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In French, nouns are usually preceded by articles....

  Definite Indefinite
Masculine le un
Feminine la une
Plural les des

Indefinite Articles
The indefinite article, un/une, is used exactly like the English indefinite article- a/an. It is used when referring to a single instance that is a part of a group that consists of many entities. For example 'a doorknob' is a single instance of the 'doorknobs' group which consists of everything that is called a doorknob.

un oiseau a bird
un acteur an actor
  une actrice an actress
  une blatte a cockroach

Plural Indefinite Articles
The plural indefinite article, des, is used when referring to more than a single entity. It is not used, however, when general statements are made about a group - statements that are meant to refer to all the entities that make up that group. This is the role of the definite article as we shall soon see. In English, note that in the same situation no article is placed before the noun.

Je vois des blattes partout.
I see cockroaches everywhere.

Mon ami vend des fleurs dans le metro.
My friend sells flowers in the subway.

Des oiseaux mangent le fruit de ces arbres.
Birds eat the fruit of these trees.

Des passants ont vu l'accident.
People who were passing by saw the accident.

Definite Articles
The definite articles, le, la, les, are basically equivalent to English the. Anytime the is used in English, a definite article will surely be used in French. In some cases, however, French will use a definite articles when English uses no article at all.

This includes times when a group of nouns is referred to in its entirety. For example when blanket statements are made about all cockroaches, all humans, or all cars.

Les blattes vivent dans les murs et se reproduisent prodigieusement.
Cockroaches live in the walls and reproduce prodigiously.

Les baleines sont les animaux les plus grands du monde. Les humains, en comparaison, sont très petits.
Whales are the largest animals in the world. Humans, by comparison, are very small.

Il pense que les voitures sont l'invention du diable.
He thinks that cars are the invention of the devil.

...and when a noun is referred to in a general sense (for example a statement that refers not to a particular war but to war in general).

  La guerre est horrible.
War is horrible.

Il faut cultiver l'amour, et eviter la haine et la colère.
We must cultivate love, and avoid hate and anger.

J'aime la cuisine chinoise.
I love chinese food.

Il aime l'été plus que l'hiver.
He likes summer more than winter.

Le basket est notre sport préféré.
Basketball is our favorite sport.

Names are not usually preceded by articles. However the definite article almost always precedes the names of countries except when it follows the prepositions en and de.

 

la France, l'Égypte, les États-Unis, la Chine

Je vais en France.
I go to France.

Whenever the definite articles le or les follow the prepositions à or de, the preposition and article fuse together.

  à de
le au du, de l'
la à la de la, de l'
les aux des

Christine revient demain du Mexique.
Christine returns tomorrow from Mexico.

Pierre parle aux infirmiers.
Pierre is speaking to the nurses.

Olivier revient de l'aéroport.(masculine)
Olivier is returning from the aeroport.

Nous jouons au basket.
We play basketball.

Il désigne un successeur au cas où il meure.
He designates a successor in case he dies.

Partitive Articles
A partitive article consists of the preposition de followed by a definite article (du, de la). It is frequently used before a singular noun that represents something that can be divided into smaller parts like liquids, wood, food, etc.

Je bois du vin rouge pour le dîner. Marie boit de la bière.
I drink red wine during dinner. Mary drinks beer.

Coupez nous du bois pour le feu.
Cut us some wood for the campfire.
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