When to use partitive articles in French

We do not use the same construction in English. I have used the translation “some” in the examples above.

However, this is not necessary, and there is no rule in English that dictates the usage of adverbs in this regard.

You could say:

• I would like some coffee (J’aimerais du café)

• I want bread (Je veux du pain)

As you can see, the translations do not change in French. Why? Because you need to use the partitive articles.

We will go through them one by one in this article, and we will also simplify the rules.

Before we start, I need to mention that these articles are very important in the French language. Not knowing how to use them will quickly reveal that you don’t speak the language fluently.

Thus, it is a good idea to learn their areas of application 😊.


We will choose a partitive article based on the gender of the noun. Does it sound complicated?

Let us make it a bit easier. You probably already know that all nouns/words in French have a gender.

For instance:

  • Du gateau – Cake (un gateau – masculine)
  • De la tarte – Pie (une tarte – feminine)
  • Des frites – French fries (des frites – plural)

Let us put these examples in a context:

  • Je voudrais du gateau – I would like (some) cake.
  • Elle a acheté de la tarte – She has bought (some) pie.
  • Il aimerait des frites – He would like (some) French fries.

So, how do I know if the noun is in the feminine, masculine or the plural form?

This is the big question 😊. I always recommend learning the gender of every new word.

Let us talk more about that later in this article.

Now we will focus on creating more examples to make you understand the partitive articles better.

Examples for ”du”

  • Elle a acheté du beurre – She has bought butter.
  • Nous aimerions du gateau – We would like some cake.
  • Il a trouvé du pain – He has found bread.

Examples for ”de la”

  • Je veux de la nourriture – I would like some food.
  • Il a acheté de la tarte – He has bought some pie.
  • Nous aimerions de la soupe – We would like some soup.

Examples for “des”

  • EIles ont acheté des pâtes – They bought pasta.
  • Ils ont trouvé des frites – The found French fries.  

De l’

Ok, so there is one more partitive article that we have yet to talk about.

I saved this one for last because I did not want to confuse you.

Let us now look at “de l’” and its areas of application.

We need to use “de l” when the noun/word begins with a vowel.

Why? Because it sounds better. You can see why by looking at these examples:

  • On a trouvé de l’argent – We have found money.
  • Elle a acheté de l’eau – She bought water.

In these examples, “argent” begins with a vowel “a”, and “eau” begins with the vowel “e”.

Without “de l’”, these phrases would look like this:

  • Elle a acheté de la eau
  • On a trouvé du argent

These phrases are grammatically incorrect and the pronunciation is not as smooth as in the earlier examples.

In the negative form

The articles change in the negative form. Are you familiar with the negative form? Let us look at two easy examples:

  • Je suis heureux – Je ne suis pas heureux
  • Ils sont gentils – Il ne sont pas gentils

The negative form is created by inserting ”ne..pas” around the verb.

Phrases with the partitive articles have the same construction. However, all the articles become “de” instead of their previous forms.

This is easier to show with examples:

  • Nous voulons acheter du beaurre – Nous ne voulons pas acheter de beurre
  • Il achète de la farine – Il n’achète pas de farine
  • Nous aimerions des frites – Nous n’aimerions pas de frites

Now we can conclude that all the partitive articles become “de”.

However, why does ”ne” become “n’” in two of the examples?

It has to do with the vowels. When the verb starts with a vowel, we need to make a contraction so that the phrase sounds better.

And I need to mention that also “de” can become “d’”. I know it sounds a bit complicated, put please bear with me 😊.

The rule remains that same, if the noun begins with a vowel, we need to remove an “e” from “de.”

Let us look at these examples:

  • Il veut de l’argent – Il ne veut pas d’argent
  • Elle achète des oranges – Elle n’achète pas d’oranges

We remove the “e” because ”argent” begins with a vowel “a”. The same goes for “oranges” that begins with the vowel “o”.


Exceptions from ”de”

I have already mentioned that”du”, “de la”, “de l’” and “des” become ”de” in the negative form. However, you are probably already aware of the fact that French contains many exceptions 😊.

The common and important verb “être” is an exception from this rule.

You should not change the partitive articles to “de” in the negative form if the verb in the phrase is “être”

Let us look at two examples to understand this better:

  • C’est du pain – Ce n’est pas du pain
  • C’est de la folie – Ce n’est pas de la folie


We have mainly talked about the partitive articles in relation to food and things.

However, you can also use them to describe a person’s characteristics or what the person is doing.

Let us look at a couple of examples:

  • Il a du talent – He has talent
  • Il a de la chance – He is lucky
  • Elle fait de la natation – She is swimming
  • Elle a du charisme – She is charismatic

These are just a couple of examples. You have probably understood that there are many areas of application.

Let us move on to another different aspect. Can you tell the difference between these two phrases?

  • Des femmes
  • Les femmes

Let us go through the difference together from a grammatical perspective.

Definite and indefinite articles

I have already mentioned that we use the partitives articles to describe something that we cannot measure.

However, we can also use the definite articles when we want to be more precise.

Let us look at these articles:

  • Le
  • La
  • Les

Let us put them in the same phrases as we used earlier. This will help us see how the translations change.

We can write two sentences with “des femmes” and “les femmes”.

  • Les femmes sont très intellegentes dans cette école – The women are very smart in this school.

In this sentence, we are referring to all the women in the school.

Now we can change the structure of the sentence to add “des femmes”

  • Il y a des femmes intelligentes dans cette école – There are some smart women in this school.

This gives us a less precise definition of the women in the school. We know that some of them are smart. However, this does not necessarily include all the women.

I hope that this sentence makes it more tangible for you.

When there is no right or wrong

Let us continue with two more phrases, where the definition of this concept may be a bit more difficult to understand.

We can say, for instance:

  • A-t-elle acheté le jambon? – Did she buy the ham?

”The ham” is a more precise definition of the object. This will give us a new context. We can conclude that the persons in this discussion have already talked about buying the ham.

Let us change the question by adding a partitive article:

  • A-t-elle acheté du jambon? – Did she buy ham?

This question is not as precise. The person who asked the question has probably not specified what ham she was going to buy.

We can now conclude that we can also use the definitive articles. The sentence can still be grammatically correct.

However, the meaning of the sentence will probably change. I was presented with these examples when I started to study French.

They really helped me grasp this concept. Please let me know in the comments if you would like to see more examples that explain the difference.


I have tried to explain the partitive articles from different perspectives.

We have concluded several times that you need to use them in French. The sentence will be grammatically incorrect without them and the person you are talking to will also know that you are not fluent in French.

I highly suggest that you learn their basic areas of application. It is almost impossible to speak French without them.

All the phrases in this article revolve around communication that you use in your daily life. This shows why it is so important to use the articles.

Last but not least, you should always remember that we choose a partitive article based on the gender of the noun/word.

Learning the gender of the noun/word is essential. You have probably already noticed that this concept is present in pretty much every grammatical area of the French language.

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