I apologize in advance. I know this question has been posed many times but I cannot quite understand the difference as I am only a beginner in French.

Consider the following phrases:

1) Le musée du Bronze. I understand that 'du' is used here since we are talking about a specific museum. Or is my understanding wrong?

2) La porte de la véranda (balcony door). The explanation that I read was this: A veranda is kind of a room made of glass, and the door "belongs" to this room as it is a part of its walls.

3) la maison de poupée. This can be interpreted as: The house "belongs" to the doll.

In the second and third sentences, both define the same relation of "belonging". Then why are different prepositions used?

  1. We are talking about a specific museum because of le (and not un). Du Bronze is used to mean the museum is related to that metal, here likely presenting objects made from this metal. An hypothetical Musée de bronze would be a museum made of bronze but about anything.

  2. Yes, de is used here to express a belonging relationship.

  3. Not here. La maison de poupée meaning is more "(An) house made for (some) doll(s)" so it doesn't necessarily belong to any doll. Should it be the case, that would have been la maison de la poupée.

The same difference exists with une école de garçons (a boy's school, i.e. a school made to instruct boys) vs l'école du garçon (the school the boy is attending, i.e. the one that "belongs" to him.)

Usually, the shorter a word, the longer its dictionary entry is and de is no exception: have a look to its TLFi one...

  • Actually, wouldn't "une école de garçons" be the translation of "boys' school" ? Because you can use "l'école du garçon" to say "the boy's school". Mar 5 '18 at 21:09
  • @EmiliePicard-Cantin Yes, that's the proper translation and I already used it. On the other hand, the boy's school without context is ambiguous in English (might be either l'école de garçons or l'école du garçon.)
    – jlliagre
    Mar 5 '18 at 21:18
  • So, if we are talking about something particular, we must use "du". If we are making a general statement, we must use "de", correct? Then, what about "le bureau de Jean".. ? We are talking about Jean's office in particular.. So why not '...du Jean'. Same for "la salle de conference". We are taking about the 'conference' hall in particular. Mar 6 '18 at 4:53
  • Not le bureau du Jean because you do not use an article with people's name although you might say Le bureau du Jean qui habite à côté de chez nous (here there are more than one Jean so an article is used). La salle de conférence is built exactly like la maison de poupée, a room made to conferences, not a room belonging to conference. Note that de can be a preposition, a partitive article or an indefinite article. Certainly tricky for learners. Read the three tabs in cnrtl.fr/definition/de
    – jlliagre
    Mar 6 '18 at 7:48
  • "la tête du capricorne en haut à droite" - is this correct? (This was already asked, but I would like to confirm). Do we use "du" because of the phrase "en haut à droite" ? Even if "en haut à droite" were absent, wouldn't it still be "du" ? (since in this case the head actually belongs to the Capricorn).. Thank you in advance :) Mar 6 '18 at 8:56

Adding on the good answer from Jiliagre: "du" is the contracted form for "de le". Whenever you would say "de le", it needs to be contracted to "du". It does not alter the meaning of "de" in any way. You will see the same contraction with "de les" which becomes "des".

la maison du voisin (for la maison "de le" voisin)

la maison de la voisine (no contraction for that one)

la maison des voisins (for la maison "de les" voisins)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.