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Position of French Adjectives

Place des adjectifs

By Laura K. Lawless, About.com Guide

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french adjectives

french word order

beginning french

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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 to your heart’s content. The following explanations should cover about 95% of adjectives, but, alas, there are always some exceptions.

1. 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.

une table ronde - round table

un livre noir - black book

du thé sucré - sweet tea

une femme américaine - American woman

une église catholique - Catholic church

une famille bourgeoise - middle-class family

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

une histoire intéressante - interesting story

un débat passionné - lively debate

2. Placement before the noun

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

Beauty

Age

Good and bad

Size (except for grand with people - see 3, below)

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

une jolie fille - pretty girl

un jeune homme - young man

une nouvelle maison - new house

un bon enfant - good child

un petit problème - small problem

les sincères condoléances - sincere condolences

les vagues promesses - vague promises

un gentil garçon - kind boy

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

ces livres - these books

chaque personne - each person

quel stylo ? - which pen?

aucune femme - no woman

mon enfant - my child

3. 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: mes vertes années my green (fruitful) years

Literal: des légumes verts green vegetables

Figurative: un grand homme a great man

Literal: un homme grand a tall man

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

Literal: un individu triste a sad (crying) person

Figurative: mon ancienne école my old (former) school

Literal: mon école ancienne my old (aged) school

Figurative: un certain regard a certain (type of) look

Literal: une victoire certaine a certain (assured) victory

More: Fickle French Adjectives

Quiz: Position of French adjectives