I read this

Elles vendent de vieux livres.

Why do we need the "de" if we need aty all? How should we replace it with a " pronom personnel", possibly as "en" or "les"?

  • This is actually a random rule that the partitive des becomes de before an adjective that precedes a noun. Treat it like des.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:32
  • I've certainly never heard of des changing to de, but yeah thanks Oct 30, 2018 at 12:34
  • @LukeSawczak I have just posted an answer. Please have a look and tell me if en can replace de vieux livres in this context. Thanks in advance.
    – Dimitris
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:58
  • @dimitris Oui tu peux !
    – Luke Sawczak
    Oct 30, 2018 at 13:35
  • @LukeSawczak Merci pour m'avoir corrigé. Je viens de modifier ma réponse. Quand tu dis, "Oui, tu peux ! " tu veut dire que "Elles vendent de vieux livres" peut être remplacée par "Elles en vendent", non ?
    – Dimitris
    Oct 30, 2018 at 13:47

2 Answers 2


They sell (some) books.


Elles vendent des livres.

Whereas some can be omitted in English, in French the indefinite article (un/une/des) cannot do so.

When there is an adjective that follows the noun, the rule is the same, that is:

Elles vendent des livres intéressants.

However, with adjectives that precede the noun and in careful French, des becomes de, so that:

Elles vendent de vieux/nouveaux livres.

It is not so uncommon to encounter des+adjectif+noun in everyday speech (de does not sound the same as des).

Note also the difference:

Je vois de petits enfants qui jouent.


Je vois des petits-enfants qui jouent. (grandchildren)

The difference is based upon the composed (fixed) form adjective+noun.

Other examples include:

  • des grands-pères ; des petits pois ; des beaux-parents, etc.

En as personal pronoun replaces the form:

Elles vendent des livres.

Elles en vendent.

In fact, des livres is COD (complément d'objet direct) of the verb vendent.

It can also replace the form:

Elles vendent de vieux livres. Elles en vendent.

The so-called complément d'adjectif can be replaced in certain cases as in the example below:

Elles vendent de vieux livres. Elles en sont fières. (i.e. être fier de vieux livres)

Suggested reading:




  • Je vois de petits enfants qui jouent is odd and rare. Probably because it is pronounced exactly like je vois deux petits enfants qui jouent.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:11
  • @jlliagre : Merci. Une suggestion pour remplacer cette phrase avec une autre ?
    – Dimitris
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:17

We need the "de" because in French it's incorrect to use "vendre" without using an article (le/la/les/un/une/de/des). You have to use something after "vendre".

BUT the word can be tricky to choose..

Are you speaking about something in general, not specifically? You have to use un/une/des if you can count it, or de/des if you cannot.

  • "Je vends des voitures" = "I sell cars but it doesn't matter which ones and i can count how many cars i sell"
  • "Je vends de la farine" = "I sell flour" (you can't count flour)

In your exemple "Elles vendent de vieux livres.", de is used instead of des because in French, "des" becomes "de" when placed before an adjectif.

You speak about that precise item ? You have to use le/la/les

  • "Je vends la voiture" = "I sell this specific car whom we are talking about"

You want to tell where you are selling? Use en/à/dans if you want to tell precisely where, or en if you are inexplicit "Je vends des voitures en France" = "I sell cars in France" "Je vends des voitures à Paris" = "I sell cars in PAris"

You are already talking about what you are selling ? Right, you can even use vendre without anything else after it.

  • "Tu vends des voitures ?" "Oui j'en vends" (or "Oui je vends ceci")
  • "Do you sell cars?" "Yes I do" (or "Yes i sell this")


Use "vendre de" when you sell something uncountable or when you remain vague (use "des" in this case or "de" before an adjective). Replace it with a personnal pronoun or "les" when you sell something specific.

  • 1
    You can use "vendre" with any kind of determinant, not only the articles: "Elle vend sa voiture","Elle vend ce manteau",... You can also, in some rare occasions and with a specific context, use it all alone: "Vendez!". Note that you also write "You have to use le/la/les" right before giving an example with "cette", this can be confusing.
    – Laurent S.
    Oct 30, 2018 at 13:49
  • Yes you are right.. I wanted to keep it to the question (when to use de and when to use pronom or les).. But the list of words used after vendre can go on for too long for me to write it down..
    – user189111
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:01

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