French Adjectives

Understanding Adjectives

  • An adjective is a word that describes or clarifies a noun.
  • In French, adjectives agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they describe.
  • The usual place for an adjective is after the noun: ‘un livre intéressant(an interesting book).
  • Some adjectives, however, commonly go before the noun they modify, such as ‘beau’, ‘vieux’, ‘bon’, ‘petit’: ‘un beau jardin(a beautiful garden).
  • Many adjectives that describe a person’s qualities (like kind, honest, etc.) also end in ‘-eux’ for the masculine form and ‘-euse’ for the feminine.

Agreement of Adjectives

  • Most adjectives form the feminine by adding ‘-e’ to the masculine form: ‘un petit garçon(a small boy), ‘une petite fille(a small girl).
  • If the adjective already ends in ‘-e’ in the masculine form, it doesn’t change in the feminine: ‘un jeune homme(a young man), ‘une jeune femme(a young woman).
  • For plural there is usually ‘-s’ added to the singular form for both masculine and feminine: ‘des chiens heureux(happy dogs), ‘des filles heureuses(happy girls).
  • Be careful! There are irregular adjectives that don’t follow the usual agreement rules, such as ‘beau’, ‘nouveau’, ‘vieux’ which have different forms.

Adjectives of Colour

  • Adjectives of colour usually follow the nouns they describe: ‘une robe bleue(a blue dress).
  • However, when the colour is made up of more than one word (e.g. light blue), it is invariable, which means it doesn’t agree in gender and number: ‘des chemises bleu clair(light blue shirts).

Comparative and Superlative Forms

  • To make comparisons, use ‘plus’ (more), ‘moins’ (less), or ‘aussi’ (as) before the adjective: ‘Elle est plus grande que moi(She is taller than me).
  • The ‘superlative’ (the most/the least) is formed with definite articles + ‘plus/moins’ before the adjective: ‘Il est le plus intelligent(He is the most intelligent).
  • Remember, for irregular adjectives, their comparative and superlative forms are also irregular. For example, ‘bon’ (good) becomes ‘meilleur’ (better) and ‘le meilleur’ (the best).

Position of Adjectives

  • Normally, the adjective is placed after the noun: ‘un chien noir(a black dog).
  • But certain adjectives go before the noun, primarily ones that describe beauty, age, goodness, and size (referred to by the acronym ‘BAGS’): ‘un beau château(a beautiful castle).
  • Adjectives can change meaning depending on their position: ‘un homme sûr’ means ‘a confident man’, whereas ‘un sûr homme’ implies ‘a man who can surely be trusted’. Learn these subtle differences through practice and reading.