- "The giraffe is eating [some] leaves" - "Le girafe mange des feuilles"
- "The giraffe is eating the leaves" - "Le girafe mange les feuilles"
"les feuilles" can only be used as just "leaves" (and not "some leaves") when used with a verb of appreciation, aimer, détester, etc.
- "Le girafe aime les feuilles" - "The giraffe likes leaves"
- "Le girafe déteste les feuilles" - "The giraffe hates leaves"
Note how adding "some" would change the meaning of the last two sentences but doesn't change the meaning of the first sentence.
So just to check, does French grammar always use "des feuilles" for (just) "leaves" with verbs like manger as a rule, even when adding "some" would change the meaning in English? For example in English: "Although the giraffe (as a species) eats leaves, this newborn will feed on his mother's milk for four to six months before he begins eating leaves."
Sorry, there are several rules. https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-to-french-articles-1368810
I know what you are thinking of now. Generalizations in French also take the definite article.
Since we are talking about one particular giraffe, this is not a generalization.
If, however, we wanted to say “Giraffes eat leaves.”, then in French it would be “Les girafes mangent des feuilles.”
But, CJ.Dennis, you have omitted to point out that there are actually five possibilities, not just two:
- "Le girafe mange des feuilles." → "The giraffe is eating [some] leaves."
- "Le girafe mange des feuilles." → "The giraffe [habitually] eats [some] leaves."
- "Le girafe mange les feuilles." → "The giraffe is eating the leaves."
- "Le girafe mange les feuilles." → "The giraffe [habitually] eats the leaves."
- "Le girafe mange les feuilles." → "The giraffe [as a species] eats leaves [as a rule]."
- "L'éléphant mange des feuilles." (See below)
The fourth possibility ideally needs additional context to validate it, but in principle it is a valid option.
The fifth possibility requires no such additional context and invalidates your false premise that "les" as a generality can only be used with "verbs of appreciation".
What does hold true however, is that, with a "verb of appreciation", "les" almost always indicates a generality.
With many animals, there would be a sixth possibility:
- "L'éléphant mange des feuilles." → "The elephant [as a species] eats [some] leaves."
but so far as I am aware this is not true of giraffes, since they only eat leaves.
No, if the sentence started with “Leaves are...” then the French would put “Les feuilles...”, but the verb “mange” uses “des feuilles” for “eats some leaves” in which we often just say “eats leaves.” The generalization would be about “giraffes” for “Giraffes eat leaves.”, but again when the definite article is used after a form of “manger” that wiuld be translated to the definite article in English.