--- Steven Williams <[log in to unmask]> skrev:
> I was assuming the phrase 'des livres' was a
> partitive, by virtue of it being an indefinite
> number
> of books. It could be two books, or twenty. Is my
> assumption wrong, or are we using a different
> definition of 'partitive'?
Depends. If you say:

"Des livres se trouvaient sur la table",

it just means: "There were books on the table" (no
article in English; no partitive meaning neither).

If you want to respect the original word order, you
might try to say:

"Books were on the table"

but then I would rather understand it like "les livres
se trouvaient sur la table" (the books...)

or you can try this way:
"Some books were on the table" (or: there were some
books on the table)
but that doesn't look like partitive neither, just an
ordinary plural.

By contrast,
"Certains des livres se trouvaient sur la table"
(Some of the books were on the table)
is already much more like a partitive (it refers to a
"whole", so: a subset of a whole set of books).

The other example I gave, "Certains des auditeurs
s'étaient endormis" (Some of the hearers had fallen
asleep), could also be expressed like this: "Certains
parmi les auditeurs..." (some among the hearers). Here
too, "the hearers" can be considered as a whole, a

When you say: "Prends du pain" (Have some bread), you
can consider that it is a partitive, because the bread
is supposed to be present (as a whole) and you're
supposed to take some of it.

But when you say: "Il faut manger du pain" (a general
precept: One should eat bread), there is no partitive
idea, it rather refers to the stuff. There is no
reference to a whole.

So the forms "du, "de la", "des", are rather ambiguous
and help us little to get the real meaning of the
sentence. I guess a translating program would be very
embarrassed to get the right nuance.

Philippe Caquant

Ceterum censeo *vi* esse oblitterandum (Me).