Definite Articles

The definite article, which expresses the English word “the,” indicates a specific person or thing: the family, for example. The masculine, feminine, singular, and plural forms are shown in Table 1.

For words beginning with a vowel or vowel sound (y and unaspirated h; that is, no puff of air is emitted when pronouncing the word — aspirated h is generally indicated in dictionaries by an * or other symbol), the singular definite articles le and la become l'. The masculine or feminine gender of the noun, so easily recognizable when le (masculine) or la (feminine) is used, becomes a problem when the noun that follows requires the use of l', which represents either gender noun before a vowel.

All plural nouns require the one plural definite article (les), so you cannot determine the gender of the noun by the article.

Use the definite article as follows:

  • With nouns in a general or abstract sense

    • J'adore les chiens. (I love dogs.)

  • With names of languages, except directly after parler, en, and de

    • Le français est facile. (French is easy.)

    • J'adore le français. (I love French.)

      But:

    • Je parle français. (I speak French.)

    • C'est en français. (It's in French.)

    • une classe de français (a French class)

  • With parts of the body when the possessor is clear

    • Ouvre les yeux. (Open your eyes.)

  • With titles of rank or profession, except when addressing the person

    • le docteur Jean (Dr. John)

    • But:

    • Bonjour, docteur Jean. (Hello, Dr. John.)

  • With days of the week in a plural sense

    • Le lundi je travaille. (On Mondays, I work.)

  • With season and colors, except after au or en

    • Tu aimes l'hiver? (Do you like the winter?)

    • Il prèfère le bleu. (He prefers blue.)

    But:

    • Au printemps il pleut. (It rains in the spring.)

    • Je peins la maison en blanc. (I'm painting the house white.)

  • With dates

    • C'est le dix août. (It's August 10.)

  • With most geographical names of countries and continents

    • La France est super. (France is super.)

  • To express a, an, or per with weights and measures

    • Il paie six dollars la douzaine. (He pays $6 per dozen.)

  • With common expressions of time or place

    • le soir (in the evening)

    • la semaine prochaine (next week)

    • à la maison (at home)