3

This is from a podcast that was recorded in 2011:

L'eau de mer autour de la centrale nucléaire de Fukushima a atteint un niveau de radiation dangereusement élevé. En début de la semaine, l'agence japonaise de sûreté nucléaire a affirmé que les nouveaux relevés effectués à 300 m au large des côtes ont montré un niveau d'iode radioactive de 3355 fois la limite légale. De l'eau de mer a été utilisée pour empêcher la fusion des réacteurs.

Why do we need that de in front of l'eau de mer there at the beginning of the sentence? Is its being there really necessary? What purpose does it serve?

1

De is used because sea water hasn't been previously mentioned. The definite article would imply the sea water is one of several known things.

Here is a case where l'eau alone could have been used:

Il y avait de l'eau de mer et du sable. L'eau de mer a été utilisée pour empêcher la fusion des réacteurs.

The indefinite article can't be used (une eau de mer a été utilisée...) because there is just one kind of sea water around Fukushima and it is uncountable. You can say un vin, une bière but not une eau de mer.

De l'eau de mer means "some unspecified amount of sea water". Unless in English, we can't use "sea water" alone, i.e. eau de mer without article, to mean it.

3

Because water is a mass noun and in French mass nouns normally (there's some edge cases) use the partitive instead of the indefinite article, and the contracted forms don't occur when the regular part of the article is elided, so... de l' (as opposed to du).

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.