The most common French adjectives (and how to use them)

In English, adjectives are pretty easy to use. You put them before the noun they describe and you’re done.

In French however, the placement of adjectives varies. And if that wasn’t enough to confuse you, most adjectives also change depending on whether the noun they describe is masculine, feminine, singular or plural.

Luckily, in today’s lesson, you’ll discover several rules that’ll make it easier for you to know how to place and use French adjectives.

You’ll also discover how to use the most common French adjectives.

The most common French adjectives (list)

As in English, there are several different types of adjectives in French. In this article, we’ll be focusing on what immediately springs to mind for most of us when we think of adjectives: qualitative adjectives (adjectifs qualificatifs)- that is, words that describe someone or something’s state or appearance.

As you can probably guess, there are thousands of adjectives in French. But there are some that you’ll come across a lot more often than others.

Here are some of the most common French adjectives, in their masculine and feminine singular forms:

  • grand/grande – tall or big
  • beau/belle – beautiful or handsome
  • gros/grosse – big or fat
  • petit/petite – small
  • bon/bonne – good
  • mauvais/mauvaise – bad
  • chaud/chaude – hot
  • froid/froide – cold
  • gentil/gentille – kind, nice
  • nouveau/nouvelle – new
  • sympa – nice
  • cher/chère – expensive or dear (depending on context)
  • difficile – difficult
  • facile – easy, simple
  • joli/jolie – pretty
  • heureux/heureuse – happy
  • content/contente – happy
  • long/longue – long
  • court/courte – short
  • jeune – young
  • vieux/vieille – old
  • compliqué/compliquée – complicated
  • intelligent/intelligente – intelligent, smart
  • bête – stupid
  • énervé/énervée – angry, annoyed
  • dangereux/dangereuse – dangerous

Here’s a list of some other common French adjectives. And of course, the more you read and listen to French, the more French adjectives you’ll discover and become familiar with.

Where should you place French adjectives?

In English, you put adjectives before the noun they describe. So you’d say “a green bag”, or “a blue house”. That’s not necessarily the case in French….

Where to place most French adjectives

Most French adjectives are placed after the noun they describe. So you’d say:

un sac vert (literally: a green bag)

une maison bleue (literally: a blue house)

To remember that, imagine a Frenchman coming to you and asking with a heavy (and charming) French accent “Excuse me, where is the house blue?”.

In most cases, French adjectives are placed after the noun they describe. However, there are some major exceptions.

BANGS adjectives

Here come the bad boys — or rather the BANGS boys, adjectives that describe:

  • Beauty
  • Age
  • Number
  • Goodness
  • Size

Most adjectives that fall under the BANGS category are placed before the noun they describe. Here are some examples:

une belle femme (a beautiful woman)

un vieil homme (an old man)

un gros sandwich (a big sandwich)

You may come across some exceptions. For instance, délicieux (delicious) can come both before and after the noun it describes, depending on the context. (We’ll discuss why some French adjectives can come either before or after a noun in a minute.)

But placing BANGS adjectives before a noun is a good general rule to know.

French adjectives that can go before OR after a noun

Some French adjectives can be placed before or after a French noun. This placement choice usually changes their meaning, even though it may be a subtle difference in many cases.

Common French adjectives that can be placed before or after the noun include:

ancien/ancienne – Before a noun: former  After a noun: old

ex: Son atelier se trouve dans une ancienne usine. (Her studio is in a former factory.)

      Son atelier se trouve dans une usine ancienne. (Her studio is in an old factory.)

cher/chère – Before a noun: dear/beloved  After a noun: expensive

ex: C’est ma très chère amie. (She’s my very dear friend.)

      Ce sont des baskets très chers. (These are very expensive sneakers/trainers.)

curieux/curieuse – Before a noun: strange  After a noun: curious

Ex: C’est un curieux chat. (He’s a strange cat.)

C’est un chat curieux. (He’s a curious cat.)

doux/douce – Before a noun: sweet or soft (in a figurative way) After a noun: sweet or soft to the feel or taste

Ex: Charles Trenet a chanté : <<Douce France, cher pays de mon enfance….>> (Charles Trenet sang “Sweet France, dear country of my childhood….”)

Les bébés ont la peau douce (Babies have soft skin.)

faible – Before a noun: little, poor, slight  After a noun: weak (literally or in terms of character)

Ex: De loin, nous avons vu une faible lueur (From afar, we saw a little hint of light)

Il fallait se pencher vers le lit pour entendre sa voix faible. (I had to lean towards the bed to hear her weak voice)

sacré/sacrée Before a noun: damn/hell of a  After a noun: sacred

ex: C’est un sacré boulot. (That’s a damn impressive job)

C’est un objet sacré. (It’s a sacred object.) 

vrai/vraie Before a noun: real, true (in a feeling sense) After a noun: true

Ex: C’est une vraie histoire ! (Let me tell you, it’s a real story!)

C’est une histoire vraie. (It’s a true story.)

If you want to find more of these kinds of French adjectives, be careful!  Most lists seem to include at least a few examples that aren’t common in contemporary French.

For instance, one list I looked at while researching this article is claims that gros means “fat” only if it comes after the noun, but this isn’t true, at least not in contemporary French.

So it’s a good idea to check these using a French-English dictionary or app, or a site like Wiktionnaire, just to be sure.

Other reasons why a French adjective could change places

The more you study, read, and listen to French, the more you’ll start to notice that just about any French adjective might be placed before or after a noun on occasion, although this place shift is usually rare.  

If they aren’t on the list above, it could be for literary reasons (poetic inversion, etc.), or it could mean that the writer or speaker is giving the adjective a slightly different connotation, since:

A general rule for French adjective placement is that if an adjective is in front of a noun, its meaning is figurative/abstract, and if an adjective comes after a noun, its meaning is literal or unbiased.

In many cases, though, the difference is fairly subtle, so don’t be shocked if you don’t immediately notice or understand this low-key shift in meaning. For instance, look again at the list of French adjectives that typically change places. It’s easy to see how some of these, like doux, follow this rule. Others, like ancien or sacré, take a bit of reflection, and even then may be hard to figure out.

One thing I can promise is that the more French you absorb and learn, the more these will just seem natural. For instance, I didn’t learn sacré‘s two meanings in my French classes at school, but through conversations with French friends.

What’s the effect of gender and number on French adjectives?

French adjectives gender number

English adjectives are invariable, but that’s not the case for French adjectives. In French, most adjectives change depending on two things:

  1. The gender of the noun they describe
  2. The number (plural or singular) of the noun they describe

There are a few invariable French adjectives – that is, adjectives that never change, regardless of the gender or number of what they’re modifying. These include numbers themselves (although there is some grammatical debate over whether or not numbers count as adjectives).

You can go to this article to learn more about invariable French adjectives. But since the vast majority of French adjectives follow the gender and number rule, that’s what we’re focusing on in our article today.

When it comes to most French adjectives, here is a rule you can follow in most cases:

  • You add a “e” to adjectives that describe a feminine noun, except if the adjective already ends with a silent “e”
  • You add an “s” to adjectives that describe a plural noun, except if the adjective already ends in “s”

un petit croissant (a small croissant)

une petite surprise (a little surprise)

des petits changements (small changes)

That said, a number of French adjectives have specific endings or don’t follow these rules the same way, although they also have to change based on gender and number. We’ll talk more about these irregular adjectives a little later on.

How to place and modify the most common French adjectives

Here is how to place and modify the most common French adjectives.

You may notice that in many of the examples that follow, adjectives are placed before the noun they describe.That’s because many common French adjectives belong to the BANGS group I mentioned earlier. As a reminder, BANGS adjectives (beauty, age, number, goodness, size) are adjectives that are placed before the noun they describe. 

The advantage is that once you know these common adjectives, you’ll mainly encounter adjectives that follow the normal placement of adjectives and are therefore placed after the noun they describe – well, at least most of the time.

How to use regular French adjectives

Regular French adjectives change the following way:

  • You add an “e” if the word it describes is feminine (except if the adjective ends with a silent “e”, that is a “e” without an accent)
  • You add an “s” if the word it describes is plural (except if the adjective already ends with a “s” – then, just leave the adjective as-is)

Here are a few examples with common adjectives:

petit (small)

common French adjective petit

This is an adjective you probably already know.

une petite fille (feminine singular)

a little girl

un petit garçon (masculine singular)

a little boy

Ces petits gâteaux sont délicieux. (masculine plural)

These small cakes are delicious

Ces petites friandises sont délicieuses. (feminine plural)

These little sweets are delicious

Here you can see that délicieux becomes délicieuses. That’s because the ending of adjectives ending in -eux often becomes -euse if they describe a feminine noun. We’ll talk more about this in the section on irregular adjectives.

jeune (young)

Jeune follows the regular pattern. The only difference is that you don’t need to add a “e” when it comes before a feminine noun since jeune already ends with a “e”.

Le jeune homme est parti. (masculine singular)

The young man is gone.

La jeune femme est partie. (feminine singular)

The young woman is gone

Les jeunes hommes sont partis. (masculine plural)

The young men are gone

Les jeunes femmes sont parties. (feminine plural)

The young women are gone

How to use irregular French adjectives

irregular French adjectives

Irregular French adjectives are adjectives that don’t follow the usual pattern of French adjectives. In many cases, this is because their ending doesn’t change in the predictable, “add an ‘e’ to make it feminine, add an ‘s’ to make it plural” way.

Here are three general rules that work for many irregular adjectives:

  1. If an adjective ends with an “s”, an “l”, or an “n” in its masculine version, double the consonant and add an “e” to the end to make it feminine. For instance: bon becomes bonne in its feminine form.  
  2. If an irregular adjective ends in “u”, add an “x” to make it plural. For example, beau becomes beaux in its masculine plural form.
  3. Remember that in French, two vowel or silent “h” sounds usually have to be broken up. So an adjective that ends with something like -ieux or -eau will take an “l” (and, often, a totally different form) when it’s modifying a noun that starts with a vowel or silent “h”. For instance: un bel homme, un vieil homme.

Unfortunately, while these are good general rules for irregular French adjectives, sometimes you need a few extra rules, or different ones entirely.

Luckily, many irregular French adjectives can be grouped by their type of endings. Here are a few common irregular French adjective endings and how to modify them to agree with a noun:

-s: feminine singular: -se (or sometimes sse)  masculine plural: s  feminine plural: -ses 

ex: bas/basse/bas/basses

-ien: feminine singular: -ienne masculine plural: -iens  feminine plural: -iennes 

ex: italien/italienne/italiens/italiennes

-er: feminine singular: –ère masculine plural: -ers  feminine plural: -ères 

ex: cher/chère/chers/chères

-f: feminine singular: –ve masculine plural: -fs  feminine plural: -ves 

ex: festif/festive/festifs/festives

-eux: feminine singular: –euse masculine plural: -eux  feminine plural: -euses 

ex: heureux/heureuse/heureux/heureuses

-c: feminine singular: –che masculine plural: -cs  feminine plural: -ches 

ex: franc/franche/francs/franches

Here are a few examples with irregular adjectives:

bon (good)

C’est une bonne idée. (feminine singular)

It is a good idea

C’est un bon restaurant. (masculine singular)

It is a good restaurant.

Les macarons de Pierre Hermé sont bons. (masculine plural)

The macarons from Pierre Hermé are good

Les fraises du marché sont bonnes. (feminine plural)

The strawberries from the market are good.

délicieux (delicious)

un repas délicieux (masculine singular)

a delicious meal

une tarte délicieuse (feminine singular)

a delicious pie

des gâteaux délicieux (masculine plural)

delicious cakes

des crêpes délicieuses (feminine plural)

delicious crêpes

australien (Australian)

Mon copain est australien. (masculine singular)

My boyfriend is Australian.

Ma copine est australienne. (feminine singular)

My girlfriend is Australian.

Ils sont australiens. (masculine plural)

They are Australian

Elles sont australiennes. (feminine plural)

They are Australian.

Irregular adjectives that don’t follow these rules

Most irregular French adjectives will fall into one of these ending groups. But there are a handful that follow their own rules entirely.  

The most common of these highly irregular French adjectives are:

vieux (old)

Feminine form: vieille  Masculine plural: vieux  Feminine plural: vieilles

This is one of the most tricky French adjectives. Luckily it’s also one of the most common, so you’ll quickly know how to use it if you get a lot of exposure to the French language.

Ça sent le vieux fromage. (masculine singular)

It smells like old cheese.

Le vieil homme est ici. (masculine singular, when preceding a vowel or silent “h”)

The old man is here.

La vieille femme est ici .(feminine singular)

The old woman is here.

Les vieux quartiers de Paris sont magnifiques. (masculine plural)

The old districts of Paris are beautiful.

Les vieilles maisons sont moins chères. (feminine plural)

(The) old houses are less expensive.

beau (beautiful or handsome)

Feminine form: belle Masculine plural: beaux Feminine plural: belles. NOTE: When followed by a vowel starting with a vowel or silent “h”, the masculine singular is: bel

Here is another tricky and extremely common French adjective.

Elle a un beau visage. (masculine singular)

She has a beautiful face

C’est un bel homme. (masculine singular)

He (lit: it) is a handsome man

In both cases, beau describes a masculine noun, so you may be wondering why beau becomes bel in the second example.

Remember that in the three general rules of irregular French adjectives, an adjective ending with -eau will take an “l” before masculine nouns starting with a vowel or a silent “h”.

Il a une belle peau. (feminine singular)

He has beautiful skin.

Il est dans de beaux draps. (masculine plural)

He is in a right mess.

(This is a French idiom that literally translates as “to be in beautiful sheets”.)

Il y a beaucoup de belles femmes en France. (feminine plural)

There are a lot of beautiful women in France.

nouveau (new)

Feminine form: nouvelle Masculine plural: nouveaux Feminine plural: nouvelles. NOTE: When followed by a vowel starting with a vowel or silent “h”, the masculine singular is: nouvel

As you may have guessed, nouveau follows the same pattern as beau.

J’adore ton nouveau manteau. (masculine singular)

I love your new coat.

J’ai acheté un nouvel ordinateur. (masculine singular, special form preceding a noun or silent “h”)

I bought a new computer.

Jean a une nouvelle copine. (feminine singular)

Jean has a new girlfriend.

Il a reçu ses nouveaux vêtements hier. (masculine plural

He received his new clothes yesterday.

Mes nouvelles chaussures ont beaucoup de succès. (feminine plural)

My new shoes have had a lot of success. (have been getting me lots of comments).

faux (false, fake, or wrong, depending on the context )

Feminine form: fausse Masculine plural: faux  Feminine plural: fausses

Non, il ne s’appelle pas Monsieur Magnifique. C’est un faux nom. (masculine singular)

No, his name’s not Mr. Magnificent. That’s a fake name.

C’est une fausse canne. Il y a une lame dedans. (feminine singular)

It’s a fake cane. There’s a blade inside of it.

J’ai l’impression que ce sont de faux diamants. (masculine plural)

I’ve got the feeling that these are fake diamonds.

Même les fausses araignées lui font peur ! (feminine plural)

Even fake spiders scare her!

doux (soft, gentle, mild, sweet)

Feminine form: douce  Masculine plural: doux Feminine plural: douces

Le pelage de mon chat est trop doux ! (masculine singular)

My cat’s fur is super soft!

Ils nous ont chanté une petite chanson douce. (feminine singular)

They sang us a sweet little song.

Ces sauces sont plutôt douces. (feminine plural)

These sauces are pretty mild.

Je repenserai toujours aux douces heures passées dans ta compagnie.

I will always remember the sweet hours spent in your company.

fou (crazy, insane, mad (literally and figuratively))

Feminine form: folle Masculine plural: fous  Feminine plural: folles

NOTE THAT ON RARE OCCASIONS WHEN fou precedes a noun that begins with a vowel or silent “h”, it becomes fol in its masculine singular form (ex: un fol ennemi).

Nous nous sommes aimés d’un amour fou. (masculine singular)

We loved each other madly.

Vingt euros pour un sandwich ?! Non mais elle est folle ! (feminine singular)

Twenty euros for a sandwich? What is she, crazy?

Tout le monde les trouve fous. (masculine plural)

Everyone thinks they’re crazy.

Ses deux sœurs sont folles de toi ! (feminine plural)

His two sisters are crazy about you!

long (long (literal and figurative))

Feminine form: longue Masculine plural: longs Feminine plural: longues

Ce film est trop long. (masculine singular)

This movie is too long.

C’est une longue histoire. (feminine singular)

It’s a long story.

Les réunions sont toujours longues. (feminine plural)

Meetings are always long.

Les giraffes ont des longues jambes. (feminine plural)

Giraffes have long legs.

frais (fresh, cool (temperature))

Feminine form: fraîche Masculine plural: frais Feminine plural: fraîches 

Ça nous faisait du bien de respirer l’air frais de la montagne. (masculine singular)

It did us good to breath the fresh mountain air.

Quand il fait chaud, rien de mieux qu’une boisson fraîche ! (feminine singular)

When it’s hot outside, nothing beats a cold drink!

Ce supermarché a une bonne sélection de fruits frais. (masculine plural)

This supermarket has a good variety of fresh fruits.

Une vieille maison en pierre est parfaite en été, car toutes les pièces restent fraîches. (feminine plural)

An old stone house is perfect in the summer because all of its rooms stay cool.

How do you use multiple French adjectives in one sentence?

Now that you know all about French adjectives, you may be wondering how to use multiple French adjectives in one sentence.  The good news is, if you feel good about what you’ve read, ordering French adjectives should make sense.

For instance, here’s a sentence where one of the adjectives is a BANG word, so it naturally will go before the noun, while the other adjectives will come after:

Il aime son beau chapeau bleu tout neuf.

He loves his brand new, beautiful blue hat.

As you can see from that example, French adjectives rarely follow the order of multiple English adjectives in a sentence. But again, by following French adjective rules, you should be able to construct complex descriptions.

Don’t forget that you can also use words between adjectives when necessary. For instance:

Il voudrait acheter le t-shirt qui est rouge et pas cher.

He’d like to buy the t-shirt that’s red and not expensive.

When using a group of adjectives with a verb like être, it’s even easier. Keep BANG adjectives or any others that should precede the noun, before it, and then just list the others. For example:

Cette petite fille est maligne, mignonne, et malicieuse.

This little girl is clever, cute, and mischievous.

A good way to get more familiar with ordering adjectives in French sentences is to start observing some. When you read in French, try to mark each sentence you come across that has more than one adjective in it. Soon, you’ll start to notice patterns. And in general, the more you read and listen to French, the more naturally using adjectives will feel. I know that’s been the case for me!

Here’s a webpage that’s a very helpful guide if you want to go even more in-depth into the grammar and rules of irregular French adjectives. But most importantly, keep in mind that irregular adjectives may not follow all the rules, but one that they do follow is this: The more you read, listen to, and speak French, the more familiar they’ll become to you. Soon, these rules will feel easy and intuitive.

Now that you’ve learned all about French adjectives, why not make a French sentence with an adjective (or a few) and add it to the comments section?

Here’s mine:

J’espère que tu as trouvé cet article utile, instructif, et agréable à lire ! (I hope you found this article useful, informative, and enjoyable!)  

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.