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.

 

Unlike in English, definite articles (le,la,l',les) are used with titles, languages & academic subjects in French.

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

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


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...


Q&A Forum 9 questions, 18 answers

JoanA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

"Je parle un peu d'anglais avec lui". Is this sentence correct when 'un peu' is used to modify 'anglais' instead of 'parler'?

Asked 8 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Joan,

Yes , 'Je parle un peu d'anglais avec lui' is correct for, 'I speak a little English with him'.

Hope this helps!

"Je parle un peu d'anglais avec lui". Is this sentence correct when 'un peu' is used to modify 'anglais' instead of 'parler'?

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DeborahB1Kwiziq community member

Hi - I am confused about how to tell is means the story or history (the academic subject).

The french was:

Il déteste l’histoire mais il adore les maths

The choice of answers were:

He hates the story but he loves maths

He hates history but he loves maths

I chose story, but I don't understand how to know which is correct.

Thanks

Asked 10 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Deborah,

Here they were school subjects -

History as opposed to Maths.

DeborahB1Kwiziq community member

Sorry, I used some punctuation which seems to have removed some of my question.

I am confused about how to tell if "l'histoire" means the story or history (the academic subject).

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I suspect only context will tell you.

Hi - I am confused about how to tell is means the story or history (the academic subject).

The french was:

Il déteste l’histoire mais il adore les maths

The choice of answers were:

He hates the story but he loves maths

He hates history but he loves maths

I chose story, but I don't understand how to know which is correct.

Thanks

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JocelynC1Kwiziq community member

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. ?
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

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).

AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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

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

Bonne journée !

JocelynC1Kwiziq community member
Thank you Chris
JocelynC1Kwiziq community member
Thank you Aurélie

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. ?

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ChuckC1Kwiziq community member

"ils" vs. "elles"

"ils" is given as the correct answer and "elles" is marked wrong. Why can't "they" be translated as "elles"?
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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

"ils" vs. "elles"

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

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DanielB1Kwiziq community member

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.
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
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,
DanielB1Kwiziq community member
Merci Monsieur.... un bon réponse!
RonC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
De rien.
Daniel asked:View original

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.

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DexterA0Kwiziq community member

How to know when an object is masculine

Isn't Le téléphone wrong why is it la téléphone
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !

How to know when an object is masculine

Isn't Le téléphone wrong why is it la téléphone

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AurélieKwiziq team member

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

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member

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 C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Good to learn the customs as well as the language. Merci!

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

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AurélieKwiziq team member

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

"A-t-elle parlé français ce soir ?"

Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !
CatherineB2Kwiziq community member
Yes, thanks so much, sometimes the brain doesn't engage all the rules!

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

"A-t-elle parlé français ce soir ?"

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JohnnyC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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?
Asked 3 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !

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?

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