7.3 Partitive Articles


Partitive articles are used both in English and in French to express quantities that cannot be counted. While the indefinite article (un, une, des) is used with countable quantities (un oeuf, deux oeufs, etc.), the partitive article is used before nouns that are indivisible or uncountable. In English, we use the article “some” to that end, but it is often omitted.

Elle mange du pain. (She’s eating bread.)
Elle mange des pommes. (She’s eating apples.)

There are three partitive articles in French:

Partitive Articles
du du pain (masculine) (some) bread
de la de la viande (feminine) (some) meat
de l’ (masculine) de l’ail (masculine) (some) garlic
de l’ (feminine) de l’eau (feminine) (some) water

Definite Articles vs Partitive Articles

While the definite article designates something in its totality or as a whole, the partitive article designates a part of the whole. Depending on what you want to say, the same noun may be introduced by a definite, an indefinite, or a partitive article. Compare these examples:

  1. Vous prenez du vin, n’est-ce pas? You are having (some) wine, aren’t you?
  2. Le vin rouge est bon pour la santé! Red wine is healthy!
  3. Nous avons un Beaujolais nouveau ou un Chambertin. We have a Beaujolais nouveau or a Chamberti.

After the Negative

In negative sentences, partitive articles (du, de la, des, de l’) change to de:

Joe mange de la viande. Joe eats meat.
Tammy ne mange pas de viande. Tammy doesn’t eat meat

This section includes content derived from Français Interactif, originally released under CC BY 3.0 and Tex’s French Grammar, originally released under CC BY 3.0.


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Introduction to French (2nd ed.) Copyright © 2017 by Rita Palacios and Edited by Michelle Schwartz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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