In Barbara Pravi's song « L'homme and L'oiseau » she does two things which I thought were grammatically incorrect. The lyrics first go « J'aime à t'imaginer danser/Au loin dans ce ciel sans limite », why is there an « à »? Because to what I know, it's « aimer faire quelque chose » like « J'aime jouer au rugby ».

Next, the lyrics go « Oh mon amour, mon amour, je sais\Que tu repartiras bientôt\On n'enferme pas les oiseaux ». Why is it « les oiseaux » instead of « de oiseaux » because from what I've been taught, le la and les become de after a negative like « Je n'ai jamais eu de chats chez moi »

3 Answers 3


The first expression is literary (aimer à) and has already be asked and replied at least twice here (by the same OP and replier).

See: aimer/aimer à/aimer de and "Aimer à+infinitif" dans "Que j'aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages"

About on n'enferme pas les oiseaux, the rule is for an undefinite article (un or des) to become de in negative sentences so that would be on n'enferme pas d'oiseau(x). However, the sentence in Pravi's song is the negation of on enferme les oiseaux so the birds are defined (either a group of birds but here, birds in general). The article stays unchanged in that case.

  1. Aimer à, suivi d’un infinitif, signifie Prendre plaisir à quelque chose. Aimer à jouer, à chasser, à se promener. Aimer à lire, à travailler. J’aime à voir comme vous vous conduisez avec lui. Il aime à être flatté, caressé. On dit de même Cet animal aime à courir. Cet arbuste aime à être arrosé, etc.
    Dictionnaire de l'académie française

Aimer à followed by an infinitive means: take pleasure in, that is to say, love or like

And imaginer can take a direct object as in: Je t'imagine.

Larousse_imaginer_transitive verb

So, j'aime à t'imaginer translates to: I love imagining you

  1. On n'enferme pas les oiseaux.

The translation is: We don't cage birds.

Generally speaking, in making general statements, French uses a determiner and English does not.

  • J'aime les chiens et les chats.

  • I love dogs and cats.

  • Elle déteste le poisson. [as in as a food]

  • She hates fish.


Second question

The use of "les" in this sentence is the so called use for generic reference instead of the more usual use for specific reference; as in English, the distinctions of number are neutralized ; the article refers to all birds, any type of bird.

A bird always has wings but is not necessarily an animal that can fly. ("Un oiseau a toujours des ailes mais ce n'est pas nécessairement un animal qui peut voler.", generic reference through the use of the indefinite article, which usual function of coding indefinite reference is replaced by that of coding generic reference)
Birds always have wings but are not necessarily animals that can fly. ("Les oiseaux ont toujours des ailes mais ce ne sont pas des animaux qui peuvent nécessairement voler.", generic reference through the use of the zero article, which is the equivalent of "les" in French)

  • On n'enferme pas d'oiseaux. (We are not keeping any bird in a cage.)

  • On n'enferme pas les oiseaux. ("It is not our practice to keep birds in cages." or according to the context, as a more general principle in dealing with birds, as in the song, "Birds are not kept in cages.")

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