French Partitive Articles

Beginner French - Level A1

Overview

The partitive article is used in both French and English to talk about quantities that can't really be counted and translates to some or any. It can be a little hard to grasp for English speakers because we frequently leave it out of our sentences. The partitive article refers to an unspecified quantity of food, liquid, or some other uncountable noun. English has no equivalent article – the partitive is usually translated by the adjectives “some” or “any,” or may be left out entirely. The partitive article is needed when talking about an unknown or unspecified quantity of something uncountable. The partitive is also used with faire and jouer plus musical instruments, and with faire for sports and other activities in the sense of practicing.

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French Partitive Articles

A partitive article is used when you refer to something that is unquantifiable or immeasurable. Most often, the partitive article is translated to the English word, “some” or “any.”

                        I want some photos of the trip.

                        I do not want to make any mistakes.

As previously explained, much of French grammar relies on the gender and number of what in the sentence is being discussed. There are four different ways to express the partitive articles in French. The partitive articles are created by combining the word de (which can mean “of,” “from,” or “about”) with the four definite articles le, la, l’, or les.

 

Partitive Article

Label

Example

Translation

de + le = du

Masculin singular

Je voudrais du café.

I would like some coffee.

de + la = de la

Feminine singular

Je mange de la pizza le vendredi.

I eat some pizza on Fridays.

de + les = des

Masc./Fem. plural

Les enfants ont des légumes avec le dîner.

The children have some vegetables with dinner.

de + l’ = de l’

Masc./Fem. Before vowel

Je prends de l'eau, s’il vous plaît.

I’ll take some water, please.

 

In these examples, all of the partitive article variations translate to “some” in English, yet there are differences based on the gender and number of the word they describe. 

Notes:

  • Discussed in Module 7: Indefinite Articles, we learned how to change any indefinite article (un/une) to de in a negative sentence. De in this sense, is also a partitive article. Remember that in negative sentences, this translates to “any.

    Affirmative:                                       Negative:

Vous avez du chocolat.                       Vous n’avez pas de chocolat.

You have some chocolate.                  You don’t have any chocolate.

  • The combinations used to create the partitive articles can also translate literally to the French word combinations. Meaning, the partitive article combinations above can also be understood as:

de + le/la/les/l’         =          of + the           →         of the

de + le/la/les/l’         =          from + the      →         from the

de + le/la/les/l’         =          about + the     →         aout the

Knowing whether or not the combination translates to the partitive article “some” or to one of these variations depends on the context of the sentence.

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Alexa teaches you French partitive articles: DU, DE LA, DES.

Directions: Determine whether each underlined food item is masculine singular, feminine singular, or plural.

  1. Tu manges du poulet pour le dîner.
  2. Les élèves demandent (ask for) des biscuits dans l’après-midi.
  3. Lorraine voudrait (would like) de la bière.

Directions: Choose whether or not the underlined segment of each sentence translates to “some”, “from the” or “of the” in English.

  1. Le pantalon de la fille est bleu.
  2. Je regarde (watch) des films au cinéma.
  3. Nous habitons (live) 3 heures de la ville.

Translation and Answers:

  1. You are eating some chicken for dinner. Chicken, or poulet, is a masculine singular noun. This is understood from the masculine singular partitive article, du.
  2. Students ask for cookies in the afternoon. Cookies, or biscuits, is a plural noun. This is understood from the plural partitive article, des.
  3. Lorraine would like some beer. Beer, or bière, is a feminine singular noun. This is understood from the feminine partitive article, de la.
  4. The pants of the girl are blue. = The girl’s pants are blue.
  5. I watch some films at the movies.
  6. We live three hours from the city.

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