Both articles and determiners, or determiner adjectives, modify nouns and give further information on the noun being modified. They have distinct forms according to the gender and number of the noun being modified.
Remember, as with other adjectives in French, these articles and adjectives match the gender and number of the noun they are modifying, not the gender or number of the person or object who owns the noun.
The definite articles mean “the”, and refer to specific nouns, just as in English. They are:
- Le (masculine singular), la (feminine singular), and les (masculine or feminine plural)
Both le and la become l’ in front of words that begin with a vowel or most h’s.
EXAMPLE: L’avion a atterri très tard et les passagers étaient malheureux. (“The plane landed very late, and the passengers were unhappy.”)
The indefinite articles refer to nouns without specifying which of multiple potential nouns they are applying to.
- Un (masculine singular), une (feminine singular), and des (masculine or feminine plural)
Un and une can mean either “a” or “an”, or literally, “one”. The plural form des means “some”.
EXAMPLE: Margot a trouvé une ferme abandonnée et des voitures délabrées. (“Margot found an abandoned farm and some run down cars.”)
Partitive articles refer to a piece, or part, being discussed in context of a whole.
- Du (masculine singular), de la (feminine singular), and des (masculine or feminine plural)
De la becomes de l’ in front of feminine nouns that begin with a vowel sound. Note that du is never shortened to d’ (this is how de is shortened, so du needs to remain distinct to be able to tell the two words apart).
EXAMPLE: Pour mon petit déjeuner, je mange du beurre et de la confiture avec mon croissant. (“For my breakfast, I eat butter and jam with my croissant.”)
Demonstratives are even more specific than definite articles and mean “this” or “these”. They are:
- Ce and cet (masculine singular), cette (feminine singular), and ces (masculine or feminine plural).
Cet is used for masculine nouns that begin with a vowel sound.
EXAMPLE: Cet homme est aimable, mais ces autres sont méchants. (“This man is friendly, but these others are mean.”)
It’s also possible to convey “this” versus “that” noun using the suffix -ci after the “this” object and -là after the “that” object.
EXAMPLE: Il a acheté cette montre-ci et elle a acheté cette montre-là. (“He bought this watch, and she bought that watch.”)
Possessive adjectives refer to which pronouns have ownership over another noun.
Possessives come in three forms on the singular side: 1) masculine singular, 2) feminine singular, and 3) masculine or feminine plural. On the plural side they only have two forms: 1) singular of either gender and 2) plural of either gender.
- Mon, ma, mes (“my”)
- Ton, ta, tes (“your” familiar)
- Son, sa, ses (“his” or “hers” or “its”)
- Notre, nos (“our”)
- Votre, vos (“your” plural or formal)
- Leur, leurs (“their”)
EXAMPLE: Tes enfants sont polis, mais leurs enfants sont impolis. (“Your children are polite, but their children are impolite.”)
EXAMPLE: Ma mere est partie il y a une heure, mais elle a oublié son sac sur le canapé. (My mother left an hour ago, but she forgot her bag on the couch.”)
EXAMPLE: Notre but est de déménager et mes parents vont nous aider. (“Our goal is to move and my parents are going to help us.”)
We have more on possessive adjectives and ownership in this lesson.
Interrogative determiners mean “which” or “what” noun and are used to request information on the certain noun that is being discussed.
There are four forms of the interrogatives, unlike the other adjectives and articles in this lesson, to agree with both gender and singular/plural forms. They are:
- Quel (masculine singular), quelle (feminine singular), quels (masculine plural), and quelles (feminine plural)
EXAMPLE: Quels profs avaient quelles idées? (“Which professors had which ideas?”)
Quel (including all four forms) can also be used in exclamations in which one would say “what a” or “such a” in English.
EXAMPLE: Quel film d’horreur terrible! (“What a terrible horror movie!”)
EXAMPLE: Quelle élève intelligente! (“What an intelligent student!”)