This is Part Two of a series on articles. Read Part One here.
In this post, we’ll examine the indefinite articles. Indefinite, because putting them before nouns indicates randomness, as opposed to something specific. In English, indefinite articles are:
a and an
In French, they are:
un /ehn/ or /ehn n…/ (a or an)
une /ünn/ (a or an)
des /day/ or /dayz/ (—)
When to Use…
- All the time when not using le, la, les, l’ or du, de la, des, de l’.
1) There is only one:
Any time you would use “a” or “an” in English, use un /ehn/-/ehn n/ for masculine nouns or une /ünn/ for feminine nouns.
2) There are more than one:
Trickier. Because that’s when in English, we’d put nothing:
English is simple and elegant that way. But French… French doesn’t do “nothing-before-noun”. A-han. You MUST put something there:
des chiens /day she ehn/
des oeufs /dayz uhr/
des magasins /day mah gah zehn/
des gens /day zhon/
*Note that “des” will mean either a general plural, as above, or “some”: some cookies —> des biscuits.
How to use…
(That is when you wish you had memorized nouns’ genders along with each word. Well, it’s never too late!)
un /ehn/ is used with masculine words:
un train /ehn trehn/ a train.
un chien /ehn she ehn/ a dog.
un bâton /ehn bah tohn/ a stick.
un bâtiment /ehn bah tee mon/ a building.
un coiffeur /ehn kwa fuh ruh/ a (male) hairdresser.
un film /ehn feelmuh/ a movie.
un /ehn n…/ is used with masculine words starting with a vowel:
un éléphant /ehn naylayfon/ an elephant
un ami /ehn namee/ a (male) friend
un oeuf /ehn nuhf/ an egg
un arbre /ehn narbruh/ a tree
Note that in English, if we speak slowly, we separate syllables after “an”:
An-egg. I. Want. An. Egg!
If French, strangely, it is not so. We will still pronounce un /ehn/, but add a /n/ onto the following word:
Un (n)oeuf. Je. Veux. Un. Noeuf!
/ehn nuhf zhe vuhr ehn nuhf/
une /ünn/ is used with feminine words:
une voiture /ünn vwa tü ruh/ a car
une tortue /ünn tortü/ a turtle
une pelle /ünn pell/ a shovel
une administration /ünah dmini strah see own/ an administration
une coiffeuse /ünn kwa fuhr zuh/ a female hairdresser
une photo /ünn foe toe/ a picture
des /day/ is used with plurals:
des roues /day roo/ wheels, or some wheels
des leçons /dayl s’own/ lessons, or some lessons
des /dayz/ is used with plurals starting with a vowel:
des amis /dayzah mee/ friends, or some friends
des histoires /day zee stwar/ stories, or some stories
de /duh/ is used with plurals, when an adjective comes before it:
de bons amis /duh bonzamee/ good friends
de belles histoires /dbell zee stwar/ nice stories
It is important to make a clear distinction between un /ehn/ and une /ünn/. Failing to do so not only creates a major irritant, but could also be confusing to your interlocutor. In the French grammar psyche, gender is an important part of the noun. Confusing noun’s gender could mean not being understood at all.
For one, there are all those double-duty hermaphrodite nouns, carrying a different meaning depending on the gender used:
un livre /ehn leevruh/ (a book) , une livre /ünn leevruh/ (a pound);
un foie /ehn fwa/ (a liver), une fois /ünn fwa/ (one time);
un pot /ehn po/ (a pot, a container), une peau /ünn peau/ (a skin)…
More importantly, sticking the wrong gendered article in front of a noun really impedes its comprehension and may lead to an entire different perception of what is being said. For instance someone meaning to say, a tissue (un mouchoir) and using the wrong gender will confuse their interlocutor:
The distinction between masculine un /ehn/ and feminine une /ünn/ is that in the latter, the tongue touches the palate, whereas in the former, the sound is nasal. Listen.
But the unlikeness doesn’t stop there. Visual plays a role also. Lip placement distinguishes the two.
For masculine words, un /ehn/, smile (you are making the sound from “land”, except without the “l” nor the “nd”. Click here to hear and see):
For feminine words, une /ünn/, kiss:
Over To You!
Un, une, des: grammar explanation and exercise (Via Tex’s French Grammar / University of Texas at Austin – USA)
Un, une or des? Click. (Via Carol H. Reitan / FOG French Online Grammar Quiz – USA)
Un, une or des? Write out (Via Yung Truong / Vanier College – Quebec, Canada)
Un, une, des or le, la, les, l’? Write out (Via Eléonore Degrigny / EOI de Valdepeñas – Spain)
Same thing (Via Intensivkurs – Französisch-Lernplattform / Université de Graz – Austria)
© Ouicestca 2012, tous droits réservés.