ok we can use it for a boy or a girl, but the word enfant is feminine or masculine? We should use un enfant or une enfant?Portuguese works in the same way....eg. alligator is masculine in portuguese, so even when you talk about a female alligator you'lll always use the masculine article. What about enfant?
"Enfant" can be masculine (most of the time, as a generic for "child") or in feminine if you specifically talk about a girl: une enfant.
In plural, you will assume that masculine will be used, for boys only or a mix of boys and girls.
Very exceptionally, in books for example, you will find "enfants" in feminine, like "quelles belles enfants !"
le enfant is wrong because of the vowel sound conflict between le and enfant.
every time le or la are placed before a word starting with a vowel or a non aspirate H, the article is "elided" (drop the vowel and replace it by an apostrophe), to ease pronunciation:
l'enfant (masc), l'ami (masc), l'orange (fem), l'homme (masc), l'huile (fem)...
In most romantic languages, the article (le, la, les, l' ) is built in. They think l'enfant instead of child. One french teacher would call it the 'naked noun syndrome' and would jokingly freak out when every we slipped up. Just try to remember when you have nouns and you'll do fine!
Conventionally, vowel sound conflicts have to be avoided, so that the language flows smoothly.
In English, you change "a apple" to "an apple" to make it flow better and in French, there are other tricks to help words sound better in a sentence.
"le-enfant" would create a sound conflict between sounds lEUH and ENfant.
That is why "le" is elided (drop the vowel and replace it by an apostrophe) so that the sound becomes LENfant . The same applies if the word starts with a non aspirate H: le-homme becomes l'homme [LOM].
The same happens in feminine: la-amie becomes l'amie and la-habitude becomes l'habitude.
L' is the elided version of le or la.
it is used for phonetic reasons, to avoid a vowel sound conflict when le or la are placed in front of a word starting with a vowel or a non aspirate H.
l'enfant (masc or fem, since "enfant" can be a boy or a girl)
le enfant is not used because of the vowel sound conflict.
so, whenever le or la are followed by a noun starting with a vowel or a non aspirate H, the article is elided (drop the vowel and replace it by an apostrophe):
- l'enfant (masc or fem) - l'homme (masc) - l'huile (fem) - l'ananas (masc) (pineapple) - l'envie (fem), etc.
"le" and "la" are changed to "l' " (= elided = vowel replaced by an apostrophe) when followed by a noun starting with a vowel sound: vowel or mute H. This is required to avoid sound conflicts.
- le chat, la femme
- l'enfant (masc), l'orange (fem), l'hôtel (masc), l'huile (fem), l'eau (fem)
If you use a PC, take a look at the Tips&Notes below the main page of each Unit.
In short: le, la, l' and les are definite article, all of them meaning "the".
la is feminine, le is masculine, l' is used in front of words starting with a vowel sound and les is the plural for all nouns.