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Hi everybody,

I have a question about adjectives.


Will you please explain why "des" is used in the first sentence, and why "de" is used in the second sentence. If you can give a brief information about deciding to use whether "des" or "des, I'll ve very glad.


Ce sont des arbres hauts.

Ce sont de nouveaux livres.


Thanks very much indeed.




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Basically, in formal/literary usage, de is used instead of des when it comes directly before a plural adjective.
Yep, in this case it's 'des' before a noun (1st sentence) and 'de' before an adjective (2nd sentence).
Excuse me, I'm a bit confused :-( Because Neil says, the only difference between "de" and "des" is something related with being formal or informal. On the other hand Peter says for the first sentence "des" is used because l'arbre is a noun and the adjective follows it. For the second sentence "de" is used , because it's just before nouveaux.

I think I need some more details. Sorry :-(
No, it's not just about formality. Sorry if I didn't make this clear.

des changes to de before a plural adjective. In other words, not directly before a noun.

So in des arbres hauts, the des comes directly before arbres, which is a noun, so des doesn't change to de.

But in de hauts arbres (and indeed de nouveaux livres), haut and nouveau are adjectives, and so de is used, not des, because it is directly before the (plural) adjective.

The point about formality is that this changing of des to de is generally characteristic of formal or literary French. In everyday speech, you will hear des nouveaux livres, des grands arbres etc.
Thanks Neil. I just want to summarize what I understood to double check ith you.

I have to use des + plural noun + plural adjective, and de + plural adjective + plural noun.

Although in everyday French I may hear des for both forms, the correct structure is as I wrote above.

Thans a lot.
Yes, basically that's it, with a slight proviso about what "correct" really means.

Put another way: if you use de + plural adjective + plural noun, then generally nobody in an exam will think you've "got it wrong", but if it's in an everyday conversation, it may in some circumstances sound a bit overly formal (a bit like if in English you say cannot rather than can't).

But if you're not sure, then for now I'd say go with de + plural adjective + plural noun as you say, and then as you become more fluent, the exceptions will hopefully become clearer.

There are plenty of examples of this in "Le Petit Nicolas": Sempé & Goscinny almost consistently use "des" in stead of "de" before plural adjective + plural noun constructions. Le Petit Nicolas is written fairly formally, but uses quite a lot of colloquialisms.

When I first read it years ago, I didn't pay much attention to that, but now that I'm actually using it with Senior French students, it has become an interesting feature of the language.


Examples from "Le Petit Nicolas et les Copains":

  • In "Les Docteurs": "... et ils y vont avec des grands couteaux..."
  • In "La pluie": "... on marche dans les flaques et on y donne des grands coups de pied..."

Interestingly, in "Marie-Edwige" in the same book, Sempé/Goscinny write: "Elle avait une robe... [cut] ... avec un col blanc tout plein de petits trous sur les bords."


Obviously, they use both quite intermingled... 


Any more questions or examples you need, let me know!

Your last example isn't quite comparable though-- plein de trous means "full of holes", while ?plein des trous would theoretically mean "full of the holes" (if you can think of a context where it would fit). However colloquial, there's really no possibility of changing de to des in this case.


But as I recall, isn't the idea of "Le Petit Nicolas" that it's written as though it is the diary of a young schoolboy? Or maybe I'm misremembering.


yes, you're right. I'm sorry. My brain wasn't very switched on to French yet at 6am this morning when I posted this :-) Feel a bit silly now, I should've realised that wasn't a good example.

Either way, there are a fair few examples of mixed usage of de/des.


As for Le Petit Nicolas, it is a children's book that is written from the perspective of a 6 or 7 year old school boy, in 1950s France. It's a little bit like a diary indeed.


There are a fair few chapters of the original Nicolas online: HERE


It's great to use with students in high school who are studying French as a second/third language. Not always easy for them, because the French you learn is often quite formal (here in Australia anyway).


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