My learning French is supposed to be fun so I avoided grammar as much as I could. I thought I could absorb the rules and intuitively construct sentences correctly through weekly conversations with my French teacher, listening to some podcasts, watching videos and movies and reading.
What I've learned in the past twelve weeks though is that there is only so much I can learn without learning grammar. And that turns out to be not enough. "Duh!"
In the spirit of "restarting with my French ABCs" - I continue the "recommencer" with a "grammatic" letter "D" or as it were "de".
"De" (pronounced duh) is a preposition with many uses. It usually means "of" or "from". In French an apostrophe is never used to indicate possession.
When "de" is followed by the articles le and les it contracts (unless le or les is a direct object - a subject for a future post) but it never contracts with la or l':
de (of, from) + le (the) = du (of the, from the)
de + les (the; plural) = des (of the, from the; plural)
Où es le bureau du commerçant?
Where is the office of the merchant?
Mme Picard est une amie des étudiants.
Mrs. Picard is a friend of the students.
Le salon de la maison est grand.
The living room of the house is large.
Il sait le nom de l'hotel.
He knows the name of the hotel.
-Sample sentences from the grammar notes of chapter five of "French Made Simple" revised edition by Julien LaFontant and Pamela Rose Haze; 2006 Edition The Stonesong Press, LLC
More grammar notes on About.com
Practice (with audio) with Le Point du FLE
La photo: Seeing the Light (at the end of a tunnel of grammar?). Saint-Sébastien, Espagne. Mai 2009.