French Partitive Articles

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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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 ArticleLabelExampleTranslation
de + le = duMasculin singularJe voudrais du café.I would like some coffee.
de + la = de laFeminine singularJe mange de la pizza le vendredi.I eat some pizza on Fridays.
de + les = desMasc./Fem. pluralLes enfants ont des légumes avec le dîner.The children have some vegetables with dinner.
de + l’ = de l’Masc./Fem. Before vowelJe 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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The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
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