Why is the "le", "la", or "les" sometimes ignored?

For example, why does "l'eau" mean "water" and/or "the water". Or why does "les fraises" mean "strawberries" and/or "the strawberries".

I'm guessing it is a lot more complicated than "le, la, les=the", otherwise surely you'd be asking for a "glass of the water". What is their purpose exactly, and would you ever just use eau?

Sorry if I've overcomplicated things.

November 24, 2012


Simplest answer - in French (and Spanish), the article the (la/le/les, el/la/los/las) is often used to mark generics, things in general. So in English, we say "I like strawberries" but in French "J'aime les fraises" - "I like the strawberries" - which in English sounds like you are talking about some specific strawberries, but it's not like that. It's just how the language marks generic nouns.

November 24, 2012

Thank you for answering, I think I understand a bit better now.

So is there never an occasion where you would exclude the article (and just say eau or fraises)?

November 25, 2012

I'm just a beginner in French (my previous answer came just from applying Spanish knowledge), but a bit of Googling suggests that it's pretty rare, and in fact some French teachers are known to oversimplify things and say that you should "always" put an article (or other determiner) before a noun, even though there are examples when you don't do this.

November 26, 2012

Thanks again!

I think the reason I was asking was partly due to Duolingo's scoring (I was losing points for forgetting the "the" on some English translations, and for adding it on others). I was just looking for an easy way to tell whether the "the" is really there when an article is used.

I'm enjoying learning about these little quirks of grammar, but it makes me appreciate how straightforward English is (I've had it east!)!

November 26, 2012
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