FR: no article before nouns

lordterrin

Senior Member
American English
Hello,

[…]

It seems that through all my french teaching, I have been taught that nouns must ALWAYS be preceded by some form of an article. I cannot say "je veux chiens" to mean "I want dogs", etc etc. However, two French phrases have come to me over the past few days that do not follow this pattern, and I am wondering why.

The first is the title of the popular French novel: Bonjour Tristesse. Tristesse is a noun, however, there is no article before it.

The second was found on the visor of my car, which says in English "Danger of death or serious injury!, and in French "Danger de mort ou de blessure grave!"

This is confusing to me because it also does not use articles before the nouns... can someone explain when it is proper to not use articles in front of nouns in French?

Thanks!

Brian
 
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  • Daremo

    Senior Member
    French
    In the cas of your first exemple, "Tristesse" isn't a noun, it is a proper name. C'est une personnification.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Regarding your second example, after some prepositions such as de or à, you sometimes don't need an article when you're talking about some general concept. E.g.:

    Mettre à mort
    Un danger de mort
    Un four à pain
    Un morceau de pain
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It seems that through all my french teaching, I have been taught that nouns must ALWAYS be preceded by some form of an article.
    Sounds like a dubious rule to me, but let's look at your examples...

    The first is the title of the popular French novel: Bonjour Tristesse. Tristesse is a noun, however, there is no article before it.
    I guess this one is arguable. See Daremo's post.

    The second was found on the visor of my car, which says in English "Danger of death or serious injury!, and in French "Danger de mort ou de blessure grave!"
    That one seems to show that the rule you learned is bogus. Unlearn it.
     

    lordterrin

    Senior Member
    American English
    you sometimes don't need an article when you're talking about some general concept. E.g.:

    So then, if I am talking about some concept, (life, death, etc...) then I can omit the article?

    That still doesn't seem to make sense to me, because in this following sentence, for example, I'm talking about the general concept of fear, but I feel an article is necessary still:

    Je pense que peur est une arme très dangereuse.

    I would never say that... I would say "la peur" - using the definite article to talk about a subject in general.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    It it so tempting, I can't resist... A rule that says "always" is always wrong. :D :p

    More seriously, most grammar rules seem to have exceptions. It's true that French uses articles in many, many places that English doesn't. For an English-speaking student of French, you will be far more likely to leave off an article you need than to include one you don't, so I understand why teachers might have said that French nouns "always" need articles. But the statement is an oversimplification, as you would realize as soon as you thought about it. :)

    People's names are nouns, and yet we don't put articles in front of them. Ditto for cities. We say j'ai passé un examen lundi, and il fait frais en automne et froid en décembre; months don't take articles, and neither do days of the week (unless you are expressing a repeated action: "on Mondays..."). Seasons take articles sometimes, but not always. We often don't need the article when we state someone's profession.

    When there is a preposition present, you might not need the article unless you need to specify the noun in some way. Ex.
    Il est père de famille. = He's a father, a family man.
    C'est lui le père de la famille dont je t'ai parlé hier. = He's the father of the family I told you about yesterday.
    Il est père d'une grande famille. = He's the father of a large family.

    I suspect that attempting to build a list about when to use an article and when not to is a hopeless cause, but please feel free to open separate threads about any specific example sentences you would like to discuss. :)
     
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    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    It seems that through all my french teaching, I have been taught that nouns must ALWAYS be preceded by some form of an article.
    Well, this is absolutely wrong, I am afraid.
    Nouns without articles do occur, just a little more rarely than in English.

    What your teachers may have meant is that you must not forget the plural definite article "des":
    Making an english speaking student understand that "le", "la" is singular and "les" is plural, is probably easy.
    Making him or her understand that in the indefinite, "un" "une" is singular and "des" is plural might be more difficult, because in English, the plural counterpart of the article "a" does not exist, you use no word instead.
    (The plural of "a dog" is "dogs", in French, the plural of "un chien" is "des chiens".)
     

    technoid

    New Member
    American English
    This is an interesting topic for me as a beginning learner of French. For example, one of my lessons gives the following sentence: Ils viennent au restaurant. (They come to the restaurant.) As you see, no article appears before the noun, restaurant. Is this really the correct construction, and if so, is there a list of other nouns that do not need an article? Merci.
     

    Oddmania

    Senior Member
    French
    Hi and welcome to the forums! :)

    Actually, there is an article. Au is the contracted form of à + le. We never say à le + noun, we always contract it into au + noun. The same thing applies with de le + noun (which becomes du) and de les + noun (which becomes des).
     

    bitossi

    New Member
    English
    If I say at the top of a poster (affiche) 'Attention students and parents!' do I say 'Attention les élèves et les parents!' or do I omit the 'les' and say 'Attention élèves et parents!'
    Merci
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Both options are possible in this case, but the omission sounds more natural to me. Anyway, I'd rather switch the word order, in which case the omission is a lot more idiomatic.

    Attention les élèves et les parents ! (:thumbsup:)
    Attention élèves et parents ! :thumbsup:
    Élèves et parents, attention ! :thumbsup::thumbsup:
     

    Nomenclature

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    In the cas of your first exemple, "Tristesse" isn't a noun, it is a proper name. C'est une personnification.
    Not exactly. It's because it's used a vocative (a word used to address a person). Personification by itself doesn't affect the article. If you wrote a story you would still use the article "La tristesse entre dans la chambre et s'assied."
     

    Nomenclature

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    I beg to disagree. It really would be a personification as suggested by Daremo. You'd therefore say, Tristesse entre dans la chambre et s'assied.
    You and Daremo are right. My previous post was wrong. I didn't think this one through because with personification you can use it without the article as a proper noun (a name).

    Would "La tristesse entre dans la chambre et s'assied" sound okay or would it sound bad?
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    It would certainly be possible and it doesn't sound bad, but it wouldn't be my first choice. I guess it also depends on the level of personification. The more personified and concrete the abstraction is, the more likely the article is dropped as the noun is then used as a true proper noun and hence capitalized. (Here Sadness even sits down, as a real human being would, which makes me prefer the version without article.)

    That being said, note that some personifications are traditionally used with an article, especially Death (la mort).

    I'd therefore say:

    Tristesse entre dans la chambre et s'assied.
    La mort entre dans la chambre et s'assied.
     
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