French Adjectives: Before or After the Noun?


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French Adjectives: Before or After the Noun?

One of the problems that native English native speakers in mastering the use of French adjectives is the fact that they are usually placed after the noun they modify, which is the opposite of English. Here are some examples:

C’est un film intéressant. – It’s an interesting film.

J’aime les chats noirs. – I like black cats.

Nous avons mangé une salade délicieuse. – We ate a delicious salad.

However, there are some adjectives that come before the noun they modify. As a general rule, they concern size, age, looks and goodness/badness, for example:

un beau jardin – a beautiful garden

une jolie femme – a pretty woman

un gros lapin – a fat rabbit

une longue histoire – a long story

un petit enfant – a small child

un vieux film – an old film

un bon repas – a good meal

une mauvaise idée – a bad idea

There are some adjectives that have a special masculine singular form that is used before a noun beginning with a vowel or silent h, for example:

un nouvel aspirateur – a new vacuum cleaner

un bel arbre – a beautiful tree

un vieil homme – an old man

A number of adjectives have different meanings depending on whether they are placed before or after the noun:

C’est ma propre voiture. – It’s my own car.
C’est une voiture propre. – It’s a clean car.

C’est mon ancien bureau. – It’s my former office.
C’est un monument ancien. – It’s an ancient monument.

une pauvre famille – A poor family (wretched, miserable)
une famille pauvre – A penniless family
mon cher papa – my dear dad
une bague chère – an expensive ring

un grand peintre – a great painter
un garçon grand – a tall boy

la même maison – the same house
la chose même – the thing itself

une seule dame – only one lady
une personne seule – a single person

This list is by no means exhaustive, but the examples given here are some of the most useful ones:

With thanks to Elizabeth Allen

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