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French grammar - The definite article - concepts, topics and issues

The definite article - concepts, topics and issues

The definite article in French is a little different than in English:

General concepts - Definite articles are used to talk about a noun or group of nouns in a general sense or as a concept or notion.

-- In English we sometimes use the plural to do this. For example 'Green beans are good' or 'I like dogs'.

Topics and Issues - Abstractions, politics, school subjects, and languages all need a definite article in French.

Les haricots verts sont bons.
Green beans are good.

Referring to haricots verts in a generic sense

haricot vert (m) means 'green beans' (singular in French)

L'or est cher.
Gold is expensive.

l'or refers to 'gold' in general and not 'the gold'

or (m) means 'gold'

J'aime bien faire de l'auto-stop.
I quite like hitchhiking.

auto-stop (m) means 'hitchhiking'

faire de l'auto-stop means 'to hitchhike'

Il parle très bien le français.
He speaks French very well.

He is not speaking French now, but he speaks French in a general sense.

Je parle mal l'italien.
I speak Italian badly.

I am not speaking Italian badly now, but I speak Italian badly in a general sense

mal (adj) means 'badly' or 'incorrectly'

Il aime les mathématiques.
He loves mathematics.

mathématiques (pl.m) means 'mathematics'

Il parle de la loi.
He is speaking about the law.

In English we use 'the law' much like in French la loi

loi (f) means 'law'

J'aime regarder le rugby et le football.
I like to watch rugby and football.

regarder (verb) means 'to watch'

L'eau est bonne pour la santé.
Water is good for (one's) health.

Here both definite articles serve the general concept function

santé (f) means 'health'

Je n'aime pas le fromage de chèvre.
I don't like goat's cheese.

fromage (m) means 'cheese

Ils aiment les oignons, mais pas l'ail.
They like onions but not garlic.

oignon (m) means 'onion'

ail (m) means 'garlic'

En général, les Français sont sympathiques.
The French are friendly.

en général means 'in general'

sympathique (m) means 'nice' or 'friendly'

La patience est une qualité utile.
Patience is a useful quality.

qualité (f) means 'quality' or 'trait'

utile (m.f) means 'useful'

Elle n'aime pas du tout le froid.
She doesn't like the cold at all.

froid (m) means 'cold' (noun and adjective)

J'aime le théâtre, mais je préfère le cinéma.
I like the theater but I prefer the cinema.

théâtre (m) means 'theatre'

La vie est difficile sans argent.
Life is difficult without money.

sans means 'without'

La France fait partie de l'Europe.
France is part of Europe.

faire partie (verb) means 'to be part of'

C'est la vie.
That's life.