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Would this be technically correct, grammar-wise? "J'étudie le français parce qu'il est intéressant?" Considering the definite article can be used for referring to nouns in a general sense, it could translate to "I study French because it is interesting," no? Is referring to the definite article of a noun in such a statement optional, or not?

To give another example, let's use "Je suis en cours."

Why is the sentence the way it is? Would it not be permissible to say "Je suis en le cours / Je suis en les cours," for that matter?

Is the use of the definite article in a generic statement optional, unless you are referring to the noun specifically? More than likely I am just getting tripped up as English is my first language, perhaps I'm overthinking the rules for the use of this.

  • "J'etudie le francais parce que il est interessant?" élision : "J'etudie le francais parce qu'il est interessant?" et avec les accents : "J'étudie le français parce qu'il est intéressant?" – cl-r Dec 13 '14 at 12:32
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    This sentence is kind of weird : "J'etudie le francais parce que il est interessant". You should say : "J'étudie le français parce que c'est intéressant." – Libert Piou Piou Dec 13 '14 at 15:51
  • @LibertPiouPiou En effet, la phrase n'est alors pas finie : "J’étudie le français parce qu'il est intéressant [d'étudier une langue étrangère]". – cl-r Dec 15 '14 at 4:26
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    @LibertPiouPiou Not at all. These are two different and correct sentences. "J'étudie le français parce qu'il est intéressant" isn't any more weird than "Je répare la porte parce qu'elle est cassée". We could also have "Je répare la porte parce que c'est cassé", both are usable. – RomainValeri Dec 15 '14 at 9:29
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Réponse générale:

The use of an article is not optional when the noun it refers to is an object complement. When it's something else (like a time/location indication etc.), it depends.

Quelques exemples pour illustrer:

    • Correct statement: "J'étudie le français".

    • Inorrect statement: "J'étudie français".

When we have an object complement (it answers to the "quoi" question: "J'étudie quoi? -> le français") which is a common noun, it comes with an article. (excepted for some expressions like "j'ai faim" or "il fait froid")

    • Correct statement: "Je suis en cours".

    • Inorrect statement: "Je suis en les cours".

"en cours" is not an object complement, it's a location indication (it answers to the "où" question: "Je suis où? -> en cours". Therefore, it needs a closer look.

As Chugrothas says, we generally don't use articles after the "en" preposition (excepted in some very special cases like "en l'occurence" or "en la personne de [...]", but this is some advanced stuff)

However, in this case, it's possible to use articles after other prepositions, like "à". For instance, it is correct to say "Je suis à un cours de français".

This is also why we say "Je suis en montagne" and "Je suis à la montagne", both are correct statements (the meaning is not exactly the same though, as explained in the comments below).

  • Je suis en montagne and Je suis à la montagne, are indeed both correct statements but you forgot to say they do not mean the same thing, which for a learner of French is far from obvious. – Laure Dec 15 '14 at 11:50
  • Thanks for this feedback. Actually it's far from obvious for me too, could you please define your version of the difference? I'll add it to my answer if you don't mind – eyam Dec 15 '14 at 12:36
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    Saying Je suis en montagne means I'm doing some sort of activity on the mountain (trekking/skiing, etc) If I say je suis à la montagne it means I am somewhere in the mountains but I can very well stay in the valley below and never set foot on the mountain – Laure Dec 15 '14 at 17:55
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The use of the definite article is not optional. Sometimes both might be correct (I have no example right now though), but most of the time only one of the options (definite article/no definite article) is correct.

In this case, "je suis en les cours" is not correct because this isn't the way we use "en" ; you can't put "le", "la", "les" after it (except in some idioms). "Je suis en cours", "je suis en colère", ...

I don't know if there is an easy rule to know if you have to put the definite article or not, or if you have to learn how to make a sentence with each preposition...

PS: I disagree with Romain VALERI. "J'étudie le français parce qu'il est intéressant" isn't french at all if nothing follows, while "Je répare la porte parce qu'elle est cassée" is the correct way to say this. "Je répare la porte parce que c'est cassé" isn't french neither, except if you speak bad french... I can't comment so I answer here.

  • We'll respectfully disagree then. Je répare la porte parce que c'est cassé doesn't sound bad to me, as it would be if the element to be replaced was a person (mandatory : "J'embrasse ma mère dès qu'elle arrive"). – RomainValeri Dec 16 '14 at 10:13
  • After asking my father (who was a french teacher)... "Je répare la porte parce que c'est cassé" isn't correct. Maybe it doesn't sound bad to you, but it doesn't mean it's correct. A lot of french people say awful things thinking it's the right way to say these things ("Donne me le", "je l'ai besoin" are common sentences I use to hear for example). You sentence isn't that terrible to me though... – Carrm Dec 31 '14 at 9:21
  • Donne le me and Je l'ai besoin are both awful-sounding and incorrect. I never have heard them, and though I can somewhat understand your point, I think these examples are quite inadequate. Where did you hear such sentences ? – RomainValeri Dec 31 '14 at 12:27
  • Well, maybe YOUR sentence sounds both awful-sounding and incorrect to some people. I took these awful examples to make my point : people saying "donne me le"/"je l'ai besoin" think this is correct, however for you it's "awful-sounding and incorrect". What you say ("Je répare la porte parce que c'est cassé doesn't sound bad to me") is an evidence ; of course for you it's correct and sounds good, or you wouldn't say that. And for your question, I grew up in countryside, and bad french language is something common there (particularly for old people). – Carrm Jan 13 '15 at 13:38

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