La France est un des grands pays de l'Europe occidentale.

I learned this sentence from the book French for Reading Knowledge. The word "des" does not make sense for me. "un grands pays" (a great country) looks right to me. Is it an indefinite article or a partitive article? Or something else? What is the grammar here?

3 Answers 3


Pays is a word that has the same form in the singular and in the plural. It always has an s in the end.

In :

un des grands pays

it is plural. And you can tell it is plural because the adjective grands has an s, since in French adjectives agree with the nouns they modify.

Here des (standing for de les) is a preposition followed by the plural definite article.

If you wanted to say a great country it would be un grand pays with no s a the end of “grand”.

“Un(e) des …” is another way of saying “un(e) parmi les …“ (One among the, one of the…)

  • As a parallel, you could consider the grammatically identical sentence "Napoléon était un des grands hommes de l'histoire française". It's a bit more obvious in this case that "hommes" is plural. Sep 12, 2016 at 18:08
  • 2
    @MichaelSeifert You'd think « grands » is obvious enough Sep 13, 2016 at 7:49
  • @PierreArlaud: it definitely should be, but if a novice French speaker is coming from a first language without adjective agreement, they may not think to look for at the number and gender of the adjective for clues. Sep 13, 2016 at 12:50

The sentence

La France est un des grands pays de l'Europe occientale

can be translated as

France is one of the major countries of Western Europe

un des is here used to say one of the


In this sentence "un des" is like "one of".

Here the meaning is:

France is one of the greatest countries in Western Europe.

(My english is still bad, sorry, but the meaning of "des" is correctly translated)

  • 2
    No, the meaning is "one of the great countries of [...]". What you wrote would be "un des plus grands pays [...]" in French.
    – N.I.
    Sep 13, 2016 at 8:08

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