As in English, French adjectives are words used to qualify other words.
French Adjective Construction Rules
Unlike English, however, adjectives in French are generally placed after the noun they qualify.
Example: Un chat noir / A black cat
There are, however, several exceptions. Here’s a useful trick to remember them: BAGS!
- [B] eauty: beau, belle (handsome); joli(e) (pretty)
- [A] ge: jeune (young); vieux, vielle (old); nouveau, nouvelle (new)
- [G] oodness: bon(ne) (good); mauvais(e) (bad,evil); gentil(lle) (kind)
- [S] ize: gros(se) (fat); grand(e) (tall); petit(e) (small); long(ue) (long); court(e) (short)
Un *bel homme et une jolie jeune fille / A handsome man and a beautiful young woman
Un jeune chien et un vieux cochon / A young dog and an old pig
Un bon champagne et un mauvais fromage / A good champagne and a bad cheese
Un gros chat court après une petite souris.** / A fat cat runs after a small mouse.
- The singular, masculine form of adjectives which end in –eau (e.g. beau / handsome) change their ending to -el (e.g. bel) when followed by a noun which starts with a vowel or a silent h.
Here court isn’t the adjective for short but the third person, present conjugation of the verb courir** / to run.
There are exception to the exceptions:
When the above adjectives occur after the noun, it means that a special emphasis is being made on the quality of the noun.
Un petit chien / A small dog
Un chien petit / A dog that is small
The unusual placement places the emphasis on the adjective.
Other adjectives that come before the noun:
autre (other); chaque (each, every); dernier (last); plusieurs (several); quelques (a few); tel (such); tout (all, whole, every)
“Multiple Adjectives” rule:
When using multiple adjectives, place them according to the placement rules delineated above:
Example: Une vieille vache malade / A sick old cow
When two adjectives need to be in the same place (both before or both after), use the conjonction “et” to separate them.
Example: Un oiseau bleu et vert / A blue and green bird
French Adjective Gender Rules
French adjectives generally follow the same gender rules as French nouns (and they always agree with the gender of the noun they qualify).
- For normal cases, just add -e to the masculine forme.
Salty: salé (sing. masc.) / salée (sing. fem.)
- When the masculine form ends in e, the feminine form remains unchanged.
Yellow: jaune (sing., both masc. and fem.)
- Adjectives whose masculine form end in “er” change to “ère.“
First: premier (sing. masc.) / première (sing. fem.)
Light: léger (sing. masc.) / légère (sing. fem.)
- Adjectives whose masculine form end in “-eau” change to “-elle.“
New: nouveau (sing. masc.) / nouvelle (sing. fem.)
- Some adjectives have feminine forms in “te.“
Favorite: favori (sing. masc.) / favorite (sing. fem.)
- Adjectives whose masculine form end in “-l” change to “-lle.“
Mortal/lethal: mortel (sing. masc.) / mortelle (sing. fem.)
- Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-n” change to “-nne” :
Ancient: ancien (sing. masc.) / ancienne (sing. fem.)
Exceptions! Not all words that end in -n necessarily have feminine forms that end in -nne:
- Adjectives that end in “-ain”, “-ein”, ” -in”, “-un”, and most adjectives in
“-an”, forment généralement leur féminin en “-ne.“
Vain: vain (sing. masc.) / vaine (sing. fem.)
Texan: texan (sing. masc.) / texane (sing. fem.)
Full: plein (sing. masc.) / pleine (sing. fem.)
Sly: malin (sing. masc.) / maline (sing. fem.)
- Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-et” change to “-ette”
Neat: net (sing. masc.) / nette (sing. fem.)
Exceptions: complet / complete, concret / concrete, désuet / obsolete, discret / discreet, incomplet / incomplete, indiscret / indiscreet, inquiet/ worried, replet / replete, secret / secret
end in “-ète.”
Indiscreet: indiscret (sing. masc.) / indiscrète (sing. fem.)
- Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-ot” and “-at” change to “-ote” and “-ate.“
Sot: sot (sing. masc.) / sotte (sing. fem.)
- Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-s” change to “-se”:
Grey: gris (sing. masc.) / grise (sing. fem.)
Except: bas / basse (low); épais / épaisse (thick); gras / grasse (fat); gros / grosse (big); las / lasse (tired) which end in “-sse.“
- Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-f” change to “-ve.“
New: neuf (sing. masc.) / neuve (sing. fem.)
- Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-x” change to “-se.“
Fearful: peureux (sing. masc.) / peureuse (sing. fem.)
Sweet: doux (sing. masc.) / douce (sing. fem.)
False: faux (sing. masc.) / fausse (sing. fem.)
Redheaded: roux (sing. masc.) / rousse (sing. fem.)
Old: vieux (sing. masc.) / vieille (sing. fem.)
French Adjective Number Rules
As in the case of nouns, the plural form of French adjectives is derived simply by adding the ending “-s” to the appropriate masculine singular form, or feminine singular form.
Example: Un chat malin/Des chats malins (One sly cat/Some sly cats)
And as in the case of nouns, adjectives that already end in “-s” or “-x” do not vary their forms from the singular to the plural.
Un nuage gris/Des nuages gris (One grey cloud/Some grey clouds)
Un homme joyeux/Des hommes joyeux (One joyous man/Some joyous men)
- Adjectives that end in “–eu” and “–au” in the singular end in “-x” in the plural (except bleu (blue) which end in “–s”).
Example: Un lièvre peureu/Des lièvres peureux (A fearful hare/Some fearful hares)
- Adjectives that end in “–al” end in “–aux” in the plural:
Example: Un test normal/Des test normaux (A normal test/Several normal tests)
- Adjectives whose singular form ends in “-al” and whose plural form ends in “-als”: fatal / fatals (fatal); fractal / fractals (fractal); natal / natals (native); naval / navals (naval)
Example: Un combat fatal/Des combats fatals (A fatal combat/Some fatal combats)
Adjectives have to agree with the noun they modify (describe). If a noun is plural, it has to have a plural adjective. If a noun is feminine, it has to have a feminine adjective. Let's try some colors to describe some items. Le chapeau est brun. The hat is brown Le manteau est noire. The coat is black Le parapluie est vert. The umbrella is green. La table est brune. The table is brown. La valise est jaune. The suitcase is yellow. Le col sur la robe rouge est blanc. The collar on the red dress is white. La cravate est rouge. The tie is red. Le veston est bleu. The jacket is blue. La robe est blanche. The dress is white. Le pantaloon est gris. The pants are grey. Les gants sonts bruns. The gloves are brown. Le mouchior est rouge. The handkerchief is red. You will notice that the hat is masculine, and therefore "brun", while the table is feminine, and therefore "brune", and the gloves are plural, masculine, and therefore "bruns". Some adjectives do not change their form whether they are masculine or feminine. Both the tie (feminine) and the handkerchief (masculine) are "rouge".
As a rule of thumb, "e" changes a word from masculine to feminine. So, if an adjective already has an "e" at the end, it does not have to be changed. And here are some useful adjectives to describe people. Note which adjectives change with the feminine, indicated by (e)or (euse). Aimable-kind Amusant(e) amusing Bete- stupid Bizarre- odd Entete-stubborn Fatigue(e)-tired Fatiguant(e)- tiring Fidele- faithful Gentil(le)-nice honnete-honest intelligent(e)- intelligent paresseux (euse)- lazy ravissant(e)- charming sage- wise (well behaved when referring to children) sense(e)- sensible sensible-sensitive serieux (euse) serious sympathique- nice, likeable timide- shy triste-sad
What Did We Learn?
Use some more mix and match to get practice in expressing yourself. Say the sentences in the first column, and complete them by choosing the correct adjective in the second column:
1. The hat is
2. The little girl is
3. The merchant (marchand) is
4. The merchant (marchand) is
5. The widow (veuve) is
6. That painting is
7. The sky (ciel) is
8. The donkey (ane) is
9. That student is
10. A ________ dog
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