French Grammar For Dummies
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Most French adjectives that describe the characteristics of a noun are placed after that noun. Some adjectives, however, must be placed before the noun they describe, and still others can go either before or after, depending on their meaning.

French adjectives that go after the nouns they describe

In general, and unlike English, French adjectives are placed after the noun they describe. Here are a few adjectives that illustrate this difference with English.

une maison blanche (a white house)
un visage intéressant (an interesting face)
des gâteaux délicieux (delicious cakes)

In these examples, the adjectives are blanche (white), intéressant (interesting), and délicieux (delicious). Simple to remember, right?

French adjectives that go before the nouns they describe

Adjectives that refer to some specific qualities must precede the noun they describe instead of following it. The qualities they describe can be summarized by the acronym BAGS:

  • B for beauty: beau (beautiful), joli (pretty)

  • A for age: jeune (young), vieux (old), nouveau (new)

  • G for goodness: bon (good), meilleur (better), mauvais (bad), gentil (kind)

  • S for size: petit (small), haut (high), gros (fat)

A handful of adjectives that refer to the qualities contained in the BAGS are not placed before the noun. In the category of beauty, exceptions are laid (ugly) and affreux (atrocious); in age, âgé (old); and in the category of goodness, méchant (mean). Watch that difference in action:

une maison laide (an ugly house)
des personnes âgées (old people)
un chien méchant (a mean dog)

Ordinal adjectives — that is, adjectives that describe the order in which things come, like first, second, last — appear before nouns. Here are some examples:

Le premier jour de la semaine est lundi. (The first day of the week is Monday.)
Nous vivons au vingt-et-unième siècle. (We live in the twenty-first century.)
C’est la deuxième fois qu’il fait une erreur. (It is the second time that he makes a mistake.)

The adjective tout (all, every) precedes not just the noun but also the article + noun. Here are examples for all four forms of tout (masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural):

Elle mange tout le temps. (She eats all the time.)
Il a plu toute la journée. (It rained all day.)
Tu travailles tous les jours. (You work every day.)
Toutes les filles de la classe sont blondes. (All the girls of the class are blond.)

The adjectives autre (other), même (same), tel (such), and faux (false, untrue) also go before nouns. Here are a couple of examples:

Je voudrais voir un autre film. (I’d like to see another movie.)
une fausse sortie (a false exit)

Change the meaning of French adjectives by changing the placement

Some adjectives can go before or after the noun, depending what they mean. For a literal meaning, place the adjective after the noun; for a more figurative meaning, you place it before.

Adjectives with Meaning Changes
Adjective English Translation before Noun English Translation after Noun
ancien former antique, old
certain some sure
cher dear expensive
dernier final previous/last (in expressions of time)
grand (for people) great tall
pauvre wretched, miserable poor, broke
prochain next (in a sequence) next/following
propre (my) own clean
seul only alone
simple mere simple

Check out some of these adjectives in action:

Le dernier jour de la semaine est dimanche. (Sunday is the final day of the week.)
Dimanche dernier, il a fait des crêpes. (Last Sunday, he made crêpes.)
Ces pauvres animaux ont faim. (Those miserable animals are hungry.)
Paul est un homme pauvre. (Paul is a poor man.)
Leur ancienne voiture était une Fiat. (Their former car was a Fiat.)
Il a acheté une armoire ancienne. (He bought an antique armoire.)

About This Article

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About the book author:

Véronique Mazet has a doctorate in French from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of two successful grammar books. She currently teaches French at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

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