5

I thought [pronoun] + [être] could never be followed by an article:

  • ✅ je suis dentiste ❌ je suis un dentiste
  • ✅ elle est sénégalaise ❌ elle est une Sénégalaise

but I’ve been been told you can say « tu es un bon ami », which has absolutely thrown me off and I cannot come up with a comprehensive mental model that accommodates this possibility. What even are the rules? I feel completely lost.

  1. What’s the difference between « tu es un bon ami » and « elle est une bonne amie » that makes the former okay and the latter not? They’re both [pronoun] + [être] + [article] + [noun].
  2. I thought nationalities, jobs, etc. appeared as [pronoun] + [être] + [title WITHOUT article]? What’s with « c’est un boulanger »?
  3. All in all, if I had a sentence I wanted to translate into French, what questions should I ask myself to determine what the right pronoun is, and whether to include an article or not?
2
  • Both "je suis un dentiste" and "je suis une Sénégalaise" seem perfectly acceptable to me (the version without article sounds posher but not necessarily more common in everyday speech, at least where I live). It's only in the third person that they sound off, probably because the version with "c'est" exists and would be used over "il est" or "elle est" in almost all contexts except formal writing Dec 20, 2023 at 16:26
  • Related: french.stackexchange.com/q/6317/1893
    – livresque
    Dec 23, 2023 at 1:11

2 Answers 2

10

You write "[pronoun] + [être] could never be followed by an article". That's too simplified to be applied like that.
Je suis dentiste but je suis un bon dentiste (not mandatory to have the indefinite article but we would usually have it).
When you say je suis sénégalaise, sénégalaise is definitely an adjective, not a noun. When you say je suis dentiste/je suis boulanger the profession here works as an adjective and we do not have an article.

From what you are writing it seems you are confused about different sorts of pronouns. Tu es un bon ami and tu es une bonne amie are both perfectly fine. So are c'est un bon ami and c'est une bonne amie.
When you write that tu es un bon ami and elle est une bonne amie are both [pronoun] + [être] + [article] + [noun] you are missing an essential point: tu is a 2nd person and il/elle is a 3rd person. And French has the gallicism c'est (ce sont) where the demonstrative pronoun ce (c') can in lots of cases replace the 3rd person subject personal pronouns.
I would not say that elle est une bonne amie is wrong, it is just that it is not usual to say it like that, if I read it I know at once the person writing it is not a French native. It is only with nationalities, professions and religions that using the personal pronoun or the demonstrative pronoun makes no difference at all.

And using the personal pronouns (il(s), elle(s)) or the demonstrative pronoun, makes a difference in construction:

  • c’est / ce sont + (un/une/de) + noun
  • il / elle est (no article) + noun

Edit: To answer the questions in the comments: "why is it une dentiste canadienne/politicienne sénégalaise but professeur d’histoire/étudiante en droit ?

Je suis dentiste, je suis professeur, elle est professeure d'histoire, elle est étudiante en droit etc...: the info you want to give is the just about the job/occupation. When you say je suis une dentiste canadienne, the info you want to give is that you're not just any dentiste, you're canadienne; je suis une étudiante en droit allemande → the info you want to give is that you're not just any étudiante en droit, you're allemande (one particular student among all law students). When you say je suis étudiante en droit à Paris II, Paris II is not a personal info, it just tells about the place of study. Je suis une étudiante allemande qui suit des cours à Paris II (Je suis une étudiante allemande et je suis des cours à Paris II).

11
  • would i be correct in thinking that the rules then are as shown here?
    – potato
    Dec 25, 2023 at 11:18
  • @Min that's correct.
    – None
    Dec 26, 2023 at 8:21
  • what about these?
    – potato
    Dec 26, 2023 at 10:36
  • @Min I'd rather say: je suis une dentiste canadienne, c'est une politicienne sénégalaise
    – None
    Dec 26, 2023 at 10:48
  • do you mind moving the convo over to: french.stackexchange.com/q/54040/33269 – i’d appreciate it if you could please elaborate why it’s ‘une dentiste canadienne/politicienne sénégalaise’ but ‘professeur d’histoire/étudiantes en droit’ is fine in more detail please?
    – potato
    Dec 26, 2023 at 10:54
2

To my understanding:

  • The article is never wrong, just less idiomatic when it's not necessary. The article is usually heard as wrong in the case of a subject clitic pronoun and an unmodified attribute, if I read the comments right.

  • Most modification of the noun triggers needing the article. I say "most" because I have a vague sense that if you had a compound noun or a noun + adjective of a certain class (e.g. politicienne sénégalaise) it might still be acceptable to drop the article.

  • With "ce" instead of a regular subject pronoun the article is required. C'est un dentiste.

8
  • 2
    Hmmm elle est une Sénégalaise ne se dit pas, à mon avis.
    – Frank
    Dec 19, 2023 at 14:45
  • 1
    I think so. Curiously, c'est une Sénégalaise seems to work, but not elle est une Sénégalaise. Similarly, if we tried il est un Français, it feels like there is a French man... and one is waiting for details or a story, maybe. I'd be curious to hear how other native French speaker feel here.
    – Frank
    Dec 19, 2023 at 15:26
  • 1
    That's because elle est entails a predicative adjective (adjectif attribut), therefore elle est sénégalaise (adjective with lower case). But c'est une Sénégalaise (noun with upper case) because after c'est we have a noun. In une politicienne sénégalaise the noun is politicienne and sénégalaise is the attribute adjective (adjectif épithète) that defines politicienne.
    – None
    Dec 19, 2023 at 16:25
  • 1
    @None Yeap, completely agreed :-)
    – Frank
    Dec 19, 2023 at 17:16
  • 1
    Without a liaison between elle and est, I think the following sentence is just fine: Lui est un Français de Paris, elle est une Sénégalaise de Dakar. Of course, the second est can be dropped.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 19, 2023 at 21:29

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.