French Adjectives

This page sets out:

  • Firstly, how French adjectives work generally, using some examples
  • Secondly, we look at some key adjectives which go before nouns

First of all, what is an adjective?

You can skip this part is you already know what an adjective is in French. Examples of adjectives in English are ‘big’, ‘small’ and ‘beautiful’. Essentially, adjectives are words which describe people and objects, rather than what is being done or how it is being done.

The general rule is adjectives usually go after nouns

Yes, adjectives usually come after nouns, so in French ‘the black cat’ would be ‘the cat black‘ (le chat noir).

There are exceptions to this rule, which are discussed towards the bottom of this page.

Adjectives in French have a gender

French adjectives agree with the gender (masculine/feminine) and number (singular/plural) of the noun being described.

What does this mean?

This means you may need to change the ending of the adjective. The first rule of thumb for French Adjectives is you usually add an e to the end of the adjective when you are describing a feminine noun. You usually do:

  • Unless the adjective already ends in a non accented e (for example the French adjective ‘riche’ stays as ‘riche’ in feminine singular)
  • However if the adjectives ends in an accented e i.e. é, you add an e after é for feminine singular (e.g. fatigué becomes fatiguée).

The second rule of thumb for French Adjectives is you usually add an s to the end of the adjective when you are describing a plural noun (i.e. more than one person, more than one thing, etc.). This is with one exception:

  • Adjectives which end in u normally add x instead of s

An example of a standard adjective in French is ‘grand’ (big) which can change as follows:

Grand (big/tall (when referring to a person)) – normal adjective

Grand (= Masculine Singular version)Grands (= Masculine Plural version)
Grande (= Feminine Singular version)Grandes (= Feminine Plural version)

You would use:

  • The masculine singular version to describe a singular masculine noun (e.g. a man, a book)
  • The feminine singular version to describe a singular feminine noun (e.g. a woman, a table)
  • The masculine plural version to describe a plural masculine noun (e.g. men, books) or mixed gender (e.g. a man and a woman)
  • The feminine plural version to describe a plural feminine noun (e.g. women, tables)

Examples of usage are below. Pay particular attention to the word order:

  • L’homme est grand. = The man is tall.
  • Il est un homme grand. = He is a tall man.
  • La femme est grande. = The woman is tall.
  • Elle est une femme grande. = She is a tall woman.
  • Elles sont grandes. = They are tall (= referring to females only)
  • Ils sont grands. = They are tall (referring to males or a mix of males and females)

French Adjectives with spelling changes

Most adjectives are straightforward, but some have spelling changes. Below are some examples of some common adjective types which have spelling changes.

Bon (good) – adjective ending in -on

Bon (= Masculine Singular version)Bons (= Masculine Plural version)
Bonne (= Feminine Singular version)Bonnes (= Feminine Plural version)

Ancien (old/former) – adjective ending in –en

Ancien (= Masculine Singular version)Anciens (= Masculine Plural version)
Ancienne (= Feminine Singular version)Anciennes (= Feminine Plural version)

Gentil (kind) – adjective ending in –il

Gentil (= Masculine Singular version)Gentils (= Masculine Plural version)
Gentille (= Feminine Singular version)Gentilles (= Feminine Plural version)

Cruel (cruel) – adjective ending in –el

Cruel (= Masculine Singular version)Cruels (= Masculine Plural version)
Cruelle (= Feminine Singular version)Cruelles (= Feminine Plural version)

Heureux (happy) – adjective ending in –x

Heureux (= Masculine Singular version)Heureux (= Masculine Plural version)
Heureuse (= Feminine Singular version)Heureuses (= Feminine Plural version)

Neuf (new) – adjective ending in –f

Neuf (= Masculine Singular version)Neufs (= Masculine Plural version)
Neuve (= Feminine Singular version)Neuves (= Feminine Plural version)

Blanc (white) – adjective ending in –c (no vowel immediately before the c)

Blanc (= Masculine Singular version)Blancs (= Masculine Plural version)
Blanche (= Feminine Singular version)Blanches (= Feminine Singular version)

Public (public) – adjective ending in –c (vowel immediately before the c)

Public (= Masculine Singular version)Publics (= Masculine Plural version)
Publique (= Feminine Singular version)Publiques (= Feminine Singular version)

Cher (expensive) – adjective ending in -er

Cher (= Masculine Singular version)Chers (= Masculine Plural version)
Chère (= Feminine Singular version)Chères (= Feminine Plural version)

Travailleur (hardworking) – adjective ending in eur*

Travailleur (= Masculine Singular version)Travailleur (= Masculine Plural version)
Travailleuse (= Feminine Singular version)Travailleuses (= Feminine Plural version)

*Note not all ‘eur’ ending adjectives act like this. For example ‘superieur’ acts as follows:

superieur (= Masculine Singular version)superieurs (= Masculine Plural version)
superieure (= Feminine Singular version)superieures (= Feminine Plural version)

Another commonly used adjective that acts in the same way as ‘superieur’ is ‘meilleur’ (better/best). Your dictionary should tell you whether your eur ending adjective acts like ‘travailleur‘ or ‘superieur‘.

Invarible Adjectives

Some French adjectives, especially imported words, are invariable. This means that they do not change at all. A couple of examples of this are:

  • argent (silver)
  • or (gold/golden)

Adjectives which are invariable never change, so:

  • Les lunettes sont argent. = The glasses are silver.

Your dictionary should tell you when an adjective is invariable (i.e. does not change).

I plan on writing more details on this in the future, but in the meantime feel free to email me on adam@farehamtutor.co.uk for further details.

Which adjectives go before nouns in French?

The following are some of the adjectives you will commonly come across that normally go before the noun:

  • Beau(x)*/Belle(s) = Beautiful
  • Bon(s)/Bonne(s) = Good
  • Jeune(s) = Young
  • Long(ue)(s) = Long
  • Mauvais(e)(s) = Bad
  • Meilleur(e)(s) = Better (or best)
  • Nouveau(x)**/Nouvelle(s) = New
  • Petit(e)(s) = Small
  • Vieux***/Vieille(s) = Old

* ‘Bel’ is the singular masculine version if followed by a noun beginning with a vowel or h.

** ‘Nouvel’ is the singular masculine version if followed by a noun beginning with a vowel or h.

*** ‘Vieil’ is the singular masculine version if followed by a noun beginning with a vowel or h.

Other French Adjectives that go before nouns

Numbers go before the noun

‘Un/Une, deux, trois, etc.’ go before the noun.

Ordinal Numbers

Ordinal numbers (e.g. first, second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. i.e. premier(s)/première(s), deuxième(s), troisième(s), quatrième(s), cinquième(s), etc.) go before the noun.

The words ‘Next’ and ‘last’

‘Prochain(e)(s)’ (next) and ‘Dernier(s)/Dernière(s)’ (last) come before the noun unless not referring to a time. Examples of this are:

  • L’année dernière = Last year
  • Le dernière rue = The last road*

* Here in the second example ‘dernière’ is acting like an ordinal number, so it goes before the noun.

Adjectives which change meaning depending on whether placed before or after the noun

Some adjectives have a different meaning depending on whether placed before or after the noun. The most important ones are as follows:

 Meaning Before the nounMeaning After the noun
ancien(ne)(s)formerancient/antique
cher(s)/chère(s)dearexpensive
grand(e)(s)greatlarge
propre(s)own (e.g. my ‘own’ car)clean
seul(e)(s)onlylonely
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I hope that the above has helped you to understand how to use French adjectives and the main situations where French adjectives go before the noun. If so, please share this post by clicking on the icons towards the bottom of this page.

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