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Is "ciel" like the English word "heaven", which does not need an article, or is it like "sky" where an article must be used? Does it depend on the context?

Thanks.

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  • Welcome to French Language Stack Exchange! :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 27 '17 at 15:46
  • @LukeSawczak Merci.
    – CMK
    Sep 27 '17 at 19:05
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In French, the English "no article" rule doesn't exist.

Instead, we divide words into 3 categories:

  • Countable nouns ("chat", "chien", etc)
  • Not countable nouns ("riz", "eau", etc)
  • Abstract nouns ("ciel", "nature", etc)

Definite

When you are talking about a definite noun, you always need to put a definite article, no matter the word type:

"Le chat est mignon."

"Le riz que j'ai mangé était délicieux."

"Le ciel est bleu aujourd'hui."

"Ton grand-père a rejoint le Ciel à présent."

Indefinite

The only distinction between countable and not countable nouns is made with indefinite and partitive articles:

"Un chat est devant la maison."

"Je mange du riz."

Abstract nouns such as "ciel" are a bit more tricky in this particular case (there is an interesting discussion about it here in French). However, in my opinion, the only situations where you would put a partitive article in front of an abstract noun are the situations where you can consider this noun as a non-countable noun.

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  • Merci beaucoup.
    – CMK
    Sep 26 '17 at 15:00
  • There is nothing such as countable or not countable nouns in French (not like in English). Sep 27 '17 at 14:43
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    @AnneAunyme There is, actually. Even though a lot of words are countable in French, some of them are not ("pluie", "sable"...) and the articles to put before them are different. They are referred as "noms non-dénombrables" or "noms abstraits" or even "noms massifs". You wouldn't say "un sable, deux sables..." for example, because it is uncountable.
    – Reyedy
    Sep 27 '17 at 15:03
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    @Driblou Indeed and insofar as you can bend the rules and pluralize normally uncountable nouns (pour deux types de sable p.ex.), it mirrors English pretty well. Not perfectly, but enough to warrant the seemingly standard term "indénombrable"...
    – Luke Sawczak
    Sep 27 '17 at 15:42
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    Alright, I got your point that my way of directly comparing English to French in that matter was a bit clumsy. About the examples you gave, maybe I'm wrong, but I interpretate "Je mange du chat" as "Je mange de la viande de chat" and that would be the reason to use the partitive article. But as I said, it might just be me trying to get everything back to my simple explanation, and trying to be simple is not always a good idea if it gives the person wrong or incomplete information. So, point taken, thank you for the clarification. :)
    – Reyedy
    Sep 28 '17 at 10:15
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The comparison with the English grammar won't help you here, as the articles work differently in the two languages (see Driblou's answer for more details on this point)

In French you would usually see "le ciel", when talking about the sky, or eventually "le Ciel" with a capital when talking about heaven.

You can have the indefinite article "un": "un ciel" when you are talking about the specific aspect of the sky at one moment or one place. It works the same as in English:

Ce matin, sous un ciel bleu, je marchais vers la mer. / This morning, under a blue sky, I was walking toward the sea

Finally, there is the old-fashioned interjection: "Ciel!" Typically:

Ciel, mon mari !

is the iconic exclamation of a woman finding his husband cheating on her in vaudevilles.

As it is an interjection it doesn't take any article.

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  • Thanks. So I cannot say, for example, "La création attend ciel"?
    – CMK
    Sep 27 '17 at 15:33
  • In English you would use "in" or "at", which in French often becomes "dans" or "à". Here you would get "La création attend à le ciel", but "à le" has to be replaced with "au" (the contracted form) and so the correct answer is: "La création attend au ciel". (or "La création attend au Ciel") Sep 28 '17 at 9:46
  • But I thought that attendre (to wait) had a direct object, and hence no preposition.
    – CMK
    Sep 28 '17 at 10:05
  • In my last comment I assumed you wanted to say "the creation is waiting in heaven", I may have misinterpreted it. Sep 28 '17 at 10:06
  • Oh, okay. That makes sense. I wanted to say, "The creation waits for heaven". Would I still need the article? Based on what you have said, I think that the answer will be yes. Thank you.
    – CMK
    Sep 28 '17 at 10:08

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