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I'm having a hard time finding a definitive reference for a simple question: how do partitive articles behave before adjectives? Most resources mention that des becomes de, but it's unclear to me what happens in the singular, e.g. Je veux du bon vin, or je veux de bon vin?

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There are two cases in which the partitive article changes from the default “du”/“de la”/“de l'”/“des” to “de”/“d'”.

  • With a plural noun, when there is an adjective before the noun. There is no such phenomenon in with a singular noun.

    J'ai bu de bons vins.   (I have drunk some good wines.)
    J'ai bu des vins excellents.   (I have drunk some excellent wines.)
    J'ai bu du bon vin.   (I have drunk some good wine.)

    By the way, “des bons vins” is also grammatically correct, but it is the plural of the indefinite article: “un bon vin” → “des bons vins” (a good wine → good wines), “du bon vin” → “de bons vins” (some good wine → some good wines). In French, like in English, there are many contexts where either a plural indefinite article or a plural partitive article could work, and the similarity of the articles contributes to the fuzziness.

  • When the noun phrase is a direct complement of a negated verb.

    Je n'ai pas bu de bon vin.   (I have not drunk any good wine.)
    Je n'ai pas bu de bons vins.   (I have not drunk any good wines.)
    Je n'ai pas bu de vins excellents.   (I have not drunk any excellent wines.)

  • Thanks! I did find one reference that says the rule applies to the singular case as well. Any thoughts? books.google.com/… – Alan O'Donnell Feb 22 '16 at 22:37
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    @AlanO'Donnell Hmmm, I think it was the case a few centuries ago, but in modern French, “voici de bon pain” is just wrong. I'm no expert in the history of French, but I think even by 1847 this would have been dated or regional. – Gilles Feb 22 '16 at 22:44
  • In "when the noun phrase is a complement of a negated verb", complement = direct object ? I'm not even sure whether partitive articles occur in other types of complement. – Alan Evangelista Jul 18 at 21:25
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    @AlanEvangelista Indeed, only for a direct object. Not for an indirect object, e.g. “je n'ai pas pensé à du bon vin”. – Gilles Jul 18 at 21:39
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I found this post when researching the same thing, I found this that does explain that des becomes de before adjectives [before nouns] (it's at the end of section 2). Cheers!

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