French: les ou des?

In the Conjunctions 1 lesson, I'm asked to translate "You like vegetables, so you eat beans." I went (ignoring the accents -- sorry, I don't have a French QWERTY keyboard) for "Tu aimes des legumes, donc tu manges les haricots." This answer was not accepted. Apparently the correct answer is, "Tu aimes les legumes, donc tu manges des haricots."

And I'm like, whaaat? Is this strictly a matter of arbitrary idiomatic usage, or is there a principle behind it that I can learn and apply?

I noticed, also, in a different lesson, that "le the ou le cafe" was to be translated as "tea or coffee". The word "the" was not included among the English tiles. But, but ... "le"! Surely "the tea or the coffee" would be a more natural English translation. Again, is there a principle that I can learn and apply, or is this just another random French idiom?

Thanks to anyone who can clarify this for me!

June 8, 2018


Le/la/les/l’ are also used for preferences or things you like. So you must say, J’aime les chiens, instead of J’aime des chiens. And for your question of “le thé ou le café”, note that all nouns have to have articles such as le or une or du, to form full sentences, although in conversations I think that “thé ou café” should be fine

June 8, 2018

Thanks. That does explain it. I'm curious, though: What about anti-preferences? I haven't learned the verb yet, but what if the English sentence was "I dislike vegetables"? Would 'les' also be used in that case because the sentence expresses a preference?

Most nouns need articles, yes. (I believe "Il est professeur" is a counter-example.) My question was more about the English translation. In thinking about it, I think English differentiates between the two usages. If I asked a Mormon, "Do you like tea or coffee?", she would say, "No, I don't drink either of those." But if it's a taste test where I have placed a cup of each on the table and asked her to sample them and tell me which she prefers, I would say, "Do you like the tea or the coffee?" There's a difference in English.

June 8, 2018

You are correct that "les" would be used for "Je n'aime pas les légumes".

There are two main ways you talk about professions and occupations. One of them requires an article, the other does not.

  1. He is a teacher - Il est professeur

  2. He is a teacher - C'est un professeur

  3. She is a nurse - Elle est infirmière

  4. She is a nurse - C'est une infirmière

June 8, 2018

Les would be used in that sentence in anti-preferences. (To hate = détester).
I guess French doesn’t differentiate between the 2 uses, more on the context

June 8, 2018

I do not think I can give you a definitive answer, but I can share some things I have picked up that help me. If anyone else reading this spots an error, they can correct it.

  1. Think of the words "des" as implying "some" or having the sense of something uncountable. In your example, think of the English sentence as being "You like vegetables (in general), so you eat (some) beans. This concept also applies to de la, du, and de l'.

  2. The definite article is used a lot in French for abstractions or generalizations. The sentence "Beans are green" translates to "Les haricots sont verts". I cannot say it is a hard and fast rule, but often the subject of a sentence requires a definite article in French. Another example: "Tourists (in general) like to visit the museum" translates to "Les touristes aiment visiter le musée".

  3. Point #2 is why "tea or coffee" translates to "le thé ou le café" because it is referring to tea and coffee in general. For example: "I like tea and coffee" becomes "J'aime le thé et le café". On the other hand, if you ask someone "Do you want (some) tea or (some) coffee?" the French sentence is "Est-ce que tu veux du thé ou du café?"

I do not know if this makes sense to you, but what I can tell you is that with time and practice this gets easier and easier. After a while you just kind of know when to use le/la/les/l' and when to use du/de la/des/de l'.

June 8, 2018

You might think of "des" in this case as "some", and 'les' as the article used when you're speaking of something in a general sense. Tu aimes des legumes would be translated as "you like some vegetables," but you were wanting to say that you like vegetables in general, so the correct answer would be 'Tu aimes les legumes.'

The reasoning is the same for the beans. You want to say that because you like vegetables, you eat some beans, which would be des haricots.

Your translation reads: "You like some vegetables, so you eat the beans", rather than: "You like vegetables (in general), so you eat some beans."

Can be tricky. Does this explanation make sense?

  • Slow typist here! It looks like my response it repetitive, but I will leave it in case it helps.
June 8, 2018

Yes, that makes perfect sense, thanks ... except that the English sentence could in fact mean, "You like some vegetables [but not zucchini!], so you eat the beans [that are on the plate in front of you]." Or maybe not. The first half works, but I think I'm wrong about the second half. The second half definitely means, "you eat [some] beans."

June 8, 2018

"You like some vegetables" is "Tu aimes certains légumes". It is not a generality.

  • You like vegetables = the whole category = tu aimes les légumes. It is a generality.
  • You eat beans = more than one = tu manges des haricots. It is the plural of "un haricot" and "des" is required as the plural of "un" or "une".

If you like a thing or things 'in general', the generalization will need a definite article "le, la, les".

  • Vegetables are good for health = the whole category and health as an abstract noun = les légumes sont bons pour la santé. It is a double-generality.
  • Some vegetables are not that good for health = Certains légumes ne sont pas si bons pour la santé.

The direct object of an appreciation verb (aimer, aimer bien, adorer, préférer, apprécier, détester, haïr, respecter, admirer) is automatically considered as a generalization, whether it is a countable or uncountable noun, singular or plural, referring to material or immaterial things, whole categories, concepts, etc.

  • J'aime le champagne (category)
  • Je déteste les chevaux (all of them as a species)
  • Je préfère l'astronomie (concept/abstact noun)
  • J'admire les astronautes (category)
  • Je respecte les lois (all of them).
June 9, 2018
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