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French adjectives

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What is an adjective?

Adjectives (French: les adjectifs) in general are qualifying nouns which are used to describe a noun. Also, they tell you more about a person or thing, their appearance and aspects like color, size or other descriptif qualities.

When we speak about using adjectives in the French language it's important to mention that there are differences to the English language. 

Adjectives can also be determinants and are several categories:

  • Demonstrative adjectives
  • Possessive adjectives
  • Numeral adjectives
  • Indefinite adjectives
  • Interrogative adjectives
  • Exclamatives adjectives

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Function of the French adjectives 

The adjective qualifying can be

  • epithet
  • attribute

The epithet adjective in French 

We speak of an epithet when the adjective qualifies a noun or a pronoun, without preposition and without verb. It can be deleted, which sometimes requires modifying the determinant.

Examples: 

  • Une grande maison. (A big house)
  • Une jolie fille. (A beautiful girl)
  • Son énorme cadeau. (His huge gift)
  • Une femme brave. (A strong woman)

The Adjective attribute of the subject in French

We speak of attribute of the subject when the adjective is used with a verb of state. He agrees with the subject. To verify, we can always replace a verb of state by the verb être

The French state verbs are seven:

  • Sembler (To seem)
  • Paraitre (To seem)
  • Deumerer (To remain)
  • Rester (To stay)
  • être (To be)
  • Devenir (To become)
  • Avoir l'air (To look like)

Examples: 

Epithet adjectiveUne grande femme(A tall woman)
AttributeLa femme semblait grande(The woman seemed tall)

Endings of regular and irregular French adjectives (The feminine) 

The feminine of the adjectives is usually formed by adding an e at the end of the word. 

  • Un petit garçon -----> une petite fille 
  • Un mauvais devoir ------> une mauvaise note

But there are many exceptions for adjectives ending in -gu, -ul, -el, -eil, -iel, -ien, -en, -on, -teur, -eau, -ier, -iet

  1. The adjectives ending en -eau have their feminine in -elle 
  2. The adjectives ending en -gu have their feminine in -e with a umlet in the e 
  3. The adjectives ending in -ier or -iet have their feminine in ière or iète
  4. The adjectives ending in -ul, -el, -eil or -iel double their -l and take a final e
  5. The adjectives ending in -ien, -in or -on double their n and take a final e 
  6. The adjectives ending in -eur can have their feminine in -euse or -eure
  7. Some adjectives in -teur have their feminine ending in -trice 
MasculineFeminine
beau, nouveaubelle, nouvelle
ambiguambiguë
inquietinquiète
nul, vieilnulle, vieille
bonbonne
meilleur, rêveurmeilleure, rêveuse
protecteurprotectrice

Plural of adjectives in French

French adjectives must agree with the gender and number of nouns they want to modify.

Adjective: grand (big)

 Masculine singular grand
 Feminine singular grande
 Masculine plural grands
 Feminine plural grandes

Exceptions

Even if the general rule is that the plural ends with -s there are some exceptions ! 

1. Adjectives ending in -al 

All adjectives ending in -al have their plural ending in -aux except for bancal, fatal, naval, final, banal, natal which ends with s 

Examples: 

  • Des combats fatals (fatal battles)
  • Les appartements royaux (Royal apartments)

2. Adjectives ending in -eau and -eu

Those adjectives always have their plural ending in -x

Examples: 

  • De beaux cheveux (Beautiful hairs)
  • Des villages hébreux. (Hebrew town)

3. Adjectives ending in -s or -x are invariable in the plural

  • Un voyage merveilleux (A wonderful trip)
  • Un garçon fabuleux (An incredible boy)

enlightenedAll adjectives of colors take an -s in the plural except if they are followed by another adjective. 

  • Des chemise vertes -----> Des chemises vert clair.  

enlightenedThese exceptions only applies to masculine adjectives, if they are to the feminine, they take their plural with -s

 MasculineFeminine
SingularUn garçon heureuxUne fille heureuse
PluralDes garçons heureuxDes filles heureuses

The comparative of French adjectives 

The comparative (French: le comparatif) makes it possible to compare two things or two people, using the adverbs plus (superiority), moins (inferiority) or aussi (equality).

In the French, we can find different comparatives

The comparative of superiority: plus + adjective + que

  • Mon vélo est plus rapide que le tien. (My bike is faster than yours)

The comparative of inferiority: moins + adjective + que

  • Mon vélo est moins rapide que le tien. (My bike is slower than yours)

The comparative of equality: aussi + adjective + aussi

  • Mon vélo est aussi rapide que le tien. (My bike is as fast as yours)

Exceptions

AdjectivesComparativeTranslations
BonMeilleur(Better)
MauvaisPire(Worse)
PetitMoindre(Smaller)

Placement of the French adjectives

About the position of the adjectives, most of the adjectives epithets are placed after the name but some are placed before. There are adjectives that can be placed before or after the noun and change the meaning of the sentence. 

Examples

  • Un grand homme (A big man) talks about the big achievement of a man 
  • Un homme grand (A tall man) talks about the height of a man 
  • C'est une seule dame (It's only a woman) talks about the number of woman
  • C'est une dame seule (It's a lonely woman) talks about the loneliness of a woman

Determinants adjectives

French possessive adjectives

The possessive adjective (French: l'adjectif possessif) is used to designate a possessor. It agrees with the noun it refers to. 

Personal prounounsMasculine singularFeminine singularFeminine/Masculine plural
Jemonmames
Tutontates
Il/Ellesonsases
Nousnotrenotrenos
Vousvotrevotrevos
Ils/ellesleurleurleurs

enlightenedIn front of the vowels: a, e, i, o, u, h the feminine singular ma, ta, sa becomes mon, ton, son

  • École (school) is a feminine noun so we should say "ma école" but because of the e we say "mon école"

Examples

Possessive adjectivesTranslations
Ta tante est vieille(Your aunt is old)
Mon père a acheté une voiture(My father bought a car)
Ses parents sont américains(Her parents are americans)
Votre soeur est une grande dame(Your sister is a "grande dame")

French demonstrative adjectives

A demonstrative adjective (French: l'adjectif démonstratif) is used to designate something. We use the demonstrative adjectives ce, cet, cette or ces for the plural nouns. The demonstrative adjective agrees with the name to which it refers.

Masculine singularce, cet
Feminine singularcette
Masculine pluralces
Feminine pluralces

enlightenedThe masculine singular cet is used in front of vowels a, e, i, o, u, y, h otherwise you use "ce"

Examples

Demonstratives adjectivesTranslations
Ce livre(This book)
Cet homme(This man)
Cette soirée(That night)
Ces enfants(These kids)

French indefinite adjectives 

The indefinite adjective (l'adjectif indefini) express quantity. Quantity is expressed with indefinite adjectives like:

  • quelques 
  • plusieurs
  • certains
  • d'autres
  • chaque
  • tout

The indefinite adjective "tout"

The indefinite adjective tout agrees with the noun it refers to. And sometimes can be followed by an article. 

 SingularPlural
Masculinetouttous
Femininetoutetoutes

Examples

Indefinite adjectivesTranslations
Quelques étudiants(A few students)
Plusieurs étudiants(Several students)
Certains étudiants(Some students)
D'autres étudiants(Others students)
Chaque étudiant(Each student)
Tous les étudiants(All the students)

Exercises

  1. Multiple choice questions about the epithet, attribute in French

Multiple choice questions about the epithet, attribute in French


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Next lessons

1 Endings of regular and irregular French adjectives Get an overview about the formation of French adjectives and study this topic online.
2 Comparative and superlative of French adjectives Get an overview about comparisons and superlatives of French adjectives and study this topic online.
3 Placement of French adjectives Get an overview about the placement of French adjectives and study this topic online.
4 French possessive adjectives - mon, ton, son Get an overview about all French possessive adjectives and study them online.
5 French demonstrative adjectives - ce, cette Get an overview about the possessive adjectives in the French language and study them online.
6 French indefinite adjectives - toutes, quelques Get an overview about all French indefinite adjectives and study them online.