When are articles required in French?

This question came up in another thread and I thought it deserved special attention.

As a French learner, you've no doubt noticed that the French are sticklers about putting articles in front of nouns. You may have also noticed that, true to form, there are exceptions to this rule.

Most of these exceptions aren't exceptions at all, because French actually doesn't require articles before nouns. Rather, it requires each noun to have a determiner, which is a part of speech that puts the noun in context. Articles are one type of determiner, but you can replace articles with other determiner adjectives, which include:

  • Demonstrative adjectives, e.g. ce cheval
  • Possessive adjectives, e.g. ton cochon
  • Cardinal numbers, e.g. deux chevaux
  • Indefinite adjectives, e.g. plusieurs chiens or certains hommes
  • Interrogative adjectives, e.g. quel chat ?
  • Exclamation adjectives, e.g. quelle chance !
  • Negative adjectives, e.g. aucune chance !

In addition, some verbs allow nouns to run amok, shameless and unclothed. These include:

  • Professions with être. For instance, je suis médecin.
  • Languages with parler. For instance, je parle anglais. Note that other verbs (e.g. savoir) don't allow this.
  • Most nouns after devenir. For instance, devenir roi.

After these two categories, there are only a few other exceptions to the determiner rule. Determiners are...

  • Optional after certain prepositions. For instance, sans eau or après déjeuner.
  • Omitted when using de to indicate a larger whole something came from, the way something was made, or the purpose of an object (see here).
  • Omitted after some expressions ending in de. For instance, beaucoup d'eau or avoir besoin de nourriture.
  • Omitted after en when it means "made of". For instance, en fer.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the answer on the other thread. If you think of any exceptions I missed, please feel free to suggest them!

July 16, 2014


Merci beaucoup, DXLi. It's starting to come easier (deciding when articles are needed), but I do like having it written out before my eyes instead of being pieced together by my brain, you know? Thanks again, bookmarking!

July 16, 2014

I had been wondering. And guessing....

Great summary.Many thanks:)

July 16, 2014

Great post...these nuggets from you are great in filling the complete language gaps that the program itself doesn't "fully" explain. Merci

July 17, 2014

Just to fix another point : there is a space before "?", "!", ";" and ":" (but not before "." and ","), so you should write « quel chat ? » instead of « quel chat? ». ;-)

July 20, 2014
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.