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My understanding is that both the following sentences can be translated as "I eat chocolate" or "I am eating some chocolate":

  • Je mange du chocolat.
  • Je mange le chocolat.

I am unclear what the difference is between the two. I know the first can be used to mean "I'm eating some chocolate" and the second to mean "I'm eating the chocolate", but are both sentences interchangeable to mean "I eat chocolate" in a general way, for example as a response to someone asking "What do you usually eat for breakfast"?

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Last question first:

What is the general translation of 'I eat chocolate.'

Qu'est-ce que tu manges au petit déjeuner ? Je mange du chocolat.

Why? Let's answer that by studying several variations.

Variations

"Je mange du chocolat."

I eat chocolate.

Here, "du" is totally neutral: you somehow designate the chocolate in a general way.

"Je mange un peu de chocolat."

I eat some chocolate.

Now we insist on the fact that only a bit of it is being eaten.

"Je mange le chocolat."

I eat the chocolate. (You know which one, the one you gave me.)

Using "le" implies you are speaking of a specific chocolate.

Conclusion

The neutral form is: "Je mange du chocolat."

Beware though of the negative form, as was asked here before: if you want to say "I never eat chocolate", "du" becomes "de": "Je ne mange jamais de chocolat."

Footnote

As highlighted by jlliagre, this is not a generic rule. It works only for uncountable.

With countables, you would not use "du" but "les": "I like men." would translate "J'aime les hommes."

Countables and uncountables do not use the same sentences in French. Some examples:

  • "I prefer chocolate." = "Je préfère le chocolat."
  • "I prefer men." = "Je préfère les hommes."
  • "I prefer that chocolate." = "Je préfère ce chocolat."
  • "I prefer that man." = "Je préfère cet homme."
  • "I would like some chocolate." = "Je voudrais du chocolat."
  • "I would like some man." = "J'aimerais un homme."
  • "There is less chocolate than before." = "Il y a moins de chocolat qu'avant."
  • "There are fewer men than before." = "Il y a moins d'hommes qu'avant."
  • Thanks! Let me ask a question to make sure i understand your answer. If someone asked me if I had a crush on Sarah ("Est-ce que tu aime Sarah?") and I wanted to say that actually, I like men, I would say "J'aime des hommes" because iI'm saying i like men in general, and so I would use de + les. Saying "J'aime les hommes" would mean that I like certain specific men (and that it's understood what specific men I mean). Is this correct? – silph Aug 3 '15 at 14:10
  • @silph That's the other way around. You should answer, "Je préfère les hommes." (meaning men in general). – jlliagre Aug 3 '15 at 14:42
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    You didn't misunderstand Chop's answer. Men and chocolate are just not interchangeable here. You do not use "de l'homme" or "de la femme" with "aimer/préférer" unless you are a cannibal ;-) – jlliagre Aug 3 '15 at 14:52
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    I prefer chocolate -> "Je préfère le chocolat." I prefer men -> "Je préfère les hommes." I prefer that chocolate -> "Je préfère ce chocolat.", I prefer that man -> "Je préfère cet homme." I would like some chocolate -> "Je voudrais du chocolat." I would like some man -> "J'aimerais un homme". The latter difference is due to the fact "du" is not used with a countable term. – jlliagre Aug 3 '15 at 15:25
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    @silph I must admit I am short for an explanation here, but that's the way with idioms: it is sometimes hard to explain why a sentence is built this way and not that. With "manger" and "boire" (to drink), you imply you consume only part of it, and you mean "de" to make this obvious. If you say "Je mange le chocolat (que tu m'as offert)" (the chocolate (you gave me)), it's equivalent to "Je mange ce chocolat" (I eat that chocolate). Not sure it helps, but I lack the profound reason and I'm tempted to answer that's just the way French is built (though it's a coward's or lazy's answer). – Chop Aug 4 '15 at 7:02
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The best way to say it is Je mange du chocolat. Je mange le chocolat means you're eating a specific chocolate like someone's chocolate. I can't recall hearing this.

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