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Position of Adjectives (Part 2)

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 the noun they qualify:

ancien

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

brave

  • un brave garçon | a good/fine boy
  • un garçon brave | a brave boy

certain

  • un certain échec | a certain/particular failure
  • un échec certain | a certain/definite failure

cher

  • un cher ami | a dear friend
  • un magasin cher | an expensive store

court

  • un court entretien | a short/brief interview
  • un nez court | a short nose

dernier

  • le dernier jour de l’école | the last day of school
  • la semaine dernière | last week (i.e.: previous to this week)

différent

  • différentes idées (in plural only) | various ideas
  • une idée différente (in singular only) | a different/another idea

divers (pl.)

  • diverses opinions | various opinions
  • des opinions diverses | differing opinions

grand

  • un grand artiste | a great artist
  • un artiste grand | a tall artist

même

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

nouveau

  • un nouveau projet | a new/different project
  • un projet nouveau | a newly created plan

pauvre

  • une pauvre famille | a poor family (expressing sympathy)
  • une famille pauvre | a poor/impoverished family

prochain

  • la prochaine date | the next date (i.e.: in a sequence)
  • une date prochaine | a date not far off
  • la semaine prochaine | next week (i.e.: after this week)

propre

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

sale

  • un sale coup (colloquial) | a dirty blow
  • une rue sale | a dirty road (not clean)

seul

  • le seul tableau | the only/single picture
  • le tableau seul | the picture alone/only the picture

vrai

  • une vraie histoire | a real story
  • une histoire vrai | a true/authentic story

Position of two or more adjectives qualifying a noun

When one noun is qualified by two adjectives, both of which normally precede the noun, the order is: ordinal numerals / indefinite adjectives

  • nouveau/jeune/vieux/vrai
  • bon/beau/gros/haut/joli/mauvais/méchant/sot/vilain
  • grand/petit
    • un jolie petit bébé | a pretty little baby
    • chaque jeune arbre | each young tree

Two adjectives preceding the noun may be linked by et, indicating that the two characteristics are distinct:

  • un beau et vieux portrait | a fine, old portrait

If either of the adjectives is qualified by an adverb, it should follow the noun:

  • un mauvais quartier très vaste | a bad, very large district

When one noun is qualified by two adjectives both of which usually follow the noun, the adjectives should be joined by et:

  • un homme courageux et intelligent | a brave and intelligent man

However, if both the adjectives define the status of the noun, et is omitted:

  • le représentant socialiste italien | the Italian Socialist representative

When one noun is qualified by two adjectives, one of which normally precedes and the other follows the noun, the order of the adjectives is unchanged:

  • une vieille ferme provençale | an old Provencal farm

Have a great week, everyone!

A la prochaine…

Courtney

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Position of Adjectives (Part 1)

In English, adjectives that qualify a noun are always placed before it (i.e.: a blue car; small child; etc.,), in French the general rule is that adjectives follow the noun they qualify. However, there are some notable exceptions: certain adjectives always precede the noun, and in some contexts the position of 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 applies especially to the literal use of adjectives of color and nationality, to present and past participles used adjectivally, and to adjectives derived from proper names (i.e.: artistic or political groups):

  • Le représentant américain portait un chapeau marron. | The American representative wore a brown hat.
  • J’ai remarqué un visage souriant parmi la foule des députés socialistes. | I saw a smiling face among the crowd of socialist M.P.s.

If adjectives are qualified by an adverb, they normally follow the noun:

  • C’est un film extrêmement intéressant. | It’s an extremely interesting film.

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

  • C’est une si jolie maison. | It’s such a pretty house.

The adjective almost always follows the noun if it is qualified by à + infinitive or trop…pour + infinitive:

  • Voici un problème difficile à résoudre. | Here is a problem which is difficult to solve.
  • C’est une voiture trop vieille pour faire de longs voyages. | It’s a car which is too old to do long journeys.

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 elder brother

The indefinite adjectives autre, certain, chaque, plusieurs, quelque, tel, and tout precede the noun they qualify:

  • Un autre homme m’a raconté toute l’histoire. | Another man told me the whole story.

Numerals and cardinal numbers also precede the noun:

  • Les deux frères Leroux étaient les premiers propriétaires de ce restaurant. | The two Leroux 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 town.

Adjectives of color may precede the noun they qualify if used metaphorically:

  • une noire journée | a black day (i.e.: unfortunate)

Next week will be the second part to this post, so stay tuned! Have a great week, everyone!

A la prochaine…

Courtney

The Subjunctive in Adjective Clauses

There is even more to the subjunctive than we have already tapped into. I’ve discussed this not too long ago here, here, and here.

An adjective clause is a subordinate clause that describes a noun much as an adjective does. Adjective clauses are also called relative clauses.

Most adjective clauses appear in the indicative:

Il a un travail qui lui plait. | He has a job that he likes.


Nous avons un bureau qui est confortable. | We have an office that’s comfortable.


Je me sers d’un ordinateur qui a beaucoup de mémoire. | I use a computer that has a lot of memory.


Il y a des entreprises ici qui font du commerce avec le Mexique. | There are firms here that trade with Mexico.

However, if the noun of the main clause in not identified or is negated, then the verb of the adjective clause appears in the subjunctive:

Il veut un travail qui lui plaise. | He wants a job that he will like.


On a besoin d’un bureau qui soit confortable. | We need an office that’s comfortable.


Je cherche un ordinateur qui ait beaucoup de mémoire. | I’m looking for a computer that has a lot of memory.


Il n’y a pas d’enterprises ici qui fassent du commerce avec le Mexique. | There are no firms here that trade with Mexico.

The subjunctive is therefore used after il n’y a rien qui/que, il n’y a personne qui/que, and il n’y a aucun/aucune X qui/que:

Il n’y a rien qui me plaise. | There’s nothing that appeals to me.


Il n’y a personne ici qui sache programmer. | There’s no one here who knows how to program.


Il n’y a aucune banque qui soit ouverte. | There’s no bank that’s open.

The indicative is used when there is no negative:

Il y a quelque chose qui me plaît. | There’s something that appeals to me.


Il y a quelqu’un ici qui sait programmer. | There’s someone here who knows how to program.


Il y a une banque qui est ouverte. | There’s a bank that’s open.


There’s even more on this subject, so be sure to come back next week for more! Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !

Courtney

Omitting the Possessive Adjective

In an imperative or command:

In French, possessive adjectives are used to modify the noun they precede.

Voici ma mère. | This is my mother.


Regarde ma nouvelle voiture ! | Look at my new car!

A common construction is one where the possessive adjective is dropped in an imperative or command (and replaced with a definite article along with a personal pronoun) only if an action is being taken on a physical attribute (head, back, arm etc.). In the following examples, action is not being taken on the physical attribute, therefore the possessive adjective remains.

Regarde mon dos. | Look at my back.


Remarque mes cheveux. | Notice my hair.

In the following examples, an action is being taken on the physical attribute.

Masse-moi le dos. | Massage my back.


Coupe-moi les cheveux. | Cut my hair.


Tiens-moi la main. | Hold my hand.

Verb

Possessive Adjective

Noun

masse

mon

dos

coupe

mes

cheveux

↙↘

Verb

Personal Pronoun

Definite Article

Noun

masse

moi

le

dos

coupe

moi

les

cheveux


In a statement:

The possessive adjective may also be dropped in a statement only if an action is being taken on the physical attribute. In the following examples, an action is not being taken.

Je regarde son dos. | I’m looking at his/her back.


Elle remarque ses cheveux. | She’s noticing his/her hair.

In the following examples, an action is being taken on the physical attribute.

Je lui masse le dos. | I’m massaging his/her back.


Elle me coupe les cheveux. | She’s cutting my hair.

The possessive adjective takes the form of the appropriate personal pronoun and is placed before the verb, and a definite article is placed before the object. The same applies to pronominal verbs (when the action is being done to oneself).

  • I wash my hands. = Je me lave les mains.
  • She brushes her hair. = Elle se brosse les cheveux.

Subject

Verb

Possessive Adjective

Object

je

masse

son

dos

elle

coupe

mes

cheveux

↙↘

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Verb

Definite Article

Object

je

lui

masse

le

dos

elle

me

coupe

les

cheveux


In the past tense (passé composé):

In the past tense as well, the personal pronoun is placed after the subject (just as it is in the present tense).

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Verb

Definite Article

Object

je

lui

masse

le

dos

elle

me

coupe

les

cheveux

↙↘

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Avoir

Past Participle

Definite Article

Object

je

lui

ai

massé

le

dos

elle

m’

a

coupé

les

cheveux


In the past tense using pronominal verbs:

The construction for using pronominal verbs is much like using passé composé with the exception that, as with all reflexive verbs, the past participle is conjugated with être.

Subject

Personal Pronoun

Être

Past Participle

Definite Article

Object

je

me

suis

lavé

les

mains

elle

s’

est

cassé

la

jambe


I hope everyone is doing well and having a wonderful week!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

The Superlative Form of Adjectives

The superlative form of adjectives is made by introducing the definite article (le/la/les) – or if appropriate, the possessive adjective – before the comparative form of the adjective.

  • C’est ma plus belle peinture.
  • It’s my finest painting.
  • Ce sont les garçons les plus travailleurs de la classe.
  • They are the most hardworking boys in the class.

The adjective bon has as its superlative form le meilleur.

  • C’est le meilleur choix.
  • It’s the best choice.

The adjectives mauvais and petit each have two superlative forms:

Le plus mauvais is used more frequently than le pire.

  • C’est le plus mauvais acteur que j’aie vu.
  • He’s the worst actor I’ve seen.

Le plus petit is used to refer to physical size, while le moindre is common with abstract nouns:

  • C’est la plus petite salle.
  • It’s the smallest room.
  • Vous pouvez me consulter si vous avez la moindre difficulté.
  • You can consult me if you have the least difficulty.

It’s a new month! What do we want to see next on the blog?

Have a great week, everyone!

A bientôt !

Courtney

Comparative Forms of Adjectives

In French, the comparative form of adjectives requires plus/moins before the regular form.

  • Cette rue est plus longue que l’autre.
  • This road is longer than the other.
  • Cette ville est moins propre que la nôtre.
  • This city is less clean/not as clean as ours.

If the comparison uses “so much more/less (adjective)… than”, use tellement plus/moins (adjective)… que.

  • Ce nouveau bâtiment est tellement plus joli que l’ancien.
  • This new building is so much prettier than the old one.
  • Mon jardin est tellement moins bien organisé que le tien.
  • My garden is so much less well organised than yours.

There are several adjectives that have irregular comparatives.

The comparative form of bon is irregular: meilleur.

  • Ce vin est meilleur que celui de l’année dernière.
  • This wine is better than last year’s.

The adjective mauvais has the regular comparative form plus mauvais, and also an irregular form: pire.

  • Cet album est plus mauvais que le dernier.
  • This album is worse than the last.
  • Le comportement du nouvel élève était encore pire.
  • The new student’s behaviour was even worse.
  • Vous avez entendu la dernière nouvelle ? C’est pire.
  • Did you hear the latest news? It’s worse.

Petit has the regular comparative form plus petit, which is always used for references to physical size.

  • Anne est plus petite qu’Estelle.
  • Anne is smaller than Estelle.

There is also the irregular comparative form moindre, which is rarely used, used normally  in literary style.

  • Ce détail est d’un moindre intérêt.
  • This detail is of less interest.

I hope everyone is well. Stay safe!

Merci à vous !

Courtney

Negation of Adjectives

For adjectives occurring after the noun they qualify, there may exist an antonym, or a negative form.

  • les cheveux courts/longs – short/long hair
  • une réponse admissible/inadmissible – an acceptable/unacceptable reply
  • une personne contente/mécontente – a happy/unhappy person

If such a form doesn’t exist, the adjective can be negated by peu, especially in formal usage:

  • une proposition peu rentable (formal) – an unprofitable proposal
  • un employé peu disposé à s’adapter (formal) – an employee unwilling to adapt

In a less formal usage, it would be more common to negate the verb:

  • Cette proposition n’est pas rentable. – This proposal isn’t profitable.

I hope everyone is doing well this week. As always, feel free to ask questions or request a lesson. Have a great week!

A la prochaine…

Courtney