French Determiners: Adjectifs déterminants

Determiners introduce and modify nouns in French

The organic farmer's market in Paris' Batignolles district.
Photo: Hometown Paris   

The grammatical term "determiner" refers to a word, either an article or a certain type of adjective, which simultaneously introduces and modifies a noun. Determiners, also known as non-qualifying adjectives, are much more common in French than in English; some sort of determiner is nearly always required in front of each noun used and has to agree with it in gender and number.

The main difference between a qualifying (descriptive) adjective and a non-qualifying adjective (determiner) has to do with usage.

Qualifying adjectives qualify or describe a noun, while non-qualifying adjectives introduce a noun and may determine or specify it at the same time.

In addition, qualifying adjectives may be:

Determiners, on the other hand,

  • Always directly precede the noun they modify
  • Cannot themselves be modified
  • Cannot be used with other determiners

They can, however, be used with qualifying adjectives, as in ma belle maison—my beautiful house.

Types of French Determiners

Definite articlesDefinite articles denote a specific noun, or a noun in general.
 le, la, l', les
J'ai mangé l'oignon.
I ate the onion.
Indefinite articlesIndefinite articles refer to an unspecified noun.
 un, une / des
a, an / some
J'ai mangé un oignon.
I ate an onion.
Partitive articlesPartitive articles indicate an unknown quantity, usually of food or drink.
 du, de la, de l', des
J'ai mangé de l'oignon.
I ate some onion.
Demonstrative adjectivesDemonstrative adjectives indicate a specific noun.
 ce, cet, cette / ces
this, that / these, those
J'ai mangé cet oignon.
I ate that onion.
Exclamative adjectivesExclamative adjectives express a strong sentiment.
 quel, quelle / quels, quelles
what a / what
Quel oignon!
What an onion!
Indefinite adjectivesAffirmative indefinite adjectives modify nouns in a unspecific sense.
 autre, certain, chaque, plusieurs...
other, certain, each, several...
J'ai mangé plusieurs oignons.
I ate several onions.
Interrogative adjectivesInterrogative adjectives clarify "which" of something one is referring to.
 quel, quelle, quels, quelles
Quel oignon ?
Which onion?
Negative adjectivesNegative indefinite adjectives negate or cast doubt on a quality of the noun.
 ne... aucun, nul, pas un...
no, not a single, not one...
Je n'a mangé aucun oignon.
I didn't eat a single onion.
Numerical adjectivesNumerical adjectives include all numbers; however, only cardinal numbers are determiners, because fractions and ordinal numbers can be used with articles.
 un, deux, trois...
one, two, three...
J'ai mangé trois oignons.
I ate three onions.
Possessive adjectivesPossessive adjectives modify a noun with its possessor.
 Mon, ta, ses...
My, your, his...
J'ai mangé ton oignon.
I ate your oignon.
Relative adjectivesRelative adjectives, which are very formal, indicate a link between a noun and an antecedent.
 lequel, laquelle, lesquels, lesquelles
which, said
Il a mangé l'oignon, lequel oignon était pourri.
He ate the onion, said onion was rotten.