As in English, French adjectives are words used to qualify other words.
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 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.)
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)