In my French lessons, I found

de petits cafés

which was translated to the plural form "Cafés" (in German) or "cafés" (in English).

From what I had learned so far I would have expected this to be

des petits cafés

with an s at des, not de. Is this just a typo in the lesson, or am I missing something?

Another example for this is (taken also from my lessons):

Il n'y a pas de gares.

Where I would have expected:

Il n'y a pas des gares.

Which is correct, and why?

  • 1
    This question has an answer here. If you have a problem understanding it because it is in French you can ask the OP - or someone else - to translate it into English.
    – None
    Nov 2, 2019 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


This is explained as follows as far as certain important concepts go, but that's not the whole story; more detail and an extended treatement of your question is to be found from the following links. http://research.jyu.fi/grfle/049.html

Several other links found in those web pages give a lot of worthwhile complements.

  1. Fundamental rule

When the indefinite article (singular, plural and mass) determines a noun phrase that happens to have the function of "complément d'objet direct" of a verb in the negative form, this article has the form "de".

  • J’ai une voiture. • Je n’ai pas encore de voiture.
  • J’ai remarqué des fautes.• Je n’ai pas remarqué de fautes.
  • Il n’a pas donné de coup de téléphone hier.

2.Exceptions to the transformation into "de"

The article keeps the form "des" in the Following case.

a / Case of a partial negation

What is being negated is the nature of the object, not the action in which it is involved.

  • Je n'ai pas planté des figuiers, mais des cerisiers.
  • (Contrast) Je n'ai pas planté de radis en ce début de saison, je le ferai plus tard.

The action of planting is not negated; what's being negated is what the field has been planted with: fig trees, not cherry trees.

b / Contradiction in the affirmative of sentence in the negative

  • Ils n'ont pas offert des romans cette année mais des recueils de poèmes.
  • (Contrast) Il était question de faire divers cadeaux aux élèves méritants mais il ne leur a pas été offert de livres.

c / Partial negation that bears on another element than the cod ("complément d'objet direct")

(i) The negation concerns the adjective

  • Il ne fait pas de progrès.
  • (Contrast) Il ne fait pas des progrès fracassants mais tout de même il progresse.

(ii) The negation bears upon an adverb or a "complément circonstanciel (temps, manière,…)" and it is understood that habitually this is the case

  • Ils n'ont pas pris de cigarettes ce jour-là. (It is not understood that they bought anything at all.)
  • Ils n'ont pas pris des cigarettes ce jour-là. (Usually they buy cigarettes but this time they bought something else.)

(iii) When using the locution "ni… ni"

  • Il ne prends ni des petits pains ni des pains italiens.
  • (Contrast) Il ne prends jamais de petits pains.

(iv) In polite questions in the negative form when the answer is likely to be in the affirmative

  • Vous n'auriez pas proposé des voyages organisés, par hasard ?
  • (Contrast) Vous ne leur proposez pas de voyages organisés, par hasard ?
  • As a smoker, I enjoy your [relatively] frequent and [generally] non-judgmental references to smokes and smoking, which is perhaps why I'm taking the time to seek clarification of the meaning of "understated" as it's used in section c (ii) of your answer. Could I [correctly] interpret the first instance of that word to mean "... and there is a/n [subtle] implication/it is [subtly] implied that habitually this is the case." ... and, in the second instance: "(It is not implied/There is no implication that they bought anything at all.)"?
    – Papa Poule
    Nov 2, 2019 at 15:31
  • @PapaPoule I wasn't aware of having made so many references to smoking but if you say so I'll take your word for it. Yes, there is the implication of their taking usually cigarettes but I think it is conveyed by "ce jour-là". In the second sentence, we have really a special case of partial negation in which what is expected is not to be sought in the context but insinuated by the adverbial [usually, therefore more or less expected] . (Il est parti chercher des cigarettes [cigarettes expected]; à son retour j'ai vu qu'il n'avait pas acheté des cigarettes. (1/2)
    – LPH
    Nov 2, 2019 at 16:26
  • @PapaPoule so, as a partial negation implies, something has been bought, but it is not cigarettes; there is then, on the contrary, the implication that something has been bought. (2/2)
    – LPH
    Nov 2, 2019 at 16:26
  • Thanks. I was primarily taken aback by your choice of "understated", as opposed to "implied" (or even "understood") in those two places. It's just that I've never seen "understated" used that way but that surely doesn't mean it can't be.
    – Papa Poule
    Nov 2, 2019 at 18:34
  • @PapaPoule No, after a verification I see that it is an error of mine: what is meant is surely "understood" but I see now that "understated" does not mean that. Thanks for mentioning this.
    – LPH
    Nov 2, 2019 at 18:41

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