I am currently learning French in school and found this:

Qu'est-ce que tu fais le weekend?

Je vais au cinéma

But I believe that it should be "Je vais à un cinéma." since the listener does not know which cinema the speaker goes to. So, is there anyone who can tell the difference between the two sentences?


In both English and French, certain places are considered to have a kind of general version as well as a specific location.

Here are a couple in English:

Where did you get that book?

Oh, the library.

It doesn't really matter which library or which branch for you to use this sentence. You wouldn't say "a library" here.

You're a fan of summer?

Oh, yeah. I love the beach.

Which beach, you might wonder? The answer would probably be all beaches. :) You don't say you love "a beach".

And the closest example to the one you asked about is probably user168676's "the movies", which I think is also a clever way to mirror the ambiguity of cinéma (the building or the show?).

There are finer differences between how English and French use le and un, but as you begin your journey of learning French, I wouldn't worry about them too much yet (including the last line of user168676's answer). For now, it's probably enough to see that the two languages are actually pretty similar in this case.


"au cinéma" is the contraction of "à le cinéma"; in French "cinéma", as an institution, has for noun a noun that comes with an article, the article "le"; you have to say "le cinéma"; but, by the way, it is not différent in American English as you say in that language "to go to the movies" in the very same manner because of the same reason (but maybe you are not a US citizen). It is just a coincidence that in French you use the same word for the place where films are played (un cinéma) and for the institution. You can nevertheless use the form "Je vais à un cinéma." provided that every sunday you go to the same theater, and then people understand that you are talking about a particular place, always the same, where films are being played.


In English, you have Articles: A, An, The

In French, you have two types of articles:

  1. Definite Articles

  2. Indefinite Articles

Indefinite Articles: Used like english "A & An"

un - masculine

une - feminine

Definite Articles: Used like english "The"

le - masculine

la - feminine

les - Plural or any general


A pen

un stylo
(pen is masculine in french)

The pen

le stylo

the Pens

Les stylos

Example 2:

A house

une maison

(house is feminine in french)

The house

la maison

The houses

Les maisons

  • 2
    I think you have "definite" and "indefinite" the wrong way around - a, an, un, une are indefinite articles and the, le, la, les are definite articles. Oct 12 '18 at 10:56
  • In addition to the remark of Mark Hugues, this answer doesn't actually answer the question at all, only the title, which is actually not 100% inline with the question
    – Laurent S.
    Oct 12 '18 at 14:27

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