Maybe we can replace this sentence in context, to really understand what is meant and how it translates in one or the other language, keeping in mind that "talk about" and "parler de" both have an indirect object but with a different preposition:
What are they talking about? / De quoi parlent-ils ?
1)They talk about green ducks and migration / Ils parlent de canards verts et de migration (fem).
2)They talk about the green ducks swimming on the pond and of their forthcoming migration / Ils parlent des (contraction de+les= about the) canards verts qui nagent sur la mare et de leur migration à venir.
The key difference between 1) and 2) is about how specific the information is, in both languages.
3) They talk about a green duck / Ils parlent d'un canard vert
4) They talk about the green duck / Ils parlent du (contraction de+le) canard vert
Now, if we change the verb for one with a direct object, you get back to the basics you already know:
5) They see a green duck / ils voient un canard vert
6) They see green ducks / ils voient des canards verts (des = plural of "un")
7) They eat roasted duck / ils mangent du canard rôti (partitive de+ le = some)
8) They love green ducks / ils adorent les canards verts (appreciation verbs introduce generalities, to be constructed with definite article le/la/les).
I think I already explained that earlier. I will be more didactic this time:
they talk about ... = ils parlent de...
they talk about the... = ils parlent de // le/la/les... :
they talk about the house = ils parlent de la maison
they talk about the duck = ils parlent du (=de+le) canard
they talk about the ducks = ils parlent des (=de+les) canards
they talk about a/one duck = ils parlent d'un (=de+un) canard
they talk about ducks (= more than one) = ils parlent de (=de [+des]) canards
In the latter case, the theory is that you should have preposition "de" + plural definite article "des", but de des is simplified to "de" (preposition prevails)
Thank-you so much for your detailed assistance. I am stumped however with:
IF, as you pointed out, "…about THE house" = "...de LA maison" vs "…about A house" = "…d'UNE maison" [de +la]
THEN: "…about the houses" = "…DES [de les] maisons" vs "…about ]plural] houses [specific i.e. houses in New York"what would that be? They same thing, yes? Thank-you for your efforts to help clarify all this.
Ok, so when it was about dresses, I had to write the article "THE". Now its about ducks, I have to write "Some". Why the difference?
First question I had was "Elle parles des robes verts" and I wrote "She is talking about green dresses" which was wrong as it expected me to say "She is talking about "THE" green dresses" So, learning my lesson, When "Ils parlent des canards verts" came up, I write "they are talking about THE green ducks" which is apparently wrong now! Can someone please clarify what is happening here?
I'm not good at explaining grammar, sorry. Here's my attempt and three relevant links. The first one might be the best link. "des canards" = specific ducks. "de canards" = unspecific ducks.
Indefinite articles in English, in singular and plural:
- They talk about a duck.
- They talk about ducks. (English doesn't have an indefinite article for plural)
Definite articles in English, in singular and plural:
- They talk about the duck.
- They talk about the ducks.
Indefinite articles in French, in singular and plural:
- Ils parlent d'un canard. (d'un = de un)
- Ils parlent de canards. (des is the usual indefinite article for plural, but not in this case as the verb is "parler de")
Definite articles in French, in singular and plural:
- Ils parlent du canard. (du = de le)
- Ils parlent des canards. (des = de les)
In the listening excercise, it accepts "il parle des canards verts"! How very strange, I had expected to lose a heart :-) I imagine this is because "il parle" and "ils parlent" are indistinguishable by sound alone, although the presence of "des canards" should have veto'd the use of the singular.
I'm really confused by this one. A similar sentence ("Vous parlez des filles.") translated by Duolingo as "You talk about girls" (no "the" necessary).
What is the difference between "Ils parlent des canards verts" and "Vous parlez des filles" that makes one a discussion of something specific, and the other about something general?
It is not for Duolingo to decide what it wants, it is for you to admit that you cannot translate from English to French or vice-versa on a word for word basis, but by first understanding the meaning of the sentence, then applying the rules.
If you read the thorough explanations already posted on this page, you will understand then solve your problem.
"le + des" will never happen (it would be like "the some")
"de + les" has to contract to "des" whenever the preposition "de" has to be followed by the plural definite article "les".
It happens mainly in 2 cases:
When the verb is constructed with an indirect object introduced by preposition "de", like "parler de" (speak of/about) or "dependre de" (depend on):
- je parle des (de+les) canards (I am talking about the ducks)
- cela dépend des (de+les) circonstances (it depends on the circumstances)
With expressions of possession:
- les chiens des (de+les) garçons (lit. the dogs of the boys)
- les branches des (de+les) arbres (lit. the branches of the trees)
Since this sentence has been on the course for 5 years, you might have wondered how "des" can translate to "the". You would then have read the whole thread and found out that this "des" is not the plural of "un/une" but the contraction of "de+les", because "to talk about/of" translates to "parler de". Therefore "parler des canards" translates to "talk about the ducks".