Il a le sens de l'humour.

Il a un sens de l'humour.

I was wondering about the difference in meaning between using "un" or "le". I tried searching for both versions and they were both used for the same sentence.

Personally, I feel that "un" is more appropriate though because we are talking about humour in general.

Like we say in English: He has a good sense of humour. Unless we really want to specify it or we are talking about one that's already been mentioned in the conversation.


The first form is the most usual one.

Here sens de l'humour is seen as something you have or you haven't. It is assumed there is just one sens de l'humour.

If you say il a un sens de l'humour, you mean the person has something that looks like the sens de l'humour but isn't the mainstream one. That would be more like:

Il a un sens de l'humour particulier.

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As a complement to user jlliagre's answer I'll add the following.
It is possible to speak of "un sens de l'humour" on the condition that "sens" be modified by an adjective; however, few adjectives might be idiomatic. The adjective "grand" is.

  • Ils ont un grand sens de l'humour. (ngram, ref.)

As illogical as it may seem "un petit sens de l'humour" is not said; it seems that if some people are deemed able of possessing that quality to a great extent, then there should be others endowed with the possession of it in moderate quantities, but no, apparently this is not so: either you possess a normal understanding of humour or you possess it to a great extent or not at all; here is then another mystery of French linguistics to which one should not yet despair of finding a satisfying explanation despite the apparently irremediable nonsensical situation.

It'll be possible to speak of a very mediocre sense of humour using this process of adjectival modification, the idiomatic adjective being "piètre".

  • (ref.) Le silence se prolongeait, devenait insupportable. — Je plaisantais, Will, répéta-t-elle. Mon piètre sens de l'humour m'a encore joué des tours ! Désolée.

I suppose, from a certain experience that I have of the French language, that in order to supply a replacement for "petit", which as well as not being in Google books does not seem idiomatic to me, one can use "modeste", but I have no supporting reference.

  • Un modeste sens de l'humour ne lui fait certainement pas défaut mais elle avait tendance à vouloir trop en faire.

A careful search will probably yield other useful idiomatic combinations.

  • 1
    "Un sens de l'humour" also fits if there is a relative clause that defines "sens de l'humour", like an adjective does. Ex: il a un sens de l'humour qui ne plait pas à tout le monde.
    – Greg
    Dec 24 '20 at 6:36
  • 1
    @Greg The relative clause appears to be the best way to describe any particular aspect. This can be the point of one more answer.
    – LPH
    Dec 24 '20 at 10:33

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