Fickle French Adjectives

Most French adjectives must be placed after the noun they modify, except for the BAGS exceptions (learn more). There are also a number of French adjectives which have different meanings depending on where they are placed. Generally speaking, when the adjective precedes the noun, it has a figurative or subjective meaning, whereas the adjective which follows the noun has a literal or objective meaning.

Fickle French Adjectives

Following are the most common "fickle" French adjectives.

Ancien

Figurative or subjective meaning
mon ancienne école - my old (former) school
un ancien château - an old château (now a hotel)
Literal or objective meaning
mon école ancienne - my old (aged) school
un château ancien - an ancient château

Bon

Figurative or subjective meaning
une bonne réputation - a good reputation
Literal or objective meaning
un homme bon - a good (charitable) man

Brave

Figurative or subjective meaning
un brave homme - a good (decent) man
Literal or objective meaning
un homme brave - a brave man

Certain

Figurative or subjective meaning
un certain regard - a certain (type of) look
un certain âge - old age (euphemism)
Literal or objective meaning
une victoire certaine - a certain (assured) victory
un âge certain - old age (rude)
Word play: Certain âge et âge certain

Cher

Figurative or subjective meaning
un cher ami - a dear friend
Literal or objective meaning
un pull cher - an expensive sweater

Chic

Figurative or subjective meaning
une chic fille - a nice, decent girl
Literal or objective meaning
une fille chic - a classy girl

Curieux

Figurative or subjective meaning
un curieux homme - a curious (strange) man
Literal or objective meaning
un homme curieux - a curious (nosy) man

Dernier

Figurative or subjective meaning
la dernière semaine - the last week (of the year)
Literal or objective meaning
la semaine dernière - last week (the one before this one)

Différent

Figurative or subjective meaning
différentes idées - various ideas
Literal or objective meaning
une idée différente - different idea

Divers

Figurative or subjective meaning
divers étudiants - various, several students
Literal or objective meaning
des étudiants divers - varied, diverse students

Doux

Figurative or subjective meaning
une douce musique* - sweet music
un doux parfum* - sweet perfume
Literal or objective meaning
la moutarde douce - sweet mustard   la peau douce - soft skin

Drôle

Figurative or subjective meaning
un drôle d'idée - strange idea
Literal or objective meaning
une histoire drôle - funny story

Faible

Figurative or subjective meaning
une faible chance - weak, poor, slight chance
Literal or objective meaning
un homme faible - a weak man

Fameux

Figurative or subjective meaning
un fameux problème - a heck of a problem
Literal or objective meaning
un vin fameux - first-rate wine

Franc

Figurative or subjective meaning
un franc imbécile - total idiot
Literal or objective meaning
une différence franche - clear difference

Grand

Figurative or subjective meaning
un grand homme - a great man
Literal or objective meaning
un homme grand - a tall man

Gros

Figurative or subjective meaning
un gros problème - big problem
Literal or objective meaning
un homme gros - fat man

Honnête

Figurative or subjective meaning
un honnête homme** - a gentleman
Literal or objective meaning
un homme honnête - an honest man

Jeune

Figurative or subjective meaning
une jeune femme - a young woman
Literal or objective meaning
une femme jeune - youthful woman

*For this meaning, the adjective can precede or follow the noun

**Somewhat archaic

Maigre

Figurative or subjective meaning
un maigre repas - skimpy, meager meal
Literal or objective meaning
un garçon maigre - skinny boy

Méchant

Figurative or subjective meaning
un méchant cigare - great big cigar
Literal or objective meaning
un homme méchant - mean (cruel) man

Même

Figurative or subjective meaning
le même jour - the same day
Literal or objective meaning
le jour même - the very day

Modeste

Figurative or subjective meaning
un modeste repas - small, simple meal
Literal or objective meaning
un homme modeste - modest, humble man

Noble

Figurative or subjective meaning
nobles aspirations - noble, worthy aspirations
Literal or objective meaning
une femme noble - imposing, respected woman

Nouveau

Figurative or subjective meaning
un nouveau produit - a new, alternative product
Literal or objective meaning
un produit nouveau - a new, original product

Pauvre

Figurative or subjective meaning
un pauvre homme - a poor (pitiful) man
Literal or objective meaning
un homme pauvre - a poor (penniless) man

Plat

Figurative or subjective meaning
une plate excuse - a humble excuse
Literal or objective meaning
un pays plat - a flat country

Premier

Figurative or subjective meaning
le premier problème - first problem
Literal or objective meaning
le problème premier - fundamental, basic problem

Prochain

Figurative or subjective meaning
la prochaine semaine - the following week
Literal or objective meaning
la semaine prochaine - next week

Proper

Figurative or subjective meaning
ma propre chambre - my own bedroom
Literal or objective meaning
une chambre propre - a clean bedroom

Pure

Figurative or subjective meaning
la pure imagination - pure, total imagination
Literal or objective meaning
l'eau pure - pure water

Rare

Figurative or subjective meaning
d'une rare beauté - exceptionally beautiful
Literal or objective meaning
un oiseau rare - rare bird

Rude

Figurative or subjective meaning
une rude tâche - difficult task
Literal or objective meaning
une barbe rude - rough beard

Sacré

Figurative or subjective meaning
un sacré menteur - a damn liar
Literal or objective meaning
un objet sacré - a sacred object

Sale

Figurative or subjective meaning
une sale ville - a nasty town
Literal or objective meaning
une ville sale - a dirty town

Seul

Figurative or subjective meaning
la seule fille - the one/single/only girl
Literal or objective meaning
une fille seule - lonely girl, a girl who is alone

Simple

Figurative or subjective meaning
un simple homme - a mere (plain, ordinary) man
Literal or objective meaning
un homme simple - a modest, honest man

Triste

Figurative or subjective meaning
un triste individu - a sad (mean, bad) person
Literal or objective meaning
un individu triste - a sad (crying) person

Unique

Figurative or subjective meaning
un unique fils - an only son
Literal or objective meaning
un fils unique - only child (who is a boy)

Véritable

Figurative or subjective meaning
un véritable problème - serious problem
Literal or objective meaning
un problème véritable - genuine (not fake) problem

Vert

Figurative or subjective meaning
mes vertes années - my green (fruitful) years
Literal or objective meaning
légumes verts - green vegetables

Vilain

Figurative or subjective meaning
vilains mots - bad words
Literal or objective meaning
un garçon vilain - ugly or naughty child

Vrai

Figurative or subjective meaning
un vrai ami - a real, true friend
Literal or objective meaning
une histoire vraie - true story

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Author, Staff. "Fickle French Adjectives." ThoughtCo, Jul. 19, 2021, thoughtco.com/fickle-french-adjectives-1368793. Author, Staff. (2021, July 19). Fickle French Adjectives. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fickle-french-adjectives-1368793 Author, Staff. "Fickle French Adjectives." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/fickle-french-adjectives-1368793 (accessed July 27, 2021).