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Matching French Adjectives to the Nouns They Describe

Part of the French Grammar For Dummies Cheat Sheet

In French grammar, adjectives have to reflect both the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number of the nouns (singular or plural) they modify. Have a look:

  • Gender: All French nouns have a gender. If you want to describe a masculine noun, like le vélo (the bicycle), you need a masculine adjective to match, like le vélo noir (the black bicycle). But if a noun is feminine, like la voiture (the car), the adjective that accompanies the noun must be in its feminine form. For instance, to say the black car, you say la voiture noire. (Notice that the feminine version of noir has an e at the end.)

  • Number: A French noun can be singular or plural, regardless of the gender, and the adjective must match that. For several black bikes, say les vélos noirs. To describe a group of black cars, say les voitures noires. (Notice that both adjectives have an s at the end.) And if you're talking about the black cars and the black bikes together, the adjective is masculine and plural: les vélos et les voitures noirs.

Following are some general rules on how to modify a masculine singular adjective to make it feminine singular:

  • The most common way to make an adjective feminine is to add an -e to its masculine singular form (which is the default form of the adjective found in a French dictionary).

  • Some masculine singular adjectives already end in -e. For those, don't add an extra -e to form the feminine singular; they remain as is. For instance, aimable (nice), calme (calm), and utile (useful) have the same form in masculine singular and feminine singular.

  • For most adjectives that end in a vowel + a consonant, double that consonant before adding the -e of the feminine. For example: bon (good) becomes bonne; gros (fat) becomes grosse; mignon (cute) becomes mignonne.

  • For most adjectives that end in -eur or -eux, replace the ending with -euse to form the feminine. For example: amoureux (in love) becomes amoureuse, heureux (fat) becomes heureuse, and affreux (atrocious) becomes affreuse.

  • For adjectives that end in -teur, replace that ending with -trice to form the feminine. Protecteur (protective) becomes protectrice, conservateur (conservative) becomes conservatrice, and so on.

  • For adjectives that end in -er, replace the ending with -ère to form the feminine, like dernier (last) to dernière, premier (first) to première, and cher (expensive) to chère.

  • For most adjectives that end in -et, replace -et with -ète to form the feminine. For example, discret (discreet) becomes discrète, complet (complete) becomes complète, and secret (secret) becomes secrète.

  • For adjectives that end in -f, replace -f with -ve to form the feminine, like neuf (new) becomes neuve, and sportif (athletic) becomes sportive.

  • Adjectives of nationality that end in -ain, like américain (American) and mexicain (Mexican) don't double the -n. They just add the -e.

  • Some adjectives have a completely irregular form that doesn't follow any pattern. Here are the most common ones:

    Masculine SingularFeminine SingularEnglish Translation
    beau belle handsome/beautiful
    blanc blanche white
    faux fausse untrue
    long longue long
    nouveau nouvelle new
    roux rousse red-haired
    vieux vieille old

Here are some general rules on how to modify an adjective to make it plural:

  • The regular way of marking the plural of an adjective is by adding an -s to the masculine form or the feminine form. For example, the masculine singular adjective vert (green) becomes verts in plural, and the feminine singular verte (green) becomes vertes in plural.

  • If the adjective already ends in an -s or an -x in masculine singular, it doesn't take another -s to form the plural. It remains as is and has the same form in masculine singular and plural. A few adjectives of this type are épais (thick), gris (gray), and curieux (curious).

  • For masculine singular adjectives that end in -al, drop the -al and replace it with -aux to form the plural. For example, normal (normal) becomes normaux in plural.

  • Masculine singular adjectives that end in -eau add an -x instead of an -s. For instance, beau (handsome) becomes beaux in the plural, and nouveau (new) becomes nouveaux.

  • The masculine singular adjective tout (all) becomes tous in the masculine plural.

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