A) The definite articles le and la



All nouns in French have a "grammatical" gender. A noun can either be masculine or feminine. Depending on that gender, the definite article in front of the noun has to be le (for masculine nouns) or la (for feminine nouns).

What is a definite article?
What is a noun?


             
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The two articles le and la may only be used in front of "singular" nouns. "Singular" nouns are nouns that describe a single thing or living being. In English, we may use the with any number of things. We can say: "the cat", but we can also say "the two cats". Thus, the can universally be used for both "singular" and "plural" nouns.
Le and la do not have this flexibility. That's why they are also called the "singular definite articles". Later in this course, we will introduce the plural forms for nouns and their respective articles.


B) Le and la become l' in front of vowels and h


Both le and la become l' in front of all nouns that start with a vowel or "h". The following letters count as vowels in French: a, e, i, o, and u.


             
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C) How do we know the gender of nouns?


The answer to this question is bad news for us. In most cases, there is no way to figure out just by looking at the noun, whether it's masculine or feminine. However, there are a few rules that apply to a small number of nouns:

1) Some nouns have genders that match their so called "natural gender". Consider the following self-explaining examples:


             
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2) Other nouns have significant endings that indicate their gender:
Nouns ending in -al, -eau, -ent, -et, -ier, and -isme are always masculine, whereas nouns ending in -ade, -elle, -ance, -ence, -ette, -ine, -ise are always feminine:


             
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Unfortunately, for the entire rest of nouns (the ones that neither have a natural gender nor specific endings), we will have to memorize the gender along with each vocabulary.