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Il a DES pantalons rouges

I keep forgetting to use the article, des, or the equivalent, in sentences. Would someone be so nice as to explain why such an article is necessary, s.v.p.? Merci d'avance.

July 19, 2017



des is either:

  • an idefinite article associated with plural countable nouns meaning some
  • the contraction of the preposition de + the definitive article les

Therefore, des can mean some or of the or from the, etc.

In English, the word some in constructs such as some + noun can often be dropped (but not always) but in French it usually cannot be dropped.


Je vais manger des fraises. - I am going to eat (some) strawberries.
Il arrive des États-Unis. - He's coming from the United States.
Aimeriez-vous des pommes ? Would you like (some) apples ?
ce sont des soldats - they are soldiers
ce ne sont pas des amis. - they are not friends

Now here comes the tricky bit. In English you cannot always drop the word some in constructs some + noun.

For example, consider the sentence Some people like marmite. In such a construct you cannot drop the word some because if you did it implies people in general like marmite which is definitely not the case.

Another example where the word some cannot be dropped is: Some days I don't feel at all well

When the word some means a certain proportion rather than an indefinite number then you use the french word certain(e)


Certains hommes sont mauvais. - Some men are bad.
Certains jours je ne me sens vraiment pas bien - some days I don't feel at all well
Voulez-vous certaines des pommes ? - Do you want some of the apples ?


When an adjective comes before a noun, the indefinite article des is normally replaced with de.


Ils font de grandes voitures. - They make big cars
il a de petits fruits rouges en septembre. - It has small red fruits in September
Ce sont de bons gâteaux. - These are good cakes.
Prenez d'autres verres. - Take some different glasses.


It's just a new and different way of phrasing things that you have to get accustomed to.

I find it helpful to try to put "some" in front of the word, and if I can, then I throw in a partitive article.

I drink (some) milk: Je bois du lait.
I talk with (some) children: Je parles avec des enfants.

It's not 100% foolproof, but it's working to help put me in the right mindset and I miss those questions less and less.


I find it helpful to try to put "some" in front of the word, and if I can, then I throw in a partitive article.

SUPER. Super useful. Thank you.


When I was a young boy, formerly, we used (in France) the word "pantalons" in the plural, but nowadays we are used to use the word in its singular form. But, sometimes we can read the old way.

Cette jeune fille porte un magnifique pantalon bleu ciel.

J'ai troué mon pantalon au genou en tombant de vélo.

Mais, jadis, on aurait pu lire : Pour suivre son époux à la chasse, la marquise avait troqué ses jupes de satin et de soie pour de seyants pantalons de coutil.

Sometimes we can also read "un escalier" ou "des "escaliers" to designate the same objet ( or la confiture and les confitures)


Unique, colorful examples, btw. ;-)


My concern is, why use an article at all? Is it just that American English is so lazy, but that correct speech necessitates using an article. Probably this.


It's not that using articles with clothing is inherently correct or incorrect, it's just a difference between the two languages. French requires an article with indefinite plural nouns, English doesn't. You could just as well ask why use an article at all in "He wears a shirt" when Russian and plenty of other languages do just fine without any articles.


It's just a custom. Those are the rules that give the language meaning. Even in English, the customs for articles can be different in various countries. In England, they go to hospital (no article). In America, we go to the hospital. Why? Who knows really? Plus, sentences such as "We go to school" vs. "We go to the school" can have different meanings depending on the context. All this is part of the joy of learning a language. It's good that you are noticing that French is different from your native language. You'll find that this will happen again and again. In many cases, you can't translate word-for-word.


Try speaking English without "a/an" and "the" and you will understand. But how can you be lvl 16 in French and ask such a question?


I'm level 25 in French for Spanish speakers, and level 13 in Spanish for French speakers, and although intellectually I understand the partitive article, I still forget to use it sometimes. I think the problem is more getting used to it so that it sounds/feels right than understanding that it exists. At least for me.

Your example of trying to use English without "a/an" and "the" is spot on. Some languages don't use any articles, and it sounds so odd to our English ears. French is exactly the same way - you have to have the partitive article for it to sound right. Good example!


Yes, a lot is the "sounding right" thing. When I think in English, not using an article with a French sentence sounds right.


Well, I can't think of an example, but sometimes it seems that a de could be used when I try to construct a sentence in French, and I find I am wrong. Perhaps I was mixing up languages.

It is easy to get to level 16 by just doing exercises. Grundkentnisse, or fundamental mastery, is not required. Some students have drilled more intensively than others and/or mastered the grammatical fundamentals better. You did not need me to explain this to you?/ to ask such a question? Voilà.

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