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, adjectives also change depending on whether the noun they describe is masculine, feminine, singular or plurial.
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.
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”.
Most French adjectives are placed after the noun they describe. So you’d say “un sac vert” (lit: a bag green) or “une maison bleue” (lit: a house blue).
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?”.
You could consider that French adjectives are placed after the noun they describe and would be correct in most situations, however it’s important to know there are a few exceptions.
Here come the bad boys or rather the BANGS boys:
Most adjectives expressing these (BANGS adjectives) are placed before the noun they describe.
Une belle femme (a beautiful woman)
Un vieil homme (an old man)
Un gros sandwich (a big sandwich)
This is a useful rule to know, but hardly a reliable one since there are many exceptions.
For example, some adjectives like “délicieux” (delicious) can come both before and after the noun they describe depending on the context.
What’s the effect of gender and number on French adjectives?
English adjectives are invariable, that’s not the case of French adjectives. In French, adjectives change depending on two things:
- The gender of the noun they describe
- The number (plural or singular) of the noun they describe
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 a “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 small surprise)
Des petits changements (small changes)
Now let’s review some common French adjectives and see how to place them and modify them based on what we’ve learned.
How to place and modify the most common French adjectives?
I’m convinced that the best way to learn grammar is to learn from realistic examples. So here is how to place and modify the most common French adjectives.
You may notice that the majority of the following French 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.
How to use regular French adjectives
In most cases French adjectives change the following way:
- You add a “e” if the word it describes is feminine (except if the adjective ends with a silent “e”, that is a “e” without accent)
- You add a “s” if the word it describes is plural except if the adjective already ends with a “s”.
Note: unlike English, French adjectives of nationality don’t start with a capital letter.
Here are a few examples with common adjectives:
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. The additional “s” indicate that the adjective describes a plural noun too.
“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
“Bon” is the most common French adjective.
In addition to adding a “e” when it describes feminine words and a “s” when it describes plural words, don’t forget to double the”n” when it describes feminine words.
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
Adjectives ending in “ieux” (except “vieux”) have a feminine form ending in “se” and remain the same if they describe a plural noun.
Un repas délicieux (masculine singular)
A delicious meal
Une tarte délicieuse (feminine singular)
A delicious pie
Des gâteaux délicieux (masculine plural)
Des crêpes délicieuses (feminine plural)
Adjectives ending in “ien” have a feminine form ending in “ienne”.
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
How to use irregular French adjectives
Irregular French adjectives are adjectives that don’t follow the usual pattern of French adjectives.
I’m not going to list all irregular French adjectives, because learning them would be a waste of time. Instead, here is a selection of essential irregular French adjectives. These are adjectives you’re certain to encounter as a French learner.
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.
Le vieil homme est ici (masculine singular)
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
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 probably wonder why “beau” becomes “bel” in the second case.
The reason is simple. “Beau” becomes “bel” before masculine nouns starting with a vowel or a silent “h”.
Il a une belle peau (feminine singular)
He has a 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” 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)
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 a lot of success
That’s it, you now know the most common French adjectives.
Practice is what will allow you to become fluent in French, so pick an adjective and create a sentence with it in the comment section below this article!
And don’t worry about making mistakes, I’ll happily correct you :).