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My textbook has this sample sentence,

Paris est la ville française avec le plus de musées.

Why is the le not les, since it's talking about having the most museums?

I don't know if this works but what if I want to say "this school has the most boys and girls."

Cette école a le/la/les plus de garçons et de filles.

Which one is it?

5

Good first question. :)

TL;DR:

1) de separates le plus and musées; musées is not really the noun introduced by le, even if it looks like it. As a result, le is probably best described as not agreeing with any other word.

2) As the other answerers wrote, le plus de is always correct. However, as Lambie writes below, it may be informal compared to fuller formulations such as le plus grand nombre de.


Difficulties with agreement are always going to involve the question: "Which elements are agreeing?" This question comes up whether you're talking about conjugating verbs, modifying adjectives and participles, choosing determiners...

Here, you would begin by asking about le. Which word is it introducing?

The English translation you gave suggests that museums would be the nearest noun:

...the most museums.

But while this is a good translation, it's not quite the grammar of the French:

...le plus de musées.

This structure, given away by the presence of de, is a common one that usually links two nouns:

Une boîte de farine

Une tasse de thé

Or a quantity and a noun:

Beaucoup de farine

Plus de musées

And in both cases note that the noun itself loses its own determiner:

De la farine

but Une boîte de farine

but Beaucoup de farine

This suggests that in your textbook's sentence, the determiner for musées would have looked something like this:

Des (de + les) musées

but Plus de musées

All this is to show that the le is not for musées. Its les disappears in this structure.


So what is the le for in this phrase? I guess there are two ways the analysis could go.

Maybe you could say that plus is short for plus grand nombre, for example, in which case le agrees with nombre (and we would have a noun + noun nombre de musées instead of quantity + noun plus de musées).

But that explanation is a bit too ad hoc for my taste. We could also do it grammatically and start with the rule that the comparative is plus, and the superlative is made by adding the definite article:

Elle est intéressante

Elle est plus intéressante

Elle est la plus intéressante

When we're comparing an amount of something, we still use plus:

Paris a plus de musées

And we still make it superlative with the definite article:

Paris a le plus de musées

But we notice two interesting things...

First, that neither with comparing adjectives nor with comparing quantities is this le really a normal determiner. After all, even in "la plus intéressante" or any other comparative phrase with an adjective, the determiner is not followed by a noun as you would expect it to be. Probably the determiner just picks up the gender and number features of the next item in the same constituent or "block" of the sentence.

The second (key!) thing we notice is that these are not really the same plus. One is followed by an adjective, and the other by de. Even without further analysis of what they are, that tells us they behave differently.

And if we skip ahead a bit in linguistics we find that de begins a new constituent, the prepositional phrase. That's enough to separate le from the noun, meaning le won't have an immediate neighbour from which it would borrow gender and number features. So it retains the unmarked form, le.

  • re your last comment, I really don't think that the de separating the "blocks of a sentence" is at all relevant here. /Paris est la ville française avec le plus de musées./ Apart from everything else, "le plus de" is OK informally, but not formally. If what you say were true, it would be transferable: Cette école est l'établissement avec le plus de garçons. And, that just doesn't make it, does it? There is a téléscopage or escamotage here of le plus [grand nombre] de. – Lambie Mar 24 '17 at 13:52
  • The most boys, le plus grand nombre de garçons. The most sugar: la plus grande quantité de sucre. le plus de garçons and le plus de sucre don't work. – Lambie Mar 24 '17 at 13:54
  • Maybe they aren't the most common ways to phrase it, but Google searches for those phrases in quotes do turn up examples: "Pour rendre amoureux le plus de garçons possible", "Les mois où naissent le plus de garçons", "les métiers qui attirent le plus de garçons", "Où consomme-t-il le plus de sucre dans le monde ?", "Celles qui consomment le plus de sucre", "Le fruit qui contient le plus de sucre", and more. Feel free to carry out the search and see if the examples less valid than they look to me. But I will rephrase the de sentences in a less ambiguous way and mention the informality. – Luke Sawczak Mar 24 '17 at 15:11
  • A literary one encountered today in Madame Bovary, part 1, chapter 3: "Croyant qu'il était de son devoir de prodiguer au médecin le plus de politesses possible ..." – Luke Sawczak Mar 27 '17 at 1:40
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For the second example, the only possibility is:

Cette école a le plus de garçons et de filles.

In this kind of sentence le plus is fixed and refers to the action of having, or being, rather than to the objects it has the most of.

  • Thanks, my take is that if there's nothing between plus and de, it should be a le – LazyGuy Feb 24 '17 at 18:35
  • Yes, I think that rule of thumb works. – Frank Feb 24 '17 at 18:36
2

That's simple, just use le plus de in both sentences. Le plus de is an invariable set expression.

TLFi

  1. Le plus de. [Suivi d'un subst. sing. ou plur.] La quantité maximale de, le nombre maximal de. Grande discussion sur Dieu, un des sujets qui font dire le plus de bêtises aux gens d'esprit (Goncourt, Journal, 1864, p.108). On a beaucoup plus respecté la vie humaine aux époques où elle a réellement le plus de valeur (Renan, Avenir sc., 1890, p.499).

Here are other quotes showing le plus de is not informal and still standard French even without grand nombre inserted:

  • Le plus sot homme, comme le plus sot peuple, c'est celui qui dit et qui fait le plus de sottises Voltaire.

  • Il est attribué à la liste qui a obtenu le plus de voix un nombre de sièges égal à la moitié du nombre des sièges à pourvoir... Art. L262 du code électoral.

  • Aussi, lorsque nous nous séparâmes des gardes, M. Deviolaine indiqua-t-il une chasse pour le dimanche suivant, avec ordre de détourner d'ici là le plus de sangliers que l'on pourrait, afin que, si l'on faisait buisson creux sur une garderie… A. Dumas

  • I see. I was confused because other examples had la as in "la plus grande ville de France" – LazyGuy Feb 24 '17 at 18:32
  • Cette école est l'établissement avec le plus de garçons? Hmm. – Lambie Mar 24 '17 at 14:32
  • @Lambie Oui, comparé à « Cette école est l'établissement avec les plus de garçons » qui est bien sûr incorrect. Si c'est le style qui choque, « Cette école est l'établissement hébergeant le plus de garçons » (ou « ... le plus d'élèves » pour « le plus de garçons et de filles. ») – jlliagre Mar 24 '17 at 16:21
  • @jlliagre Par contre, vous acceptez: Paris est la ville française avec le plus de musées //Cet établissement est l'école avec le plus de garçons//? Cette école est l'établissement hébergeant le plus [grand nombre] de garçons. Comme je disais depuis le début, something is lurking here. Both in French and in English. – Lambie Mar 24 '17 at 17:47
  • @Lambie Oui, grand nombre peut très bien être sous entendu. « Le plus sot homme, comme le plus sot peuple, ' est celui qui dit et qui fait le plus de sottises » Voltaire. « Il est attribué à la liste qui a obtenu le plus de voix un nombre de sièges égal à la moitié du nombre des sièges à pourvoir... » Art. L262 du code électoral. « Aussi, lorsque nous nous séparâmes des gardes, M. Deviolaine indiqua-t-il une chasse pour le dimanche suivant, avec ordre de détourner d'ici là le plus de sangliers que l'on pourrait, afin que, si l'on faisait buisson creux sur une garderie… » A. Dumas – jlliagre Mar 24 '17 at 21:04
-1

There is something LURKING behind this question, which, I had to learn as a non-native speaker, and also, as native speaker of English:

Paris est la ville française avec le plus de musées. The full and standard way to say it is: Paris est la ville française avec le plus [grand nombre] de musées.

So, now: Your sentence below: Cette école a le plus de garçons et de filles.

would become:

Cette école a le plus [grand nombre] de garçons et de filles.

And the English, in standard grammar is then: Paris is the city with the highest or greatest number of museums.

The school has the highest number of boys and girls.

Commonly expressed as: the most museums and the most boys and girls. Just like French.

Though you commonly would translate these: the most museums and the most boys and girls. Lurking behind the English is: the highest number of, just like French.

Now, if you are writing an academic paper or a formal article, the most in English does not work: you would have to say: the highest or greatest number of A and B.

The most coffee or butter but the greatest number of or the highest number of [countable noun].

  • downvoters should give reasons – Lambie Mar 24 '17 at 13:39
  • 1
    Not mine but maybe was it downvoted because you don't explicitly answer to the question and look to be more focused about English than French. – jlliagre Mar 24 '17 at 21:18

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