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:
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 .
pretty, cute, terrifying, awesome, amazing, enormous, blue, pale, heavy, grainy, soft, snappy, old-fashioned, scary
…so anyway, you get the point.
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.
While both French and English adjectives operate the same way, there are a few key differences between the two, and these are:
When we use adjectives in English, the only time we change its form is when we compare something.
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.
Let’s use as an example the word joli (which means pretty).
|Gender||Singular Form||Plural Form|
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.
a black cat vs un chat noir
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.
|Gender||Singular Form||Plural Form|
|Masculine||No suffix; as is||Add -s at the end of the word|
|Feminine||Add -e at the end of the word||Add -es at the end of the word|
Let’s use the adjective noir (black) as an example.
|Gender||Singular Form||Plural Form|
|Masculine||un chat noir (a black cat)||des chats noirs (black cats)|
|Feminine||une 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.
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.
|un sac jaune (a yellow bag)||becomes||une 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 ending||Feminine Ending||Example||Meaning|
|-er||-ère||cher/ chère||dear, expensive|
Table source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar
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.
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:
|doux||douce||soft,mild, sweet, gentle|
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)|
|beau||bel||belle||lovely, good-looking, beautiful|
Examples when used:
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
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.
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).
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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:
|beau||lovely, good-looking , beautiful|
|grand||tall, big, great|
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.
Here are some of the most common examples:
|Adjective||Example (before noun)||Meaning||Example (after noun)||Meaning|
|ancien||une ancienne épouse||a former wife||une épouse ancienne||an old wife|
|cher||mon cher ami||my dear friend||un tailleur cher||an expensive suit|
|propre||ma propre chambre||my own bedroom||un mouchoir propre||a 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 = double||énorme = enormous||excellent = excellent||fort = strong|
|futur= future||innombrable = innumerable||long = long||magnifique = magnificent|
|modeste= modest||principal =main||rapide = fast||terrible = terrible|
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?
There are four kinds of adjectives in French based on where they appear in a sentence:
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?
|bon, bonne (f.)||good||bong; bonn|
|attentif, attentive (f.)||attentive||ah-tahng-teef; ah-tahng-teev|
|premier, premiere (f.)||first||prerm-yay; prerm-yairr|
|secret, secrète (f.)||secret||serkray; serkret|
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:
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.
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:
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!
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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 +