That Tricky French Word "de"

Is it ...des bonnes copines, or ...de bonnes copines?

How do I know when to use de alone, instead of du, de la, or des?


“It’s confusing to me!”, you say. “Most of the time I see du, de la, or des in front of nouns. There needs to be gender and number agreement, right? This I understand. But sometimes I see just de by itself in front of a noun without agreement. Why?”


The Palace of Versailles
"J'ai de bonnes copines !”

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many students―even advanced intermediates―find the use of de to be challenging! In fact, there is NOT always gender and number agreement in French when using de. Fortunately, for most cases, there are just three easy rules you will need to remember to get this right. After a while―when you’ve heard enough French―your mind will intuitively grasp the right selection without thinking about it. But in the meantime, here’s the explanation!


Let’s start with an example:


J’ai des amis. I have some friends. Here we properly use the plural form des.


But if we want to say, “I have some good friends”, it would be:


J’ai de bons amis. I have some good friends. Here we properly use de alone without agreement.


Why is that?



Rule #1

When used in front of an adjective, the plural indefinite article des changes to de. (Don’t ask me why, but it does! This is the way the French language evolved.)


Elle a des chiens. She has some dogs.

Elle a de beaux chiens. She has some beautiful dogs.


Il chante des ballades. He sings some ballades.

Il chante de jolies ballades. He sings some pretty ballades.


Elle a vendu des tomates. She sold some tomatoes.

Elle a vendu de grosses tomates. She sold some big tomatoes.



When used in front of an adjective, the plural indefinite article des changes to de.

Rule #2

Always use just de after the quantities listed below.


assez de… or pas assez de… J’ai assez de chaussures. I have enough shoes.

un peu de… Un peu de vin rouge, s’il vous plaît. A little red wine, please.

moins de… Il y a moins de gens a la plage aujourd’hui. There are fewer people at the beach today.

plus de… Il y a plus de bars dans ce quartier. There are more bars in this neighborhood.

beaucoup de…or pas beaucoup de… J’ai bu beaucoup de bière hier soir. I drank a lot of beer last night.


Exceptions:

Retain des with majorité des and la plupart des. In other words keep the plural agreement with only these two words of quantity.


La majorité des diplômés universitaires sont des femmes. The majority of university graduates are female.


La plupart des travailleurs de la construction sont des hommes. Most construction workers are men.


What would French be without exceptions!



Rule #3

When constructing negative sentences, always use just de.

There is no gender or number agreement required. An easy way to remember this is that whenever using de following the words pas or jamais, you always use de alone and never du, de la, or des.


Elle ne veut pas de pain. She doesn’t want any bread.

Il n’y a pas vraiment de restaurants par ici. There really aren’t any restaurants around here.

Il n’a pas mangé de champignons. He didn’t eat any mushrooms.

Il ne boit jamais de café. He never drinks coffee.

Je n’ai pas acheté de vêtements. I didn’t buy any clothes.

Tu n’as pas de tomates ? You don’t have any tomatoes?

Vous n’avez pas de mauvaises habitudes ? You don’t have any bad habits?





So, in summary, three simple rules. Just remember that de replaces des when in front of an adjective, and remember to use de by itself when talking about quantities, or when constructing negative sentences.


You will often forget and make a mistake. But don’t worry! Everyone will still understand you, and gradually, as you hear more and more French, your mistakes will become fewer and fewer without even trying to remember the rules.


Thanks to Annick Roussin for her contribution to this post.


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