French grammar pages :
French adjectives: forms and usage
Adjectives in French agree in number and gender with the noun they qualify.While several common adjectives come before the noun, the majority of adjectives, including all less frequent adjectives, follow the noun.
1. Adjective formsThe table below lists the main families of adjectives in French; while there are certain exceptions that need to be learned individually, the groups below illustrate how to decline most French adjectives in their different forms. Nonetheless, given the number of exceptions, it is advisable to check a new adjective you learn, using a good dictionary.
Click here for demonstrative adjectives
2.1. Adjectives that come before the noun:
beau, cher, gros, grand,However any of these nouns can occasionally be placed after the noun if context or a grouping of adjectives requires it.
mauvais, méchant, meilleur, bon
joli, petit, vilain, jeune, bref,
nouveaux, vieux, gentil, haut,
seul, autre, premier.
2.2 Adjectives that sometimes come before the noun,
depending on context
long, court, double
2.3. A few adjectives vary their position according to different meanings:
The adjective "ancien" normally comes before the noun when it means "former", and after it when it means "ancient".
The adjective "certain" normally comes before the noun when it means "particular", and after it when it means "sure".
The adjective "même" normally comes before the noun when it means "same", and after it when it means "very same".
The adjective "pauvre" normally comes before the noun when it means "unfortunate", and after it when it means "not rich".
The adjective "propre" comes before the noun when it means "own", and after it when it means "clean".
2.4. Other adjectives follow the noun. These include adjectives of colour and of nationality
A beautiful and very intelligent young lady .
- Une belle jeune dame très intélligente.
There was a long queue of cars.
Il y avait une longue file de voitures.
A long and difficult day.
Une journée longue et difficile.
A former president of the Ancient History Society
Un ancien président de la Société d'histoire ancienne.
He started in the morning and finished the very same day
Il a commencé le matin et terminé le jour même..
A popular bilingual dictionary
Un dictionnaire bilingue populaire.
A flexible metal frame
Un cadre métallique flexible.
It's my own cat, and he sleeps in a clean basket
C'est mon propre chat, et il couche dans un panier propre..
Thus, in a simple world where all adjectives in English came before the noun, and all French adjectives came after the noun, the order of adjectives in French would be the mirror image of the order of the equivalent adjectives in an English sentence .
Sadly the world is not as simple as this, and as we have seen adjectives in French often come before the noun. Yet the principle remains valid. When organising three or four adjectives round a noun in French, try and keep the same relationship of proximity as in English, even though some of the adjectives may go before the noun and others after it.
In both English and French the general rule is that the adjectives closest to a noun express its most fundamental qualities. In some cases, this is more evident in French than in English. For example, in French one could say, of a car...
C'est une voiture allemande bleue or C'est une voiture bleue allemande
In the first expression the speaker probably implies a German car (i.e. made in Germany) that happens to be blue... , or possibly though less probably a German-registered car of any make.
In the second, we have a blue car that happens to be German, probably a car with German plates rather than a German make of vehicle.
Note that when two adjectives A & B are linked by "et ", they have an equal value in terms of required proximity, so can often be placed either in the order AB or in the order BA.
Certain adjectives expressing value-judgement (e.g. misérable), surprise (e.g.incroyable) or appreciation (e.g. magnifique) can be brought forward for purposes of emphasis.
A dangerous and useless chemical experiment .
- Une expérience chimique inutile et dangereuse..
Some beautiful fresh red Spanish tomatoes.
De belles tomates espagnoles rouges et fraîches.
A long and difficult day.
Une journée longue et difficile. / Une journée difficile et longue.
A magnificent old American automobile.
Une vieille voiture américaine magnifique or
Une magnifique vieille voiture américaine.
In this case, magnifique is brought to the front for purposes of emphasis
Other than in a few exceptional cases, the comparative form of an adjective in French is formed by adding plus in front of the adjective.
The superlative form is made by adding le plus (or la plus or les plus, acccording to context) .
Adjectives that normally precede the noun are often placed after it when used in the superlative form with le plus.
A difficult job, a more difficult job, the most difficult job .
- Une tâche difficile, une tâche plus difficile, la tâche la plus difficile..
A big man, a bigger man, the biggest man.
Un grand homme, un plus grand homme, le plus grand homme (l'homme le plus grand).
The oldest women should leave before the others.
Les femmes les plus âgées devraient partir avant les autres..
The first is more complicated than the second, but the third is the most complicated of all.
La première est plus compliquée que la seconde, mais la troisième est la plus compliquée de toutes.
Three common adjectives have exceptional comparative and superlative forms
qualitative adjectives, and classifying adjectives. Qualitative adjectives describe a quality, for example beau, grand, intéressant. Classifying adjectives categorise the noun they modify; for example français, quotidien, chimique, principal. Classifying adjectives have an absolute value, and cannot normally be modified.
Qualitative adjectives can be modified by adverbs of degree or manner.
The most common of these are the adverbs or adverb phrases of degree très (very), assez (rather, quite), plutôt (rather), peu (little, not very) , trop (too), and trop peu (not...enough), de plus en plus (increasingly), de moins en moins (decreasingly).
Exceptionally, adjectives can be modified by a noun of degree: un peu.
Many other adverbs, themselves derived from adjectives, can be used to modify adjectives. Examples: généralement (generally), habituellement (usually), constamment (constantly), extrèmement (extremely), particulièrement (particularly), hautement (highly), sérieusement (seriously) and many more.
However French does not use adverbs to modify nouns as easily as English does. For example, a large number of present participles in English can be made into adverbs to modify nouns; frustratingly, lovingly, worryingly, disgustingly, boringly, shockingly, etc.... French does not have many participial adverbs of this sort, so other forms of expression are needed. See example 5 below
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