In my french text book it has two sentence "Il a les yeux noirs" and "Il a de grands yeux noirs" I understand that in the second sentence, "de" is actually "des" but it changes because the adjective next to it. So why the first sentence use "les" instead of "des"

  • 2
    To add in a general way to the observations made below, you could consider the sentence with "les" as meaning something like "His eyes are black" and the sentence with "des" as meaning something like "He has big black eyes". As the others have indicates, the first presumes that you know he has eyes, while the second one is worded so as to introduce the fact (because it's "big eyes", which not everyone has).
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 19:34
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    Similarly, you could easily say "He has big eyes", but both "His big eyes are black" and "His black eyes are big" would represent a stylistically marked choice because the first adjective is slipped in without a corresponding "introduction" to the fact. "Il a les grands yeux noirs", where "les" makes a similar presumption as the English use of the possessive here, sounds about as odd as those two English sentences. The key issue is that both "les" and the possessive have definiteness: the quality of assuming that what you're referring to is already known to your interlocutors.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 19:36
  • Normalement, c'est Isabelle qui a les yeux noirs. Ah non, zut! Elle a les yeux bleux. J'ai tout confondu ;-)
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 20:37
  • It's the same as the difference between "His eyes are green" and "He has green eyes". Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 23:53

5 Answers 5


Both “Il a les yeux noirs” and “il a des yeux noirs” are possible but using les is more common.

Il a les xxx + mandatory adjective usually means this is something intrinsic, a characteristic of the person while il a des xxx + optional adjective just means this is something the person is currently having.

Il a les yeux noirs.

When talking about clothes, we would on the opposite more use des:

Il a des chaussures rouges.

You rightly wrote that in the second sentence, "de" is actually "des" but changed because of the adjective next to it but note that "elle a des grands yeux noirs" is nevertheless possible, and common in spoken French.

On the other hand, elle a les grands yeux noirs is almost impossible. That would mean the dubious "she has the large black eyes".


The key is the word "grands." When talking about parts of the body, when the subject has them as one would expect (in this case, two eyes of a certain color), one uses the definite article. With the phrase "Il a les yeux noirs," the subtext is that he has two eyes (like normal), and that they happen to be black.

Because grands is a subjective adjective - it changes the meaning slightly to show that his eyes are not as one might expect - they are big! This subjectivity causes the indefinite article to be used.

For reference, this discussion and this thread may help.


Actually you can use "les" and "des" for the first sentence.

"Les" just sounds better because it refer directly to the eyes of the guy. But it can also make reference to some eyes that was previously refered in the story (the eyes was mentioned before and now he got it ... in his pocket)

"Des" would keep the doubt from where the eyes come from (not necessarly from the head of the guy you're talking about). Or it can be used to strongify the "noirs" (like it was "very black") but it's not the best way to express that of feeling

Those things I just explained there ... just forget it. Both work. For a single situation 90% would say "les" and 9% would say "des" (1% can't say anything for multiple reason (e.g : blind people))


"Il a les yeux noirs" could be an answer to "how are his eyes ? ", more a precision on a single part,
"il a des yeux noirs" could be an answer to "how is this man ?", more a descriptive feature.


« Il a les yeux noirs » signifie que ses propres yeux sont noirs . « Il a de grands yeux noirs » signifie qu'il a de grands yeux noirs comme ceux qui ont de grands yeux noirs.

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