French Adjectives

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

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)

Examples:

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.

Examples:

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

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.

Firstpremier (sing. masc.) / première (sing. fem.)

Lightléger (sing. masc.) / légère (sing. fem.)

  • Adjectives whose masculine form end in “-eau” change to “-elle.

Newnouveau (sing. masc.) / nouvelle (sing. fem.)

  • Some adjectives have feminine forms in  “te.

Favoritefavori (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.

Examples:

Vainvain (sing. masc.) / vaine (sing. fem.)

Texantexan (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.

Sotsot (sing. masc.) / sotte (sing. fem.)

  • Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-s” change to “-se”:

Greygris (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.

Newneuf (sing. masc.) / neuve (sing. fem.)

  • Generally adjectives whose masculine form end in “-x” change to “-se.

Examples:

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.)

Oldvieux (sing. masc.) / vieille (sing. fem.)

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.

Examples:

Un nuage gris/Des nuages gris (One grey cloud/Some grey clouds)

Un homme joyeux/Des hommes joyeux (One joyous man/Some joyous men)

Particular Cases:

  • 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)

Exceptions:

  • 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)

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