This is a tricky one for English speakers.
Les enfants = the children = those ones right there. = I like the children.
des enfants = some but not all the children. = I like some children.
How do you refer to all children, all examples of children? In English, we just drop the article and say I like children . ....All the children in the world. ....All examples of children.
But in French you can't just drop the article because most nouns can't stand alone. They must have a modifier. The French, in their wisdom, did not invent a new article that expresses generality, all examples of something. They simply re purposed le/ la/ les. As a result they have acquired a dual meaning.
Le/ la/ les means particular. It also means general. It is hard for English speakers to remember when translating that there are two classifications of meaning for the definite article in French because we don't have that second usage. It's hard for me, at least.
You may be wondering why le/ la/ les is used in the general sense in this example since he clearly is not speaking to all the children in the world. But he is speaking to all the members of the group of children who are present. In English, we say hello class when we are speaking to all members of the group or community, in this case the class. We drop the article to show generality and it is understood that the generality extends only to the group that is present.
In French, the same principle applies. When referring to all members of a group or community, use the general form le/ la/ les. When translating, drop the article to show the English method of indicating generality.
Thank you for such an elaborate answer, it has greatly helped me.
We do this in English in the formal register, "I shall address the children"
I'm still a bit confused. In Spanish, the article is also dropped. What I'm taking from this is that when we make generalities, regardless if we are speak to a group, of a group or of the entire world then no article is dropped. Am I correct? Sorry if I am and am still asking, I'm just slightly confused.
In French, you must have a modifier for most nouns.
In this example you can speak to a particular child = le enfant = l'enfant
You can speak to some of the children but not all = des enfants
You can speak to all examples of children, all the children in the room = les enfants
This is confusing for English speakers because in English if you want to speak to all the children in the room, you simply drop the article and say good night children.
When told they need an article to express generality, whether it's all the children in the world or all of them in the room, English speakers expect to see a new article different from the definite article ie: le/ la/ les, used for the purpose of being very specific . Unfortunately for English speakers, and from what you say Spanish speakers, there is no such new article. Just the old familiar definite article used with a different meaning.
When some students understand the need to use le/ la/ les for all examples of something it still is difficult for them to apply it to all members of a group or community. All examples of something would seem to cover all the children in the world. But for some students it seems like all the children in the room should be designated as some.
All the children in the world, all the children in the room, all the children in the club, all the children paying attention, using le/ la/ les in such situations indicates you are referring to all examples of something, not just some of the children.
Hope this helps.
I'm nitpicking here but goodnight is one word, it tells me there should be a space. cheeky owl
I'm not sure where you are from, but the English spoken in the US does not consider "goodnight" a word. It should be two words, just like "good morning" is two words. Just sayin'.
If you're saying goodnight meaning sleep well, etc. it's one word but if you're saying "It's a good night" it's two. In this instance it SHOULD be one word. Born and raised in the US and that's how I was taught all through school. (Perhaps it's like alot/a lot and people disagree on which it is.)
I've always written goodnight as one word. Coming from England I'm learning just as much American English as I am Spanish and German thanks to DL and these discussions!
Why would I not use "the" here, but use "les" when writing it in French?
because nouns can never be alone in French. They need an article, a possessive etc
bon is masculine and bonne is feminine: use bon for masculine nouns and bonne for feminine nouns Masculine singular bon Feminine singular bonne Masculine plural bons Feminine plural bonnes
My problem is learning to differentiate between the masculine and feminine nouns. Can anyone help?
There are some guidelines like looking for an e at the end of the word but there are so many exceptions to them you might as well just do it the effective way.
An excellent way to remember the gender of the noun is to include the appropriate article when fixing the image of the noun in your memory. Doing so includes the gender into the rhythm or melody of the noun.
It's not apple or horse but la pomme or le cheval. If it helps, exaggerate the article as in laaaaa pomme. You will naturally drop the exaggeration after a while. You don't have to remember the gender of the noun. Just make sure you remember the word in its full form with the correct article included.
I mean it is French. It's not like you seldom need the article when writing or speaking.
In french there will ALWAYS be an article in front of a noun to describe it, so just because it is, "les enfants", doesn't mean it will always translate to the children.
also if it's not plural le/la is before a vowel is l' so it is never le enfant but l'enfant as for is it les or le, only practise will tell you, in the real world it's context that tells you
how can we learn to tell if the speaker is talking plural or not? Can French people really hear the difference?
If the sentence were singular, the speaker would have said "Bonne nuit, l'enfant."
ok thanks that makes sense (though in English 'good night child' sounds strange, I can't imagine anyone ever saying that)
But I do say "Good night kid" all the time. ;-)
Is that really the only way to tell plural vs. singular verbally? By the article?
The article is usually the best indicator of gender and number in spoken French.
if they consider "enfant" as masculine then why "bonne" nuit instead of "bon" nuit ?
The adjective 'good' is describing the 'night', not the 'child'. 'Nuit' is a feminine noun so the correct form of the adjective is 'bonne'.
If you were talking about 'a good child' it would be 'un bon enfant'.
If 'good night the kids' is correct, why is 'good night the infant' not correct? In any case the first sentence isn't a correct english sentence, but the translation is shown to be this.
Why would the use of 'infant' in translation be incorrect?
First, 'infant' is singular and the sentence is using the plural form. Second, in French you would use "les bebes" (accents on both 'e's) to refer to infants
I typed Bonne nuit le enfant. Les enfant and le enfant both sound same. How do you differentiate between the two?
Le and les have a very different sound. Go to Google Translate and type in each one. Click on the speaker icon in the bottom right hand corner of the input box to hear the sound.
that's okay, you can figure it out since good is an adjective and in french adjectives must agree with the noun they apply to in gender.
Is there a notable difference between "Bonne nuit" and "Bon soir?" Is there a formality difference? Or is it like evening vs. night in English?
The masculine "le" sounds somewhat like luh ("huh" vowel sound). The feminine "la" sounds like, well, "lah" (like in do-re-mi-fa-sol-LA-ti-do). "Les" sounds rather like "lay" (purists will have infinitely more detailed instructions of how to hold one's mouth when making all these sounds, but these simple reminders will get you through until you gain more experience). Incidentally, "de" has the same vowel sound as "le" (i.e., "duh"), "des" has the same vowel sound as "les" (i.e., "day"). Listening carefully to these sounds will tell you immediately what you're dealing with. And later you will look back at this and say how easy that was.