FR: de/des + adjectif + nom au pluriel


Senior Member
French - France
If adjectives come before the noun [excellent, bon etc.], do you use de [d'] or des?

I am quite amazed that there are so many answers when we actually do not have any context or phrase.
Depending on the situation we could have (for example)
des belles fleurs
de bien belles fleurs
les belles fleurs que l'on m'a offertes

The adjective comes before the noun though, right?
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  • Mikebo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    This is completely different.
    This "des" is the contraction of "de + les", the preposition followed by the definite plural article.

    We were talking about "des", the indefinite plural article, with no preposition, that becomes "de" when an adjective follows.

    The original question:
    If adjectives come before the noun [excellent, bon etc.], do you use de [d'] or des?

    There is no mention of definite or indefinite (perhaps it was badly stated?)

    It was the first reply that turned the conversation in that direction.

    To answer the question fully, I felt it was necessary to make the distinction about de + les.


    Senior Member
    UK — English
    OK, a few days after (re-)starting this thread, I can answer my own question, thanks to this piece of academic research on the subject "Opposition Entre De Et Des Devant Les Noms Précédés D'Epithète En Français." (Thanks to itka for the link.)

    I’ll summarise it here for others’ benefit, since it’s not the easiest thing to read as it’s written.

    From the paper

    The researchers use 14,500 examples of the construction, taken from corpora dating from 1601 to 1986.

    They confirm that both forms are used and suggest that it is linguistic "weight" which determines which of the two forms that people will choose. "Weight" could be simplified as whether an adjective is heavy or light, lighter adjectives being associated with 'des'.

    Going back to the introduction of the rule, they confirm that 'de' is used in 83.7% of the cases. However, this frequency in the sixteenth century seems to have depended on the location of the writer, the sample showing a southern writer occasionally using 'des' (in 14% of cases) whilst a northern writer uses 'de' exclusively.

    After the eighteenth century there is no longer any variation that can be attributed to location, usage being uniform in all areas of France.

    The sample now concerns exclusively the later half of the twentieth century. The researchers list four factors which determine which word one would choose.

    First factor: The level of language to be used
    As we may suppose ourselves, usage of 'des' springs up more readily when the text in question is less official than, say, treaties and essays. The peak is with online discussion forums like this one, where 'des' is used in around one third of instances.

    In the more formal writing, 'de' is nearly always preferred. Where 'des' is used, the researchers note that it accompanies specific adjectives that one might call 'light'. For example, they note that there are 617 uses of 'de' in academic texts against 30 of 'des'. Of these 30, 23 occur when the adjective is petit(e)s. Petit is considered to be a 'light' adjective, and its presence caused the academic authors to deviate from their customary 'de' (used in 95% of cases) to 'des'.

    Interestingly, there is one scenario in which 'des' greatly dominates. It is used in about 85% of cases of spoken French in the sample.

    Second factor: Liaison
    To get around contamination the researchers look only at samples which come from treaties.

    There were only 30 cases of 'des' being used and they noticed that 29 of them occurred where the noun concerned started with a consonant (the exception being des grands z-auteurs). In other words, there was no liaison. If words had a liaison, 'de' was always used, except in that one exception.

    Their theory is that liaison causes the word to seem bigger, lengthier, 'heavier’. As is usual with their findings, the lighter epithets take ‘des’ and the heavier ‘de’. Without liaison ‘de’ was used 86% of the time. Words with liaison (so heavier) saw ‘de’ used 92% of the time.

    Third factor: Accentuation
    Once an adjective is given more weight, uses of ‘des’ switch to ‘de’, in line with the central theory of this paper.

    There are two ways of increasing the weight of an adjective. One can either repeat it (“Je te fais de gros gros bisous”) or use a modifier (“Il a pris de très mauvaises habitudes”).

    Fourth factor: Grammatical gender
    The samples were tailored to correspond only to abstract nouns, in what the researchers called a bid to “éliminer autant que possible des facteurs sémantiques”.

    Masculine adjectives can be shorter than their feminine equivalents. In every sample that they looked at (newspapers, novels, magazines, online forums), masculine nouns stood a higher chance of being associated with ‘des’. Of the sample 22% of masculine adjectives were preceded by ‘des’, compared to 8% of feminine forms. Again, the procedure seems to be that we unknowingly opt for ‘des’ before lighter adjectives, and masculine adjectives are considered to be lighter than their feminine equivalents (since feminine forms often follow the formula “masculine adjective + some bit of information”).

    Tim’s overall summary
    So the “rule” (optional though it may be) has been in place for several centuries. At higher levels of French ‘de’ dominates. As the formality of the work decreases, the prevalence of ‘des’ increases. Nonetheless ‘de’ is still the more regularly used form. The only exception is in speech, in which case ‘des’ is used in about 85% of cases. (In this respect ‘des’ seems to map the English ‘gonna’.)

    Even at formal levels ‘des’ makes an appearance with certain adjectives, just because they are so light linguistically that it’s hard to curtail the instinct of doing applying 'des' to them.

    Light adjectives which would normally be fronted with ‘des’ can become heavier in a number of ways.

    1) When there is liaison between the adjective and the noun that it describes, the adjective becomes something heavier, owing to the increase in length.

    2) When an adjective is doubled or modified by an adverb, its linguistic weight is increased and popular usage turns what may have been ‘des’ into ‘de’.

    3) Finally an adjective that we subconsciously treat as light in its masculine form and to which we accord ‘des’ may fall under the heavier category when we use it in its feminine form. Samples show that it is nearly three times as common to apply ‘des’ to the masculine adjective as it is to the feminine.

    Really fascinating stuff :)


    Senior Member
    Thanks for the summary, Tim~!

    Second factor: Liaison
    To get around contamination the researchers look only at samples which come from treaties treatises/essays.
    The effect that the authors observed is very minor, but still surprising. But a much more significant factor (which they did not study, because it doesn't support their weight hypothesis) is liaison/elision between d(e)/des and the immediately following word. For example (with a quick Google search) :
    pour des innombrables N - 4 hits
    pour d'innombrables N - somewhere between 746 and 19200 hits


    Senior Member
    English - England
    Je crois que c'est le première phrase parce qu'il y a un adjectif entre le "de" et le substantif.

    EDIT: Trust the natives, that rule is obviously not completely true :)


    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    The usual rule for a learner is that if there's an adjective before a noun in the plural, you say de, otherwise des

    E.g.: 'Elle a des fleurs dans son jardin', but 'Elle a de belles fleurs dans son jardin'.

    But obviously there are lots of nuances which mean that this won't always be the case.
    Still, it's a useful rule to know.


    Senior Member
    French - France
    Exactly. You say elle a de beaux cheveux, rather than elle a des beaux cheveux.
    Again, you can hear both.


    Senior Member
    English Canada
    […] Even some plural situations use the full partitive, e.g. des bonnes réponses.
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    Senior Member

    Good point. I'd never realized that before, but it's true that both de and des are used here. I may even use des myself regularly. Clearly, this one doesn't follow the general pattern. I guess the explanation lies in the fact that bonnes réponses must be more or less considered a whole unit by the speaker, a single word.

    However, learners should have it clear that this is an exception.
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    I'm grateful for the information, but I don't feel like there's a clear answer yet. Using "des" instead of "de" is now prevalent in spoken language--except that it makes you sound "like a person who doesn't know the right grammar." And it's spreading in written language--but if it makes you sound uneducated in spoken French, it surely looks worse on paper (although I've read it in respectable novels, like "L'élégance du hérisson").

    Could other native French speakers give their opinions? Do most people find this usage acceptable, or find that it makes you sound uneducated? Let's also bear in mind that native speakers can get away with things that sound worse in the speech of non-native speakers. Specifically, how much effort should I put into teaching my students the traditional rule of using "de" before the plural adjective preceding a noun? And should I no longer deduct points when they use "des" instead of "de" in their writing?

    I should also note that I have been corrected by a native French speaker for saying "des" instead of "de." Granted it was 10 years ago, but has the language really changed so much since then that most native speakers find that saying "J'ai des belles fleurs," for example, ne choque pas?
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    Senior Member
    English Canada
    I think LV4-26 hit the nail on the head when she said: the explanation lies in the fact that bonnes réponses must be more or less considered a whole unit by the speaker, a single word. The more that the speaker views the combination adjective + noun as something frequently said, the more likely he is to use the full partitive. It also tends to be found when the adjectives involved are grand, petit, nouveau, vieux, bon, mauvais, and the like.


    Senior Member
    Specifically, how much effort should I put into teaching my students the traditional rule of using "de" before the plural adjective preceding a noun? And should I no longer deduct points when they use "des" instead of "de" in their writing?
    I wouldn't put too much energy into it, at least if you teach French at a basic or even intermediate level. High level/university students, who are more interested in nuances and are able to make an appropriate use of them according to the language level or the context, might be taught what has been explained here, namely:
    a) the classical rule
    b) the exception ("lorsque le groupe adjectif + nom est considéré comme un nom composé" - as Geostan and LV4-26 explain) and
    c) the evolution in modern (spoken) French, where "des" tends to be more and more used, even besides b) - also because b) is somewhat subjective: when should you consider the noun and the adjective as a whole unit? It is clear for "jeunes gens", but the example above with "bonnes réponses" shows that it is sometimes a matter of interpretation.


    New Member
    Evening all!

    I have a dilemma, hoping someone can kindly advise.
    I am writing the phrase ''...avoir une chance de voir de/des nouveaux films passionnants.''

    I know 'films' would take 'de' with the use of 'nouveaux' as a preceding adjective - but what are the rules with having 'passionnants' afterwards? Does it become 'des' because of this? Which rule would qualify?
    So 'avoir une chance de voir de nouveaux films..'
    but is it 'avoir une chance de voir des nouveaux films passionnants' . ....?

    Merci d'avance!


    Senior Member
    France - français
    Je pense que l'adjectif antéposé l'emporte sur l'adjectif post posé. Grevisse cite : "de jolies maisons blanches" (Vigny)

    Je dirais : "avoir une chance de voir de nouveaux films passionnants"


    Senior Member
    Langue française ♀
    J'ajoute mon vote à « de » dans les deux cas. L'adjectif antéposé l'emporte.

    Option possible (mais peut-être pas idéale) avec « des » : « des films à la fois nouveaux et passionnants ».


    Senior Member
    Wales (UK) Welsh
    This is a great thread and very useful. I was wondering why I could find examples of both
    "J'ai eu de mauvaises notes"
    as well as
    "J'ai eu des mauvaises notes"

    As a learner, If i stick to the standard rule of using de before and adjective followed by a noun, will I always be grammatically correct in this respect? Is it safer to stick with this rule as a learner, and accept that I might hear people using des, especially by young people and in informal situations?


    Is this rule affected at all when there is an X of Ys construction?

    1. La vente de vieux objets
    2. La vente des vieux objets
    3. La vente d'objets vieux


    Austrian German
    "La vente de vieux objets" signifie la vente d'un nombre indéfini de vieux objets
    "La vente des vieux objets" signifie la vente d'un nombre défini de vieux objets, la vente de ces objets
    Le sens de "La vente d'objets vieux" est comme celui de la première phrase, mais met l'accent sur "vieux"

    Ces trois phrases ne concernent pas le problème "de / des + adjectif + substantif" discuté plus haut

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Franz1 is right. Rallino's sample phrases are a different case as they include the preposition de. In the remainder of this thread, the de (as in avoir de mauvaises notes) isn't considered a preposition. […] It is an indefinite article.

    See also the many threads about de vs. des.

    Moderator note: The discussion about whether de/des is an indefinite or partitive article has been moved to its own thread here.
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    Senior Member
    Langue française ♀
    Ces trois phrases ne concernent pas le problème "de / des + adjectif + substantif" discuté plus haut
    Et pourtant... de/des vieux objets c'est bien de/des + adjectif + substantif. C'est simplement qu'ici, de/des n'est pas un article indéfini.

    Mais il me semble qu'on peut faire les même nuances avec le verbe :
    J'ai vendu de vieux objets
    J'ai vendu des vieux objets
    (peut-être plus relâché)
    J'ai vendu des objets anciens

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