Understanding and Using French Adjectives (Adjectifs)

An intelligent teacher (un professeur intelligent) gives a French language lesson in front of the class
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An adjective is a word that modifies a noun by describing it in some way: shape, color, size, nationality, etc.

Differences Between French and English Adjectives

French adjectives are very different from English adjectives in two ways:

  • French adjectives change to agree in gender and number with the nouns that they modify, which means there can be up to four forms of each adjective: 
Adjective: "pretty"joli
Masculine singularjoli
Feminine singularjolie
Masculine pluraljolis
​Feminine pluraljolies
  • In English, adjectives are always found in front of the noun, but most French adjectives follow the noun they modify:​
"green book"un livre vert
"smart teacher"

un professeur intelligent

But there are some French adjectives that precede the noun:

"handsome boy"un beau garçon
"small glass"un petit verre

Agreement of Regular French Adjectives (Accord des adjectifs réguliers)

French adjectives change to agree in gender and number with the nouns that they modify, which means there can be up to four forms of each adjective. The different forms for adjectives depend mostly on the final letter(s) of the default form of the adjective, which is the masculine singular.

Most French adjectives add E for feminine and S for plural. This rule applies to adjectives that end in most consonants as well as all vowels except the unaccented E. It also includes all regular and most irregular present participles and past participles:

Adjective: "green"vert
Masculine singularvert
Feminine singularverte
Masculine pluralverts
​Feminine pluralvertes

 

Adjective: "blue"bleu
Masculine singularbleu
Feminine singularbleue
Masculine pluralbleus
​Feminine pluralbleues

 

Adjective: "funny"amusant
Masculine singularamusant
Feminine singularamusante
Masculine pluralamusants
​Feminine pluralamusantes

 

Adjective: "spicy"épicé
Masculine singularépicé
Feminine singularépicée
Masculine pluralépicés
​Feminine pluralépicées

When the masculine singular adjective ends in an unaccented E, there is no difference between the masculine and feminine forms:

Adjective: "red"rouge
Masculine singularrouge
Feminine singularrouge
Masculine pluralrouges
​Feminine pluralrouges

When the default form of the adjective ends in S or X, there is no difference between the masculine singular and plural forms:

Adjective: "grey"gris
Masculine singulargris
Feminine singulargrise
Masculine pluralgris
​Feminine pluralgrises

While most French adjectives fit into one of the above categories, there are still quite a few that have irregular feminine and/or plural forms.

Note: These rules are the same for making nouns feminine and plural.

Agreement of Irregular French Adjectives

Most French adjectives are regular, but there are a number of irregular adjectives, based on the final letter(s) of the masculine singular adjective.

Adjectives that end in a vowel plus L or N usually become feminine by doubling the consonant before adding E.

Ending: el > elle 
Adjective: "personal"personnel
Masculine singularpersonnel
Feminine singularpersonnelle
Masculine pluralpersonnels
Feminine pluralpersonnelles

 

Ending: on > onne 
Adjective: "good"bon
Masculine singularbon
Feminine singularbonne
Masculine pluralbons
Feminine pluralbonnes

Adjectives that end in er or et need a grave accent:

Ending: er > ère 
Adjective: "expensive"cher
Masculine singularcher
Feminine singularchère
Masculine pluralchers
Feminine pluralchères

 

Ending: et > ète 
Adjective: "full"complet
Masculine singularcomplet
Feminine singularcomplète
Masculine pluralcomplets
Feminine pluralcomplètes

Other final letters lead to very irregular feminine endings:

Ending: c > che 
Adjective: "white"blanc
Masculine singularblanc
Feminine singularblanche
Masculine pluralblancs
Feminine pluralblanches

 

Ending: eur > euse 
Adjective: "flattering"flatteur
Masculine singularflatteur
Feminine singularflatteuse
Masculine pluralflatteurs
Feminine pluralflatteuses

 

Ending: eux > euse 
Adjective: "happy"heureux
Masculine singularheureux
Feminine singularheureuse
Masculine pluralheureux
Feminine pluralheureuses

 

Ending: f > ve 
Adjective: "new"neuf
Masculine singularneuf
Feminine singularneuve
Masculine pluralneufs
Feminine pluralneuves

Irregular plurals: The ending al changes to aux in the plural:

Adjective: "ideal"idéal
Masculine singularidéal
Feminine singularidéale
Masculine pluralidéaux
​Feminine pluralidéales

Note: Most of the above rules are the same for making nouns feminine and plural.

Irregular French adjectives

There are several French adjectives which have irregular feminine and plural forms, as well as a special form when they are placed in front of a masculine noun that begins with a vowel or a mute H:

"a handsome man"un bel homme
"an old friend"un vieil ami

 

AdjectiveSingular mascvowel/HSingular femPlural mascPlural fem
"beautiful"beaubelbellebeauxbelles
"new"nouveaunouvelnouvellenouveauxnouvelles
"crazy"foufolfollefousfolles
"soft"moumolmollemousmolles
"old"vieuxvieilvieillevieuxvieilles

Position of French Adjectives

In English, adjectives virtually always precede the nouns they modify: a blue car, a big house. In French, adjectives may be placed before or after the noun, depending on their type and meaning. This concept can be aggravating for French learners, but with patience and practice you'll be able to describe any object like a natural. The following explanations should cover about 95% of adjectives, but, alas, there are always some exceptions.

  • Placement After the Noun

Most descriptive adjectives are placed after the noun they modify. These normally have an analytical meaning, in that they classify the noun into a certain category.

These types of adjectives include shape, color, taste, nationality, religion, social class, and other adjectives that describe things like personality and mood.

"round table"une table ronde
"black book"un livre noir
"sweet tea"du thé sucré
"American woman"une femme américaine
"Catholic church"une église catholique
"middle-class family"une famille bourgeoise

In addition, present participles and past participles used as adjectives are always placed after the noun.

"interesting story"une histoire intéressante
"lively debate"un débat passionné
  •    Placement Before the Noun

Certain adjectives are placed before the noun, some which you can memorize with the acronym "BAGS":

BBeauty
AAge
GGood and bad
SSize (except for grande with people, see below)

These descriptors—and a few others—are considered inherent qualities of the noun:

"pretty girl"une jolie fille
"young man"un jeune homme
"new house"une nouvelle maison
"good child"un bon enfant
"small problem"un petit problème
"sincere condolences"les sincères condoléances
"vague promises"les vagues promesses
"kind boy"un gentil garçon

In addition, all non-descriptive (i.e. demonstrativeindefiniteinterrogativenegative, and possessive) adjectives are placed before the noun:

"these books"ces livres
"each person"chaque personne
"which pen?"quel stylo ?
"no woman"aucune femme
"my child"mon enfant
  • Placement Depends on Meaning

Some adjectives have both a figurative and an analytic (literal) sense and can thus be placed on either side of the noun. When the adjective is figurative, it goes before the noun, and when it's analytic, it goes after the noun.

Figurative: "my green (fruitful) years"mes vertes années
Literal: "green vegetables"des légumes verts

 

Figurative: "a great man"un grand homme
Literal: "a tall man"un homme grand

 

Figurative: "a sad (mean or bad) person"un triste individu
Literal: "a sad (crying) person"un individu triste

 

Figurative: "my old (former) school"mon ancienne école
Literal: "my old (aged) school"mon école ancienne

 

Figurative: "a certain (type of) look"un certain regard
Literal: "a certain (assured) victory"une victoire certaine