Grammar – Adjectives (Part 2)

Grammar – Adjectives Part 2

Welcome to part 2 on the topic of French adjectives!

Positions of Adjectives

In English, adjectives qualifying a noun are always placed in before it (ex: a blue car; a big dog; etc.), whereas in French the general rule is that adjectives follow the noun they qualify. There are some exceptions: certain adjectives always precede the noun, and in some contexts the position of the other adjectives may be open to the speaker’s discretion.

Adjectives which follow the noun

  • Adjectives used in a literal or concrete sense normally follow the noun. This implies especially to the literal use of adjectives of color and nationality, to present and past participles used adjectivally, and to adjectives derived from proper nouns:
    • Le représentant américain portait un chapeau marron.
    • The American representative wore a brown hat.
    • J’ai remarqué un visage souriant parmi la foule.
    • I saw a smiling face among the crowd.
  • If adjectives are qualified by an adverb, they normally follow the noun:
    • C’est un film extrêmement intéressant.
    • This is an extremely interesting film.

However, adjectives which normally precede the noun may still do so if qualified by a monosyllabic adverb such as bien, plus, si, or by assez or aussi.

  • C’est une si jolie maison.
  • This is such a pretty house.
  • The adjective almost always follows the noun if it is qualified by à + infinitive or troppour + infinitive:
    • Voici un problème difficile à résoudre.
    • Here is a problem which is difficult to solve.

Adjectives which precede the noun

  • Possessive and demonstrative adjectives always precede the noun they qualify:
    • Ce livre bleu. – This blue book.
    • Mon frère aîné. – My older brother.
  • The indefinite adjectives autre, certain, chaque, plusieurs, quelque, tel, and tout precede the noun they qualify :
    • Un autre homme n’a raconté toute l’histoire.
    • Another man told me the whole story.
  • Numerals precede the noun:
    • Les deux frères Gautier étaient les premiers propriétaires de ce restaurant.
    • The two Gautier brothers were the first owners of this restaurant.
  • A number of common, short adjectives regularly precede the noun they qualify: beau, bon, bref, grand, gros, haut, jeune, joli, mauvais, meilleur, moindre, petit, sot, vaste, vieux, vilain:
    • Elle veut une jolie petite maison située dans un beau village.
    • She wants a pretty little house in an attractive village.
  • Adjectives of color may precede the noun they qualify if used metaphorically:
    • Une noire journée.
    • A black day.
  • In current French usage, there is a tendency for adjectives which normally follow a noun to precede it for emphasis:
    • C’est une importante affaire qui amène le Président à Bourges.
    • It’s an important matter which brings the President of Bourges.

Adjectives whose meaning changes according to position

There are a number of common adjectives whose meaning changes according to whether they are placed before or after a noun:

Ancien :

  • une ancienne église – a former church
  • une église ancienne – an old church

Brave :

  • un brave homme – a good man
  • un homme brave – a brave man

Certain :

  • un certain échec – a certain failure
  • un échec certain – definite failure

Cher :

  • un cher ami – a dear friend
  • un magasin cher – an expensive shop

Court :

  • un court interview – a short/brief interview
  • un nez court – a short nose

Dernier :

  • le dernier jour de la semaine – the last day of the week
  • la semaine dernière – last week

Différent :

  • différentes idées – various ideas
  • une idée différente – a different/another idea

Divers :

  • diverses opinions – various opinions
  • des opinions diverses – differing opinions

Grand :

  • un grand artiste – a great artist
  • une fille grande – a tall girl

Même :

  • la même personne – the same person
  • la personne même – the very person

Nouveau :

  • un nouveau projet – a new plan
  • un projet nouveau – a newly created plan

Pauvre :

  • une pauvre famille – a poor family (expressing sympathy)
  • une famille pauvre – a poor family (literally)

Prochain :

  • la prochaine date – the next date (in a sequence)
  • la semaine prochaine – next week

Propre :

  • ma propre voiture – my own car
  • une voiture propre – a clean car

Sale :

  • un sale coup – a nasty blow
  • une rue sale – a dirty street (not clean)

Seul :

  • le seul tableau – the only/single picture
  • le tableau seul – the only picture

Vrai :

  • une vraie histoire – a real story
  • une histoire vraie – an authentic story
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