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 singular joli
Feminine singular jolie
Masculine plural jolis
​Feminine plural jolies
  • 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 singular vert
Feminine singular verte
Masculine plural verts
​Feminine plural vertes
Adjective: "blue" bleu
Masculine singular bleu
Feminine singular bleue
Masculine plural bleus
​Feminine plural bleues
Adjective: "funny" amusant
Masculine singular amusant
Feminine singular amusante
Masculine plural amusants
​Feminine plural amusantes
Adjective: "spicy" épicé
Masculine singular épicé
Feminine singular épicée
Masculine plural épicés
​Feminine plural épicées

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

Adjective: "red" rouge
Masculine singular rouge
Feminine singular rouge
Masculine plural rouges
​Feminine plural rouges

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 singular gris
Feminine singular grise
Masculine plural gris
​Feminine plural grises

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 singular personnel
Feminine singular personnelle
Masculine plural personnels
Feminine plural personnelles
Ending: on > onne
Adjective: "good" bon
Masculine singular bon
Feminine singular bonne
Masculine plural bons
Feminine plural bonnes

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

Ending: er > ère
Adjective: "expensive" cher
Masculine singular cher
Feminine singular chère
Masculine plural chers
Feminine plural chères
Ending: et > ète
Adjective: "full" complet
Masculine singular complet
Feminine singular complète
Masculine plural complets
Feminine plural complètes

Other final letters lead to very irregular feminine endings:

Ending: c > che
Adjective: "white" blanc
Masculine singular blanc
Feminine singular blanche
Masculine plural blancs
Feminine plural blanches
Ending: eur > euse
Adjective: "flattering" flatteur
Masculine singular flatteur
Feminine singular flatteuse
Masculine plural flatteurs
Feminine plural flatteuses
Ending: eux > euse
Adjective: "happy" heureux
Masculine singular heureux
Feminine singular heureuse
Masculine plural heureux
Feminine plural heureuses
Ending: f > ve
Adjective: "new" neuf
Masculine singular neuf
Feminine singular neuve
Masculine plural neufs
Feminine plural neuves

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

Adjective: "ideal" idéal
Masculine singular idéal
Feminine singular idéale
Masculine plural idéaux
​Feminine plural idéales

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
Adjective Singular masc vowel/H Singular fem Plural masc Plural fem
"beautiful" beau bel belle beaux belles
"new" nouveau nouvel nouvelle nouveaux nouvelles
"crazy" fou fol folle fous folles
"soft" mou mol molle mous molles
"old" vieux vieil vieille vieux vieilles

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":

B Beauty
A Age
G Good and bad
S Size (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