What is the logic to French using either just "de" or otherwise "du, de la or de l'" in front of a word? I understand the differences between "du", "de la" and "de l'", but not how it is decided to use one of those in stead of just "de".

As examples, I do not understand what the choice was based on in the following phrases:

une compression de personnel

les richesses du sous-sol

l'armée de l'air

l'armée de terre

l'avocat de la défense

l'âge de la retraite

  • 1
    This question was asked literally one week ago and was marked as a duplicate.
    – cccg03
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 0:16

2 Answers 2


If you did actually a small search on Google, you would find some good results and explanation !

I can say briefly, de alone with no definite article is used usually when we speak about a very GENERAL concept, just like:

  • Un homme de principe/science/guerre

but when we know definitely what we are talking about, the definites articles should be added, just like:

  • Le bruit de la ville

here we don't intend to say or generalize the concept of noise bruit to all cities.However, only a specific city that we mention.

  • Thanks. But the what explains the difference between: l'armée de l'air l'armée de terre Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 12:00
  • hmm actually I can say because that the air is very specific and well-known and we have no air but the one in common between us all mankind + it is just one known army weapon for the air unit (I mean there is no diversity in it) so we use it with definite article.However, terre is not common in this sense, every land has its own territory + the army of a land usually has a set of diversity in its units unlike the air unit ! so the concept here is generalized to cover all of them.
    – wisdom
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 12:40
  • you can check such video ... it explains the case very well youtube.com/watch?v=koCNVpTRrys + please mark the question as "ANSWERED" if you got it.
    – wisdom
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 12:59

As for most languages, the french language practice obeys some rules. One of these rules is called "règle de l'article contracté". It states that when "une préposition" is followed by "un article défini", the result should be "un article contracté" (contracted article).

In the case of:

une compression du personnel

"du" is here the contracted article of "de le" which respectively are "préposition + article défini". Consequently, it is incorrect to say:

une compression de le personnel

The use of "de" / "du" depends on whether "personnel" is definite or not. In our case, it isn't so one must use "du".

If "personnel" is definite, "de" should be used as in:

une compression de personnel de la comptabilité.

Note that "de la" of "de la comptabilité" is not concerned by the rule in question since it is "du genre féminin" (feminine gender).

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