French Grammar Explained /

Partitive articles

Have you ever noticed that some words can be countable?
I will order 3 ice creams.
And other times the same word is not:
There is some ice cream on your shirt.
Is there ice cream on my shirt?
No no, that was just an example! Let's call that last example "non-countable". In English, when you have a noun in a "non-countable" context, you don't use an article like the or a. You have the option of using some, as above, or any or you have the option of leaving it as it is:
There is some ice cream on your shirt.
There is ice cream on your shirt.
Where are you going with this?
Well, as a French learner, the way to talk about countable/non-countable contexts is a bit more involved than in English.
Okay, I'm listening...
In French, we use the preposition de before the non-countable word and its article:
Il y a de la glace sur ta chemise.
There is (some) ice cream on your shirt.
When the noun following is masculine, de becomes du:
Il y a du (= de + le) pain sur la table.
There is (some) bread on the table.
Wait! But bread is also a countable word, right?
It can be, if you see the entire bread on the table! Then you would say il y a le pain sur la table.
Ahh and if I see just some of it, I say: il y a du pain sur la table.
Bravo !
Wait! What about plural?
You already know this... Question for you: what is the plural of the indefinite articles un and une?
Super !
Je manges des pâtes.
I am eating (some) pasta.
Je mange des chocolats.
I am eating (some) chocolates.
This is weird, I am pretty sure I can count the chocolates that I am eating but pasta...
Indeed! Technically you could count them but that would be too much of an effort, wouldn't it? Using des allows you to stay evasive regarding the number and simply say that you have some...
Aaaah I think I get it! Then I can eat a lot of chocolates without counting exactly how many...
Yes! But you could also give a little hint...
Je mange un peu de chocolat.
Je mange beaucoup de chocolat.
Maybe it's good to stay unclear about the amount of chocolate I am eating...
Here is a summary of what we just learned:
le pain
je voudrais du pain
la glace
je voudrais de la glace
les bananes
je voudrais des bananes
je voudrais de l'eau