In a previous lesson, we introduced a trio of words that are spelled the same except for their accent marks: côté, côte, and cote. We will examine a similar trio in this lesson: des, dés, and dès.
You might already know that des is a contraction of de and les. It is always followed by a plural noun, and can be used as a preposition to mean "of," "from," or "by," or as an article to mean "some" or "a few." Note that when des is used as an article, it is often left untranslated.
Ce monde des images, habité par les images, dans les images
This world of images, inhabited by images, in the images
Des gens super beaux avec des... peaux super lisses
Really beautiful people with... really smooth skin
Cap. 31, Niko de la Faye: "Visages" - Part 1
When you place an acute accent on the e of des, you get the French word for "dice": les dés (le dé in the singular). In the kitchen, you might hear the expression couper en dés (to dice). And if you're sewing by hand, it might be helpful to use un dé à coudre (a thimble; literally, a "sewing dice").
Le backgammon se joue avec des dés.
Backgammon is played with dice.
With a grave accent, des becomes dès, a preposition meaning "starting from," "as early as," or "since." Here are some examples of this versatile little word from our video library:
Près de trois cent mille personnes venues dès l'aube applaudir les héros des océans
Nearly three hundred thousand people who came as early as dawn to applaud the heroes of the oceans
Cap. 14, Le Journal: Les navigateurs du Vendée Globe - Part 1
Et j'ai toujours eu, euh... dès les, les premières fois où j'ai découvert...
And I've always, uh... ever since I first discovered...
Les épreuves commencent dès demain.
The exams begin as early as tomorrow.
Cap. 23, Le Journal: Le baccalauréat - Part 2
Although dès is frequently used on its own, you'll also sometimes see it coupled with another word, notably in the expressions dès que (as soon as, whenever) and dès lors (from then on, since then, consequently, therefore):
Tout de suite, en fait dès que je suis arrivée ici, euh...
Right away, in fact as soon as I arrived here, uh...
Dès lors, elle n'est jamais retournée à la maison.
From then on, she never returned home.
Now that you're familiar with the difference between des, dés, and dès, let's see if you can decipher this sneaky little sentence:
Le magicien a su piper des dés dès l'âge de cinq ans.
(The magician knew how to load dice from the age of five.)