Of in French

Need some help using the word for of in French? This free French lesson will solve the small mystery of the word "de", and you’ll even get some French pronunciation practice time as well.
As they say, sometimes big things come in small packages, and once you’ve mastered this versatile little word, you’ll find you can speak French more naturally.

Of and Of The in French

A versatile word: 'de'

The next group of defining words, “of the,” “of,” “some,” “ several,” or “any” have lots of different uses, and once again, they change according to whether the thing or things you are talking about are masculine or feminine, singular or plural. The root word “de” is very versatile indeed , and generally changes form as follows to mean “of” and “of the.

  • of  or of the + masculine noun                                = de or du
  • of  or of the + feminine noun                                   = de la
  • of  or of the + any noun starting with a vowel = d’ or de l’
  • of  or of the + any plural noun                                = des

French Pronunciation

Before we carry on, it’s worth discussing some points of pronunciation, because the word “de” can be a slippery one and tends to change its own sound and the sound of surrounding words when they all get together. When speaking French, words must be linked to one another by sound so that they flow. When there are too many vowel sounds together, they are simply eliminated. In French, the expression that’s used to explain this principle is “faire la liaison entre les mots,” which means, “to make connections between words.”

As you get used to the various forms of “ de,” as it is used in “of,” and “of the,” you’ll start noticing lots of examples of “la liaison.”

Vowels can’t follow straight on from one word to another, so if you see a word ending in a vowel, and the next word beginning with a vowel, be alert! We have given you two examples so far: L’invité and l’enfant start with a L’ instead of a Le.

This is because Le would be followed by the sound i in "invité", and by the sound e in "enfant", and would be grammatically and phonetically incorrect. Try saying “Le invité” and “Le enfant”and you’ll notice how jerky it sounds.

A very similar principle applies when using “of” and “of the” with a noun like “Le garçon.”  The word “of” is “ de” and the word “boy” is “le garcon.” But “of the boy,” meaning “belonging to the boy” isn’t “de le garçon” as you might expect, but “du garçon.” “De le” always gets shortened to “du.” It’s really because “de” and “le” sound odd so close together.

In other words, when the sound of two vowels together clashes, such as “de le,” a kind of shortcut rule applies, making it “du” for the purpose of sounding more fluid. For feminine words, “de la” doesn’t change, unless the word begins with a vowel, when “de la” becomes “de l’.”

You will also note from the following examples that a literal translation has been included in brackets, because there is no equivalent in French for the use of the apostrophe as it is used in English.  The children’s game, for example, is literally translated as the game of the children. This is where “de,” in its various forms as explained above, comes into action.

As well as being used to say “of” or “of the” in the plural, as we saw above, "du," "de la", "d’", "de l’" and "des" are also used to mean “some” and “several.” In effect, this is when the article “a” or “an” becomes a plural, to mean more than just one.

That's more than enough technical stuff for one day. You've been a most excellent student for sticking through the tricky parts!

A plus tard! (See you later!)

Marie-Claire Rivière and the Rocket French Team


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