Using le, la, les with titles, languages and academic subjects (definite articles)

Look at these examples:

La science est...
Science is...

Le français est.. 
French is...

Le président Mitterrand est...
President Mitterrand is...

Nous étudions la géographie.
We study geography.

 

Note that unlike English, definite articles (le,la,l',les) are used with titles, languages & academic subjects.

BUT

Only in the phrase "to speak + language" can you use both forms, with or without le.

Il parle portugais.  /  Il parle le portugais.
He speaks Portuguese.

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Le français est.. 
French is...


Nous étudions la géographie.
We study geography.


Le président Mitterrand est...
President Mitterrand is...


J'adore le français.
I love French.



La science est...
Science is...


Il parle portugais.  /  Il parle le portugais.
He speaks Portuguese.


Q&A

Jocelyn

Kwiziq community member

23 February 2018

4 replies

Why is there no « de » after pas in this exam with languages?

Is there not a rule « ne pas de »? How comes you don’t use « de » in this example: Ils ne parlent pas espagnol/ l’espagnol. ?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

23 February 2018

23/02/18

Hi Jocelyn,

the "de" after "pas" is used when you are expressing, e.g., that you don't have something of something. For example:

Il n'y a plus de sucre. -- There is no more (of) sugar.
Elle ne boit pas d'alcool. -- She drinks not of the alcohol. (literally)

But in the example you quote, "Ils ne parlent pas l'espagnol." There is no larger thing of which the language Spanish would be part of. It is an indivisible entity. Hence no "de".

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

23 February 2018

23/02/18

Bonjour Jocelyn !

To complete Chris's answer, only partitive articles (du, de la, de l', des) and indefinite articles (un, une, des) become de or d' in a negative sentence.

It doesn't apply to definite articles (le, la, l', les) or zero articles, hence: 

Je parle espagnol / l'espagnol.   ->  Je ne parle pas espagnol / l'espagnol.

Have a look at our related lessons:

https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/grammar/the-partitive-article-in-negative-sentences

https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/grammar/un-and-une-become-de-or-d-in-negative-sentences-indefinite-article

Bonne journée !

Jocelyn

Kwiziq community member

13 March 2018

13/03/18

Thank you Chris

Jocelyn

Kwiziq community member

13 March 2018

13/03/18

Thank you Aurélie

Chuck

Kwiziq community member

3 September 2017

1 reply

"ils" vs. "elles"

"ils" is given as the correct answer and "elles" is marked wrong. Why can't "they" be translated as "elles"?

Ron

Kwiziq community member

3 September 2017

3/09/17

Bonjour Chuck, After reading your question, I reread the lesson but I am unable to find the plural of il or elle that you are referencing. Please consider resubmitting your question with the example. Bonne chance

Daniel

Kwiziq community member

11 June 2017

3 replies

La difficulté.....

La difficulté est les mots "l'histoire" = story or the stories" et "l'histoire = history or the history". de plus, nous ne disons pas "The maths" plural as it relates to mathematics in English. The two test questions were thus very confusing. Can you please explain... Thank you.

Ron

Kwiziq community member

12 June 2017

12/06/17

Bonsoir Daniel, Je suis d'accord avec vous. C'est très difficile de savoir soit "l'histoire" = story or the stories" soit "l'histoire = history or the history". Et bien sûr que les maths est une phrase maladroite. In English we would say «the math» as in the math problem or the mathematics; however, en français c'est tel «(US) (= mathematics) maths fpl» This comes from the Collins-Robert French dictionary. Bonne chance,

Daniel

Kwiziq community member

12 June 2017

12/06/17

Merci Monsieur.... un bon réponse!

Ron

Kwiziq community member

12 June 2017

12/06/17

De rien.

Dexter

Kwiziq community member

27 October 2016

1 reply

How to know when an object is masculine

Isn't Le téléphone wrong why is it la téléphone

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

2 November 2016

2/11/16

Bonjour Dexter ! THE famous question :) Unfortunately, I cannot give you an infallible rule for that, as there is none. You just have to learn the words with their gender. The "good" thing is that words have a fixed gender, so once you know it, you can't get it wrong ;) À bientôt !

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

14 September 2016

2 replies

Susan asked: "When is the word "président" capitalized in French?"

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

14 September 2016

14/09/16

Bonjour Susan !

That's a very good question indeed!

Here is the answer, concerning président :

- When you're not addressing them personally, there won't be a capital letter:
Le président Hollande visite l'Angleterre.

- When you're addressing them personally, you will use what we call the "majuscule de courtoisie" (politeness capital letter).
Monsieur le Président, je vous écris...

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Susan

Kwiziq community member

14 September 2016

14/09/16

Good to learn the customs as well as the language. Merci!

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

8 September 2016

2 replies

C. asked : "Why doesn't 'français' become 'françaisE' when it is about 'her' speaking French?"

"A-t-elle parlé français ce soir ?"

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

8 September 2016

8/09/16

Bonjour C. ! The reason "français" doesn't agree in gender with "elle" here is that with the structure "parler + language", it is always the masculine form that is employed. Indeed here what you're actually saying is "I speak [the language] French", i.e. "Je parle français" OR "Je parle le [langage] français". Languages are always masculine in French, no matter who speaks them ;) I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !

Catherine

Kwiziq community member

9 September 2016

9/09/16

Yes, thanks so much, sometimes the brain doesn't engage all the rules!

Johnny

Kwiziq community member

23 July 2016

1 reply

to speak + language

You didn't explain why we can use both forms with "to speak + language." Is it because a language is both a noun and an adjective?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

25 July 2016

25/07/16

Bonjour Johnny ! I don't think that's the reason, as in both cases, you use the non-capitalised adjective form of the language: "Je parle français." "Je parle le français." I would say that the original way would be "Je parle le (langage) français", which would respect French structures, and then usage would have made "Je parle français" acceptable as well. But that's my humble theory, as it's one of those "that's just the way it is" rules! À bientôt !
Let me take a look at that...