Google translate says that "The team solves operational problems" translates into "L'équipe résout les problèmes opérationnels". It is impossible a single team to be able to solve all such problems, as the required areas of expertise is too broad. It seems that the indefinite article should be used, i.e., des problèmes opérationnels. French seems to routinely use definite article (plural) when the intended meaning is in English requires an indefinite article. Can some one please explain the reason?

The context of this question is to do French homework describing one's work. The same question could be asked about "algorithmic problems" instead of the "operational problems" above. Basically, a large class of problems of which a small team of people can only realistically have expertise in small subset.

  • You shouldn't postulate Google translate is always right but in that case, I'm not even able to tell if des or les would be the best article to use to translate your sentence, given the fact you provide zero context. What is that team? What kind of problems does it solves? Is this sentence a reply to a question (in such case what question?) or is it a statement presenting the role of the team?
    – jlliagre
    Feb 7, 2022 at 0:36
  • Thanks for the prompting. I added some context. Please let me know if you think it would help for me to elaborate on any particular aspect. P.S. It's not just Google translation of this one phrase. I see this a lot, and have never actually posed the question. Feb 7, 2022 at 0:42
  • You misunderstood my last question. I was asking if The team solves operational problems is the reply to a question or just a statement. Anyway, if you see this a lot, give examples where you found les used in French where no article would have been used in English.
    – jlliagre
    Feb 7, 2022 at 1:21
  • It's a statement, as I am describing a job, which is part of a team that solves problems of a certain broad type. I have seen it a lot over the years, but haven't noted where. I can't find examples from Google translate, at least for now, other than the above, and "I like apples" ("J'aime les pommes"). But I suppose that the latter could mean all apples, or a particular batch of apples. Feb 7, 2022 at 2:03
  • It could be helpful if you would provide us with your source indicating that "les" means "all the" (I can somewhat undrestand the idea).
    – XouDo
    Feb 7, 2022 at 9:49

2 Answers 2


The meaning is not indefinite but generic, and in English the use of the zero article is the norm in generic determination whereas in French what is used is the articles "le", "la" and "les", which are used also as definite determiners.

  • Cigarettes are bad for your health.
    Les cigarettes sont dangereuses pour la santé.
  • Research shows that it is the elderly who are the prime victims of inflation.
    Les recherches montrent que ce sont les personnes agées qui sont les victimes principales de l'inflation.

When generically describing a job, the plural definite article might be used in French where English would use no article:

Le pompier éteint les incendies
Le garagiste répare les voitures
Le docteur soigne les malades
Le policier arrête les voleurs
Le dentiste arrache les dents...

That doesn't imply all thieves are arrested or all teeth are pulled out...


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.