Des, de la and du

Who can explain th use of des, de la and du, then sometimes les is used - very confusing

January 16, 2016


As Andrealphus mentioned, du and des are contractions of de+le and de+les, respectively. So for each of these we're talking about de followed by the definite article, inflected for the gender and number of the following noun. There's also de l', which is used when the following noun is singular and starts with a vowel.

So when would one use these?

To say "from" + definite article:

  • Je suis venu directement du magasin/de la boulangerie/de l'école/des champs. 'I came straight from the store/bakery/school/fields.'
  • J'ai reçu un joli cadeau du voisin/de la voisine/des voisins. 'I received a lovely gift from the (male) neighbor/(female) neighbor/neighbors.'

To say "of" + definite article (including cases where English might use a possessive form):

  • Ça fait partie du batîment/de la collection/des leçons. 'That's part of the building/the collection/the lessons.'
  • C'est le livre préféré du roi/de la reine/de l'enfant/des enfants . 'It's the king's/queen's/child's/children's favorite book.'

To say "some". The singular forms (du, de la, de l') are used with non-count nouns, while the plural form (des) is used with count nouns. When used in this way, the singular forms are sometimes called the "partitive article", and the plural form is thought of as the plural indefinite article--in other words, the plural of un(e).

  • J'ai acheté du fromage/de la bière/de l'eau. 'I bought [some] cheese/beer/water.'
  • J'ai acheté des pommes. 'I bought [some] apples.' (cf: J'ai acheté une pomme. 'I bought an apple.')
January 17, 2016

A user named Ektoraskan kindly pointed out an error in my original post, having to do with the following sentence:

  • Je viens du Canada/*de la Belgique/*de l'Allemagne/des États-Unis. 'I come from Canada/Belgium/Germany/the United States.'

In the construction de + country, the article is omitted if the country is singular and either feminine or vowel-initial. (This is the same set of countries for which one says "en" instead of "à" + article--compare Je suis allé en France/en Angleterre vs. Je suis allé au Méxique/aux États-Unis.) So I should have written:

  • Je viens du Canada/de Belgique/d'Allemagne/des États-Unis.

I've replaced this sentence with one that actually involves articles. Big thanks to Ektoraskan for pointing out the mistake.

January 17, 2016

One more wrinkle: Ektoraskan also pointed out that the rule about omitting the article with feminine or vowel-initial countries applies only (or mainly) when "de" is used in the sense of "from". Thus, you can speak of "la relief de la France", "les symbols de la France", "la Revue d'Histoire littéraire de la France", etc. On the other hand, you have "l'équipe de France", "le Tour de France". Ektoraskan brought up "les montagnes de la France", but a web search turns up plenty of instances of "montagnes de France" as well. As a non-native speaker I can only shrug my shoulders and conclude that sometimes language is messy.

January 17, 2016

Here's a copy from an answer I gave in a previous thread:

DE can be used in various ways as you noticed. They're not necessarily linked together. Let's take the first one. Je bois du lait - je mange de la viande : here, DE means "some", "a certain quantity". We can't really count so we use DE + article. Here it works with a verb. In the following examples, DE will be used to link two nouns.

The other use is with "Une carte de bus", "La lampe de salon", "un ticket de train". Here, the second noun is a category of the first noun. "de bus" is used to tell the type of "carte". It could be "une carte d'étudiant", "une carte de visite", etc.

Now let's compare "un plan de métro" and "le plan du métro". Both are correct but they don't really mean the same. The first one follows the rule we just saw. We have different types of maps, and the one we're talking about is a subway map, but we don't know which subway, just a general subway map. In the second example, however we have "du", which is "de + le". What does it mean? When we use le, la, les, we talk about a particular, specific, unique thing, something we've talked about before. You're in Paris, you're in the subway and you're lost, you ask somebody "où est le plan du métro s'il vous plaît ?". Here you're talking about a specific unique subway, the one from Paris. It's the same for "danger de la masturbation". There's only one masturbation, it's specific. If we want to translate in English, it could be "the danger of masturbating" where as for "danger de choc électrique", it could be "electric danger". My translations aren't really the best but they might give you another idea of the differences between the two.

Another examples : c'est le président de la France VS c'est un prof de français. Prof de français because there are different kind of could un prof de maths, un prof d'espagnol, de bio, etc. Président de la France, because France is unique, it's a specific thing. Président de la Pologne, de l'Italie, de la Corée, etc.

Hope it helped you :)

January 17, 2016

I appreciate the response. How do you analyze the specific problem of articles with country names (for example in the case of "les montagnes de France" vs. "les montagnes de la France")? Do these have different meanings? If so, the difference must be very nuanced. I think everyone would agree that there is only one France, whether you include the article or not.

January 17, 2016

No idea. One of my student asked me the same question for France also. I checked all my books but couldn't find a satisfying answer. There is indeed only one France :)

January 17, 2016

thanks! super helpful

January 13, 2018

De means from or of. De + Les = Des. De + Le = Du. De + La = De la. This also works as a non-definitive article, since you aren't always talking about something specific but always need to use an article in French. The cats is Les chats. Cats is des chats. Your des and du are about gender and plural. I hope that helps!

January 17, 2016

Many thanks for all your comments, it has really helped-especially with all the examples!

January 17, 2016

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