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If I got it right, French must always have some article before a noun. On the other hand, English does not use articles when the speaker means all items of sth in general. So, sometimes you have to add one when translating from English to French:

I love books A and B = J'aime les livres A and B

I love books (books in general) = J'aime les livres.

Libraries are always full = Les librairies sont toujours pleines

That is OK. However, I found this sentence:

Les librairies vendent des livres = Libraries (in general) sell books (in general)

Why the indefinite article is used instead of the definite one? I'd understand using "des" with the meaning of "some" as below:

Ce magasin vend des livres = This store sells some books.

However, I do not see that usage in the previously mentioned sentence. It seems to mean "Libraries sell some books", which does not make sense to me.

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When you say "Les librairies vendent des livres" you don't know precisely which books they sell. That's why you must use the indefinite article des.

Have a look at those examples:

Les librairies vendent actuellement le dernier livre de Stephen King.

Les librairies vendent des bandes-dessinées d'Hergé.

Les librairies vendent le roman de André Dupont.

Do you feel the difference ?

  • In the first sentence, you know exactly which book they sell, the last one of Stephen King.
  • In the second sentence, you know they sell Hergé's cartoons but that's all. Not that precise.
  • In the last one, it's not as easy. Indeed, if you haven't heard about André Dupont before you might not understand why I use le. But if you know that this man has written only one novel (or if you are a native and you will guess so ;), you will know which precise book I'm talking about.

That's why the correct translation for "Les librairies vendent des livres" is actually "Librairies sell books".

NB: here André Dupont is a fictional character ^.^

  • In English, when I say "Libraries do something", I am referring to all libraries in the world, independent of size, time or location. Thus, a sentence like "Libraries sell the novel of X" does not make sense IMHO. If I understood right what you meant with "Les librairies vendent le roman de X", in English someone would say instead "All libraries nowadays sell the novel of X" (or sth. similar). Is that the intended meaning? – Alan Evangelista Jun 5 at 14:20
  • "you don't know precisely which books they sell". That is confusing. I am talking about all libraries in the world , right? They sell all the books available for sale in the entire world. I do not know either which specific books somebody likes when I say "Il aime les livres". – Alan Evangelista Jun 5 at 14:24
  • But when you say "Les librairies" you are using a definite pronoun. You didn't ask about it, that's why I didn't explained. But even if you are talking about a book in particular for example, you can say that all libraries sell this book because it is famous for example or you might say almost all libraries sell this book. – purerstamp Jun 5 at 14:31
  • I initially thought that I understood very well what "Les librairies" meant : either "specific bookstores", eg "bookstores A and B (sell good books)", OR "all the bookstores in the world", eg "bookstores (sell books)". However, after reading your example with André Dupont, I am not sure anymore. Is there a 3rd meaning of "(almost) all libraries nowadays"? – Alan Evangelista Jun 5 at 15:21
  • When you say "le roman d'André Dupont", it means anyway he wrote only one novel so it's the same as "le dernier roman d'André Dupont" or "le roman d'André Dupont intitulé les micmacs de la langue française". Is that make sense ? – purerstamp Jun 5 at 15:38
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What sort of business are bookstores doing?

  • Les librairies vendent des livres. (They are selling books.)

What kind of books are bookstores selling?

  • Les librairies vendent des romans, des dictionnaires, des atlas, un peu de tout, quoi. (They are selling novels, dictionaries, world atlases, a bit of everything, you know.)

What is the problem with this bookstore?

  • Les livres y sont moins chers, mais viennent toujours de lots de livres abimés. (The books are cheaper, but they always come from damaged lots.)

Where are we buying books? (Où achète-t-on les livres ?) → meaning any and all books, so it’s definite, even if I’m obviously not planning on buying them all.

  • Les livres, on les achète à la librairie.

Where can I buy books? (Où peut-on acheter des livres ?) → meaning some books, those I’ll consider worth buying, even if I don’t state or list them, and even if my idea of which one will catch my interest is still unknown or unclear.

  • On en trouvera à la librairie.

Also note that the English library is bibliothèque in French (a term that also represents the shelving unit where you store books), while the French librairie is a bookstore. False cognates.

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