I came across this sentence in an article:

Les utilisateurs de jets privés sont donc des gros pollueurs

I would have expected the phrase to be 'de gros pollueurs'.

Are my expectations too formal? Or does the use of 'des' in fact carry a different meaning or nuance?

  • 2
    It is gramatically incorrect. But as French, I believe to use that when I want to add emphasis on the plural "all of them are".
    – RomainL.
    Sep 2, 2022 at 17:14

3 Answers 3

  1. Are my expectations too formal ?

    Not "too" formal, de would fit a large range of registers, from formal to casual, both oral and written.

  2. Or does the use of 'des' in fact carry a different meaning or nuance?

    The meaning is the same. Using des is just relaxed French but it can be heard and sometimes read without raising eyebrows:

    Ce sont des gros chats qu'on ne s'attend pas à croiser dans nos forêts de Côte-d'Or ! France Bleu

    Autre point de vigilance pour vos premiers cours et évaluations : votre orthographe. Dans la continuité du lycée, les professeurs relèvent le niveau d'exigence sur la correction des copies. "L'orthographe, le vocabulaire, la syntaxe et la grammaire sont des gros soucis", note Matthieu Boisdron. L'Étudiant, sept. 2015.

    Maybe des is also sometimes preferred to avoid the ambiguity of de when it might be confused with deux, as they are pronounced identically.

    @Jeffrey commented that he would use des in the following sentence and I agree with him:

    Il y avait des petits bouleaux devant la maison.

    The alternate form is clearly ambiguous orally:

    Il y avait de petits bouleaux devant la maison (?) or deux petits bouleaux ?

    Not to mention de petits bouleaux sounds like a much more common collocation: de petits boulots.

    Another case where des is almost always used used instead of de is before petit trous, for example in the famous song Le poinçonneur des Lilas:

    Je fais des trous, des petits trous, encore des petits trous

    Here, a possible explanation is that petit trou is considered a single "word". That's the reason why the sentence Je mange de petits pois is never used.*

  • Is -s omitted here, because the plural marker -s is already present in the adjective? I am trying to make an analogy with German, where the adjective endings depend on whether the noun group is preceded by an article and whether the article already contains an unambiguous case/number marker.
    – Roger V.
    Sep 5, 2022 at 8:51
  • 1
    @RogerVadim Not sure if the plural marker makes a difference. Note also that a similar thing happen in negative sentences: J'ai des lunettesJe n'ai pas de lunettes.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 5, 2022 at 11:23

Des may mean different things:

  • preposition de, which can be joined with plural definite article les as de + les = des
  • plural indefinite article des
  • plural partitive article (aka some of the...)

Here preposition de is not needed, so des is in fact the mixture of the last two bullets. It could be interpreted as partitive, given that les utilisateurs de jets privés are not the only gros pollueurs, but only a part of a larger group. However, one also needs an article in an "equation" phrase, when the predicate contains an adjective:
il est pollueur -> il est un gros pollueur
(what makes it less obvious is that English does not have a plural form for an indefinite article a, using no article at all when a plural is indefinite.)

Upon reflection I think we should also exclude the option that des here is an indefinite article, since les utilisateurs de jets privés is a definite phrase in French, implying the totality of these persons (unlike in English, where the first mentioning of this group could be indefinite, i.e., without an article.)


The proper article is "de". Only people with slackened speech habits write "des".

  • (Kalmbach, grammaire) L’ar­ti­cle in­dé­fi­ni pluriel devant adjectif an­té­po­sé
    Règle générale
    Quand l’ar­ti­cle in­dé­fi­ni pluriel (pas singulier, ni massif) des dé­ter­mi­ne un grou­pe no­mi­nal contenant un ad­jectif an­té­po­sé (qui précède le nom), il prend la for­me de.
    Exceptions : fran­çais parlé
    Dans le code écrit, la règle « des devient de devant ad­jec­tif an­té­po­sé » s’applique pra­ti­que­ment systématiquement (sauf dans le cas des mots com­po­sés pré­sen­té ci-dessus). Dans le fran­çais par­lé, on la néglige sou­vent :
    ■ Tu as acheté des beaux rideaux.
    ■ Au marché, j’ai trouvé des belles tomates.
    ■ Il y avait des petits bouleaux devant la maison.
    Mais devant un ad­jec­tif (ou un ad­ver­be) com­men­çant par une voyelle, on utilise très sou­vent la for­me de, mê­me dans le fran­çais parlé :
    ■ On a appris d’excellentes nouvelles !
    ■ On a vu d’énormes moustiques.
    ■ Ces deux petites entreprises sont d’assez grosses consommatrices d’électricité.
  • 1
    This is the right answer. However, as a native speaker, "Il y avait de petits bouleaux devant la maison." seems ungrammatical. I'm from Quebec. Not sure if this is a regional thing, but "des" seems necessary there. Can't quote a source, though.
    – Jeffrey
    Sep 2, 2022 at 17:26
  • 1
    @Jeffrey "De" can sound odd, ungrammatical, as you say, but it is a matter of habits (that I don't understand); I do have to ask myself sometimes whether this usage is natural or not; this is so as it is not a regional thing in France but a nation wide pheomenon of disagreement between the spoken and the written language (due to the complexity I believe); that is to say that we hear "des" quite a lot instead of "de".
    – LPH
    Sep 2, 2022 at 18:41

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