masculin or féminin, and except for nouns designing people or animals, the meaning of the noun does not help either.

The article however will let you know, because the form of the article changes with the gender of the noun. That's why it's always important to learn a new noun with its article. We use le with masculin nouns and la withfémininnouns. The plural form is les for both masculin and féminin. Note that when the noun begins with a silent h or a vowel sound (like évènement, alphabet, élève, hôtel, etc.), we use a shorter form, l’ for both masculin or féminin.

examples:

• le journal, le marteau, le chat, le cercle, le clavier, le bus are masculin nouns.
la table, la France, la roue, la chambre, la girafe are féminin nouns.
l’écrivain, l’hôtel, l’'arrivée are masculin nouns, but l’étudiante, l’utilité, l’Egypte are féminin nouns.

 

Some sample sentences:

J’aime le chocolat. (I like chocolate)
Le lion est un animal sauvage. (The lion is a wild animal)
Il déteste les gens bruyants. (He hates noisy people)

What is meant here is that I like any kind of chocolate, that any lion is a wild animal, and that he hates all kinds of noisy people. Le chocolat, le lion, les gens bruyants, do not refer to a particular chocolate, lion or noisy people, but to chocolate, lions, and noisy people in general.

Verbs like détesteraimer, adorer, préférer, etc. followed by the article défini have that particular meaning.

Look at the following sentences:

• Demain, la lune brillera. (Tomorrow, the moone will shine)
Le Panthéon est à Paris. (The Pantheon is in Paris)
• Rome est la capitale de l'Italie. (Rome is the capital city of Italy)

Le Panthéon, l'Italie, la capitale, la lune, all have this in common: they are unique. There is only one moon, one Rome, or one Pantheon in the whole world. To speak about something unique, use the article défini if the object or person talked about is indeed unique because there is only one such object or person in the whole world.

In other cases, the particular situation or characteristics makes the object or person unique and allows it to be identified. For example, if you find yourself in a room with some friends and one of them has the remote control, you could ask him/her: 

    Passe-moi la télécommande ! (Give me the remote control!)

Obviously there are more than one remote control in the world, but here, there is no doubt about which remote control is meant, because there is only one remote control in the room in which you are. In that particular situation, the remote control is unique. Your friend will be able to identify the remote control and give it to you.

If there just happens to be several remote controls in the room, your friend may have some trouble identifying the one you want and may ask you: “Quelle télécommande ?” (Which remote control?), to which you would have to reply: 

Passe-moi la grande télécommande (give me the big remote control) or)
• Passe-moi la télécommande qui est sur la table  (give me the remote control that is on the table) or
• Passe-moi la télécommande de la télévision (give me the TV remote control)

 

In other words, giving some additional information about the particular object makes that object unique and identifiable, different from other similar objects and because of that, we use the article défini.

More examples:

Nous prenons la voiture de Julien. (We're taking Julien's car)
• Le mari de Sandra est très beau. (Sandra's husband is very handsome.)
• Le premier ministre Italien est en voyage en Allemagne. (The Italian Prime Minister is travelling in Germany.)

(... continued)

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