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A Complete and Easy Guide to French Adjectives

 

Reading time: 12 minutes Difficulty: Beginner- Intermediate

French adjectives can be one of the most colorful parts of speech. But iIf you think you know enough about adjectives, you can check out this other article that contains a huge list of the most common adjectives.

In case you need a little reminder of what adjectives are, here’s a quick run-through:


Adjectives are words which are used to describe, identify, modify or quantify a noun. These are descriptive words which tell you more about a person or thing, like what it looks like, how big it is, what color is it, how many are there, and basically any sort of detail about the subject.

 

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Then click on the big yellow button to download the French Learning Package.  You’ll find inside the cliff notes of this article in PDF format .

French adjectives cliffnotes pdf

Here are some examples of adjectives in English:

pretty, cute, terrifying, awesome, amazing, enormous, blue, pale, heavy, grainy, soft, snappy, old-fashioned, scary

…so anyway, you get the point.

But why should adjectives be studied anyway?

Aside from the fact that it describes a word and answers the question, “what kind of..?”, it also makes your speech or writing vibrant and exciting. Now who wouldn’t want to come off as an interesting speaker, right? Especially for a romantic language like French, inserting the right (fabulous!) descriptions would make a whole lot of difference.

Note: This learning guide is divided into different parts with a quick recap after each topic. You can read the entire article in one seating, or you can choose to digest it in bite-sized, chewable pieces by learning one topic at a time and coming back regularly for the rest of the topics. Your study method is all up to you. The important thing is to enjoy!

1. FRENCH VS. ENGLISH ADJECTIVES

While both French and English adjectives operate the same way, there are a few key differences between the two, and these are:

  • When to change the adjectives, and
  • Their placement in a sentence.

When we use adjectives in English, the only time we change its form is when we compare something.

For example:

She is prettier than her sister. Pretty is changed to prettier to compare the subject to another person.

That’s the coolest idea ever! Cool becomes coolest to point out the level of awesomeness.

In French, on the other hand, there are a few other considerations aside from comparison. You also have to make your adjectives “agree” with the noun they are describing based on gender and the quantity.

So your French adjectives could be changed into four forms:

  • masculine
  • feminine
  • singular
  • plural

Let’s use as an example the word joli (which means pretty).

GenderSingular FormPlural Form
Masculinejolijolis
Femininejoliejolies

Sounds like a lot of work, eh? Let’s just keep going and the knots in your brain will soon be cleared out (trust us!)

The second difference between French and English adjectives is their placement in a sentence. In English, we put the adjectives BEFORE the word they are describing. In French, however, they are usually placed AFTER the noun.

For example:

a black cat vs un chat noir

A quick recap of the first topic:

  1. Adjectives are words which describe a subject and answer the question: what kind of..?
  2. The main difference between English and French adjectives are:
    1. The changes in form. English adjectives change only when used to compare while French adjectives have to “agree” with the word they are describing according to its gender and quantity.
    2. The placement in a sentence. French adjectives are usually placed AFTER the noun, while English adjectives come BEFORE it.

2. HOW TO MAKE FRENCH ADJECTIVES “AGREE”

 

Having to make words agree with each other could seem headache-inducing to newbies in French. But don’t worry, we’re here to make the task as easy for you as possible.

Here are the basic rules you should remember when it comes to making adjectives agree.

  1. The main form of French adjectives (like how they appear in dictionary entries) is the masculine singular form.
  2. In most cases, you only need to add a suffix or an ending to change the adjective into its feminine form.

Basic rule: 

GenderSingular FormPlural Form
MasculineNo suffix; as isAdd -s at the end of the word
FeminineAdd -e at the end of the wordAdd -es at the end of the word

Let’s use the adjective noir (black) as an example.

GenderSingular FormPlural Form
Masculineun chat noir (a black cat)des chats noirs (black cats)
Feminineune chemise noire (a black shirt)des chemise noires (black shirts)

A closer look at how to make adjectives feminine:

Rule No. 1: Simply add -e to the masculine singular adjective. This applies to most adjectives.

noirnoire(black)
vertverte (green)
amusant

amusante(funny)

Rule No. 2: In cases where the adjective already ends in -e in its masculine singular form, you no longer need to add another -e at the end.

Examples:

un sac jaune (a yellow bag) becomesune chemise jaune (a yellow shirt)
un garçon sage (a good boy) becomes une fille sage (a good girl)

Rule No. 3: Some adjectives have a more complicated way of changing into its feminine form. But still these are still more or less follow regular patterns, so all you need to do is familiarize yourself with the following table:

Masculine endingFeminine EndingExampleMeaning
-f-veneuf/neuvenew
-x-seheureux/ heureusehappy
-er-èrecher/ chèredear, expensive
-an
-en
-on
-anne
-enne
-onne
paysan/paysanne
européen/ europèenne
bon/ bonne
farming, country
European
good, right
-el-ellecruel/cruellecruel
eil-eillepareil/pareillesimilar
-et-ette
-ète
net/nette
complet/ complète
clear
complete

Table source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

Pronunciation tips! 

  • For masculine adjectives ending in a vowel, the pronunciation does not change when -e is added. For example, joli and jolie are pronounced the same way.
  • For masculine adjectives ending in unpronounced consonants like D, S, or T, once it is changed to a feminine form, the unpronounced consonants becomes pronounced. Example, chaud (or hot), to pronounce the masculine form, the d is silent. In the feminine form chaude, the d is pronounced.

This also applies to adjectives where you double the consonant to change them  into their feminine form. For example, in the word gros (big, fat), the s is silent while in its feminine counterpart grosse, the s sound is distinct.

  • Some masculine adjectives that end in nasal sounds become non-nasal in feminine form. For example, the word bon (good) ends in a nasal sound and the n is not pronounced. In its feminine form bonne, it no longer sounds nasal and the n is pronounced.
Too many rules? Don’t worry, you’ll catch up real quick if you keep coming back and reading this page thoroughly

Just like in any other language, there are words which simply refuse to fit the bill. Here is a list of some of the irregular adjectives in the French language:

Masculine                   Feminine                      Meaning
blanc                                    blanche white, blank
doux                                     douce                                   soft,mild, sweet, gentle
faux                              fausse                                  untrue
favori                                    favorite                         favorite
frais                                      fraiche                                 fresh,chilly, cool
gentil                                   gentille                                nice,kind
grec                                       grecqueGreek
gros                                       grosse                                  big,fat
long                                      longue                                 long
nul                                        nulle                                     useless
roux                                      rousse                                  red, red-haired
sec                                         sèche                                    dry,dried
turc                                       turque                                  Turkish

Some irregular adjectives are even more irregular than the others. Here is a list of highly irregular adjectives which have an extra set of masculine singular forms. These ‘extra’ masculine adjectives are reserved only to be used when describing words that begin with a vowel or those that begin with an ‘h’. Needless to say, the feminine forms are irregular as well.

(masculine)('extra' masculine form)(feminine)(what it means)
beaubelbellelovely, good-looking, beautiful
foufolfollemad
nouveaunouvelnouvellenew
vieuxvieilvieilleold

Examples when used:

  • un bel appartement (a beautiful apartment)
  • le Nouvel An (New Year)
  • un vieil arbre (an old tree)

Irregular adjectives words list and examples source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

Now that we have finished with the basic rules on how to make adjectives agree, as well as how to change them to their feminine forms, let’s look at

How to make them adjective plural.

As mentioned earlier, French adjectives change in two ways – the gender, and the quantity. If you found the previous topic a bit difficult to grasp (you’ll get the hang of it, don’t worry!), this one is a lot easier.

Here are the basic rules on how to change a singular French adjective into its plural form.

  1. Simply adding -s to the masculine or feminine adjective will make it plural. This is applicable in most cases. (noir becomes noirs; lourde becomes lourdes)
  2. For adjectives that end in -s or -x, you no longer need to add another s. (français is still français in plural; dangereux is still dangereux)
  3. For masculine adjectives that end in -eau or -al, the plural form usually changes it to -eaux or -aux.


Quick tip: In cases where the adjective is describing both masculine and feminine objects, use the masculine plural form (instead of the feminine).

Pronunciation guide: When you add -s or -x in an adjective, the pronunciation remains the same! But when it comes before a word that starts with a vowel or h, the s or x is pronounced.

And finally, let’s move on to the best kind of adjectives there is — the ones that NEVER change no matter what form is used. Now if only all adjectives were like these, it would be one less headache to worry about, right?

Sadly, there’s quite a few of them. These adjectives are usually about colors such as bleu marine (navy blue), orange (orange), and marron (brown).

A quick recap of the second topic:

    1. The basic rule in changing a masculine adjective into its feminine form is simply to add an -e to its ending. If it already ends with an -e,  usually you do not need to add another one.
    2. A lot of adjectives that end in a consonant can be changed to feminine by doubling the consonant and adding an -e towards the end.
    3. Some irregular masculine adjectives have another set of masculine forms which are used when describing words that begin with a vowel or an h.
    4. To change an adjective into its plural form, the basic rule is to add an -s. But if it already ends in -s or -x, no additional suffix is needed.
    5. For adjectives that end in -eau or -al, the plural form is -eaux or -aux.
    6. A few adjectives never change their form no matter what kind of noun they are describing.

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3. WHERE TO PLACE FRENCH ADJECTIVES IN A SENTENCE

As mentioned in the previous topics, one of the key differences between French and English adjectives is their placement in a sentence. While English adjectives tend to come BEFORE the noun they are describing, the French adjectifs usually come AFTER the word they describe. However some words simply refuse to fit the norm and make their own rules instead.

Here we’ll discuss the rules on where and how to put the adjectives in a sentence.

The most important rules for you to take note of are the following:

      1. Most of the time, the adjectives appear immediately AFTER the noun they are describing. This is true for regular adjectives as well as those related to colors, shapes and nationalities.
      2. There are, however, some adjectives that appear BEFORE a noun. Some common examples are listed below:
beaulovely, good-looking , beautiful
bongood, right
courtshort
grandtall, big, great
grosbig. fat
hauthigh
jeuneyoung
jolipretty
longlong
mauvalsbad, poor
meilleurbetter
nouveaunew
petitsmall, little
premierfirst
vieuxold

Examples source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

3. Aside from the adjectives that appear after or before the word they are describing, there is also a special group of adjectives that could appear either BEFORE or AFTER a noun, and their meaning changes depending on their placement in the sentence.

Sounds tricky?

Here are some of the most common examples:

AdjectiveExample (before noun)MeaningExample (after noun)Meaning
ancienune ancienne épouse a former wifeune épouse ancienne an old wife
chermon cher amimy dear friendun tailleur cher an expensive suit
proprema propre chambremy own bedroomun mouchoir proprea clean handkerchief

 

4. Lastly, there is also a small group of adjectives which can be placed before or after a noun and their meanings do not change.

These rule-breakers are the following:

 

bas= low bref = brief  charmant = charming court = short
double = doubleénorme = enormousexcellent = excellent fort = strong
futur= future innombrable = innumerablelong = longmagnifique = magnificent
modeste= modestprincipal =main rapide = fastterrible = terrible

Example usage:

Un magnifique terrain de foot = Un terrain de foot magnifique

Examples source: Student Guide to French Grammar


Extra tip: All these rules might be a bit confusing, but if you keep familiarizing yourself with the usage of  the different words and adjectives through continuous exposure to the French language, it can only get easier for you. Remember, constant practice and a lot of patience is the key. You’re doing awesome though;  keep it up!

In English, using multiple adjectives to describe one subject is quite simple: you just pile them up in a neat line based on an agreed order.

Examples:  The pretty little girl. The big yellow taxi.

But since French has a lot more rules when it comes to the order of adjectives, the question is, how do you arrange multiple adjectives in a sentence?

Here are some tips:

1. If one of the adjectives you’re using normally goes before a noun while the other one comes after the noun, then you can proceed with doing just that.

For example: une jeune femme blonde (a young blonde woman) – un nouveau film intéressant (an interesting new film)

2. If both of the adjectives you are using come after the noun, you can add et (which means and) between the two adjectives. un homme mince et laid (a thin, ugly man)une personne intelligente et drôle (an intelligent, funny person) Sounds simple enough, right?

 

A quick recap of the third topic:

There are four kinds of adjectives in French based on where they appear in a sentence:

    1. Adjectives that come AFTER the subject they are describing – this is the most common case.
    2.  A small group of adjectives that come BEFORE the subject.
    3. Another small group of adjectives could come BEFORE or AFTER the noun, but the meaning changes depending on where they are placed; and
    4. The last group – adjectives that could be placed either BEFORE or AFTER and their meanings won’t change.
    5. Multiple adjectives can be connected using et which means and in English.

4. QUICK EXERCISES ON ADJECTIVES

Before we end our discussion on adjectives, let’s practice saying a few French adjectives first.  The meanings are also included, and this list should help widen your French vocabulary. Ready? 

Adjective Meaning Pronunciation
riche rich reesh
pauvre poorpohvr
facile easy fah-seel
difficile difficult dee-fee-seel
intéressant interesting ang-tay-ress-ahng
ennuyeux boring ahng-nwee-yer
intelligent intelligent ang-tel-ee-zhahng
stupide stupid stü-peed
poli polite po-lee
impoli impolite ang-po-lee
heureux happy er-rer
malheureux unhappy mahl-er-rer
bon, bonne (f.) goodbong; bonn
mauvais bad moh-vay
attentif, attentive (f.) attentive ah-tahng-teef; ah-tahng-teev
premier, premiere (f.)first prerm-yay; prerm-yairr
secret, secrète (f.)secret serkray; serkret

Note

  • the ones marked with (f.) refer to the feminine form of the adjective.
  • The italicized letters in the pronunciation guide are meant to be pronounced with a nasal sound.

 

5. NUMERICAL ADJECTIVES (Adjectifs numéraux)

These so-called adjectives are technically not adjectives at all, and are in fact, just a regular use of the functions of numbers and mathematics. But because they act like adjectives themselves in the way they describe or tell details about the nouns, they are often included in French lessons as adjectives.

If you are already familiar with French numbers, this should be a breeze to you. If not, you may want to brush up on your numbers by heading over to the article  The Easy Guide to French Numbers There are three kinds of numerical adjectives, and these are:

  • Cardinal numbers which are used for counting, such as un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, and so on (one, two, three, four, five, etc.)
  • Ordinal numbers used to rank or tell the position and order. Examples: premier, deuxième, troisième, qatrième, cinquième, and so on (first, second, third, fourth, fifth, etc.)
  • Multiplicative numbers employed to multiply an amount. Examples of multiplicative numbers: simple, double, triple (single, double triple)

With all that classification out of the way, the question now is this: Where do you put a numerical adjective in a sentence?In the previous lesson, we discussed that adjectives usually appear AFTER the noun they are describing. But in some cases, they could also appear BEFORE, BEFORE or AFTER depending on the meaning, and BEFORE or AFTER with no changes in the meaning. For numerical adjectives, the rule is: they come BEFORE the noun that they modify.

  • Cardinal numbers come before the noun and the other adjectives. Example: un chat noir (a black cat), deux sacs (two bags).
  • Ordinal numbers and multiplicatives also come before the noun. Example:  troisième jour (third day), triple mot (triple word)

The next question that begs to be answered is: Like other adjectives, do numerical adjectives need to “agree” with the nouns they describe? Fortunately for French-learners like you, this is one area where there are no difficult rules of agreement think about. The rule is very simple:

  • All cardinal numbers except for “one” are invariable. Meaning, they do not need to agree to the gender of the noun. As for “one”,  the masculine un becomes une in its feminine form.
  • All ordinal numbers except for “first” are invariable. The masculine premier becomes première.
  • As for multiplicative numbers, they are all invariable and can readily be used as either masculine and feminine genders.

As previously mentioned, numerical adjectives are quite easy to understand if you already have a grasp of French numbers. They don’t have as many rules as the other regular adjectives do.With that, we conclude this lesson on French adjectives. Remember, the key to grasping these lessons is repetition Do not forget to keep coming back to this page and reviewing what you have learned until you have thoroughly familiarized the topics as well as the different rules. Cheers!

P.S. You would be doing me a HUGE FAVOR by sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, Google + or Pinterest.

About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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