1 Definitions

Adjectives are words that give information about a noun . Most often adjectives indicate a quality possessed by a noun, and these are called qualificative adjectives. The remaining adjectives give information about the scope of reference of a noun, and these fall under the category of determiner (see 6:2).

2 Agreementsto top

2.1 General

Adjectives must agree in number and in gender with the noun(s) to which they refer.


2.1.1 Two nouns of differing gender

If there are two nouns of differing gender, the adjective used must be masculine plural :

Des hommes et des femmes importants

Important men and women


2.1.2 Two nouns in the singular

If there are two nouns in the singular , the adjective used must be in the plural :

Un homme et une femme importants

An important man and woman


2.1.3 Plural noun is modified by more than one adjective

When a plural noun is modified by more than one adjective , the rule is as follows. If the meaning is such that there is only one noun for each adjective, then each adjective is singular :

Les économies française et britannique

The French and British economies


But if the meaning is such that there is more than one noun for each adjective , then each adjective is plural :

Les différentes compagnies françaises et britanniques représentées au salon

The various French and British companies represented at the fair


2.2 Irregular agreements

Generally adjectives take an -e in the feminine and an -s in the plural . Adjectives which already end with an -e or -s remain unchanged in the singular and plural respectively:

un homme maigre une femme maigre

un plafond bas des plafonds bas



Many adjectives have irregular feminine and plural forms. Some follow distinct patterns of inflection :


 switcher Table 26.2.2a: Irregular adjectival forms following distinct patterns


 switcher Table 26.2.2b: Phrases showing irregular adjectival forms



However, some adjectives do not follow any of these patterns:


 switcher Table 26.2.2c: Wholly irregular adjectival forms


2.3 Special masculine forms ending in -l

Some adjectives have special masculine forms ending in -l which are used before a vowel or an unaspirated h:

Un beau quartier but un bel animal

Un nouveau rapport but un nouvel organisme

Un vieux professeur but un vieil homme


2.4 Invariable adjectives

Note that some adjectives are invariable :


2.4.1 Nouns as adjectives of colour

Most nouns used as adjectives of colour (except rose)

des cheveux marron,  des chaussures orange

brown hair,  orange shoes


2.4.2 Qualified adjectives of colours

Adjectives of colours that are qualified by a noun or adjective:

une chaise vert olive,  des yeux bleu clair

an olive-green chair,  light blue eyes


2.4.3 Demi, nu, ci-joint and ci-inclus

These are invariable when placed before the noun to which they refer:

Il a commandé une demi-bouteille

He ordered a half-bottle

Il jouait nu-pieds

He was playing barefoot

Veuillez trouver ci-joint la documentation que vous avez demandée

Pleased find enclosed the documents you asked for


2.4.4 Avoir l’air

When using the expression avoir l’air, the agreement is made with the subject :

La maison a l’air mal entretenue

The house looks run down


However, when the subject is a person, then the agreement can be either with the subject or the noun air:

Elle n’a pas l’air très content / contente

She doesn't look very happy


2.4.5 Chic, plusieurs, snob, and kaki

Elle est très chic / snob

She's very fashionable / snobbish


3 Placementto top

Adjectives can be used in two different ways, attributively and predicatively: an attributive adjective is one which qualifies a noun within the same noun phrase , as in un chapeau rouge ; a predicative adjective is one which is linked to a head noun by a verb, as in le chapeau est rouge.


3.1 Placement before the noun

Most attributive adjectives are placed after the noun which they modify. However, a substantial number of commonly used adjectives are usually placed before the noun:


 switcher Table 26.3.1a: Adjectives commonly placed before the noun



3.1.1 Prochain and dernier

 Prochain and dernier come after the noun in the case of semaine, mois and année.

Le mois dernier

Last month


3.1.2 Ordinal numbers

All ordinal numbers such as deuxième and troisième come before the noun:

La deuxième fois

The second time


3.1.3 Titles of kings etc.

An exception to this is in titles of kings etc.:

Henri I [say Henri premier]

Henri II [say Henri deux]


3.1.4 Adjectives of appreciation

Some adjectives of appreciation such as magnifique, splendide, affreux and horrible can be placed before or after the noun , but have a greater expressive force when placed before the noun.


3.1.5 Nouveau / neuf

The adjective new is usually translated nouveau / nouvelle (coming before the noun - une nouvelle politique) but in the sense of brand new is translated neuf / neuve (coming after the noun - une voiture neuve).



3.2 Different meanings

Some adjectives have a different meaning according to whether they are placed before or after the noun :


 switcher Table 26.3.2a: Adjectives that change meaning according to their position

4 Adjectival nounsto top

Adjectives in French adapt very easily to use as a noun , in which case they are called adjectival nouns. Most commonly these refer back to nouns already mentioned.

Je préfère les rouges aux jaunes

I prefer the red ones to the yellow ones


They do not always have to refer back to specific nouns, however. They can be used with les to refer to categories of people, such as les jeunes (young people) or les méchants (the baddies). They can also be used with le to express abstract concepts, as in le beau (beauty). Also falling into this latter category is the following construction, particularly common in spoken French:


Le + [adjectival noun], c'est de faire / c'est que + subjunctive


For example:

L'essentiel, c'est d'arriver à l'heure / c'est que personne n'ait été blessé

The main thing is to arrive on time / is that no-one has been hurt

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