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I came across the following translation and I was unsure why the sentence started with "de"

Little girls read books.


De petites filles lisent des livres.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

In this sentence, de is the plural form of the indefinite article. It means that some little girls read books.

Usually the plural indefinite article is des. However it becomes de in two cases:

  • When the noun group is a direct object of a verb in a negative sentence.

    Le chat mange des souris.
    Le chat ne mange pas de souris. [direct object → de]

    Les chats sont des souris.
    Les chats ne sont pas des souris. [attribut du sujet, i.e. complement to a copulades]

  • Sometimes when there is an adjective before the noun. The article is always des when the adjective and the noun form a set phrase, but it is de in careful speech otherwise. I don't think des is ever incorrect in this case.

    des beaux yeux or de beaux yeux
    des petites filles or de petites filles

    de petit pains (small loaves of bread)
    des petits pains (specific bread shapes, with regional variations; in some regions, a kind of chocolate croissant)

    de petits enfants (small children)
    des petits-enfants (grandchildren)

The English sentence could also mean that little girls in general (i.e. all or at least many little girls) read books. This meaning would call for a definite article: “Les petites filles lisent des livres”.

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Don't you consider this question a duplicate of this one… ? – Stéphane Gimenez Dec 13 '13 at 13:17
@StéphaneGimenez I hadn't noticed this question. It would have saved me time writing this answer! But it isn't a complete duplicate: here the primary question is knowing what de means; the bulk of my answer explains why it is used instead of des but it's additional background information. – Gilles Dec 13 '13 at 13:22
Since you wrote the other answer, I thought you'd remember it :-) – Stéphane Gimenez Dec 13 '13 at 14:00
@StéphaneGimenez – Gilles Dec 13 '13 at 14:12

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