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French Adjectives: How to Describe Things in French

Adjectives come in handy in our everyday lives. I used two in that sentence alone! To speak French fluently, you’ll need to describe all kinds of things, from your food and drink to your job or your best friend. There are all kinds of French adjectives, and all kinds of rules to follow when using them. Let’s delve in…

French adjectives to describe a person

When learning a language we learn to describe people quite early on, so to begin, you should be able to describe yourself in French using adjectives.

Here are just a few examples using the verbs avoir and être

  • J’ai les cheveux blonds – I have blond hair
  • Il a les cheveux bouclés – He has curly hair
  • J’ai les yeux bleus – I have blue eyes
  • Elle est grande – She is tall

Describing a person in French isn’t something we tend to do every day. However, French adjectives to describe personality and mood are far more commonly used.

Here are a few examples:

  • Je suis content – I am happy
  • Il est fatigué – He is tired
  • Vous êtes triste – You are sad
  • Nous sommes fachés – We are angry
  • Il est sympa – He is nice
  • Elle est timide – She is shy
  • Vous êtes gentil – You are kind

Feminine and Masculine

If you’ve already learned a bit of French, then you’ll already know about the dreaded feminine and masculine words and you might have even heard of adjective agreement. French adjectives must correspond to the person speaking, so a man is “grand” (tall) while a woman is “grande”. Adding the ‘e’ makes it a feminine adjective.

This might sound reasonably easy, but the French also have masculine and feminine objects! Recognizing the gender of a word is something that you will learn over time, sometimes there are rules and sometimes you just have to know what’s feminine and what’s masculine. Nobody said learning a language was easy!

Here are a few examples of French adjectives (masculine and feminine) with nouns that you might already know:

  • Un bol rond – a round bowl
  • Une assiette ronde – a round plate
  • Un mur blanc – a white wall
  • Une porte blanche – a white door
  • Un ordinateur neuf – a new computer
  • Une télévision neuve – a new television

List of French adjectives – masculine and feminine

Here is a list of the most common French describing words, and their feminine equivalents:

  • grand(e) – big/tall
  • petit(e) – small
  • bon(ne) – good
  • mauvais(e) – bad
  • beau/belle – beautiful
  • chaud(e) – hot
  • froid(e) – cold
  • gentil(le) – kind

When a word ends in a vowel then a consonant, we must double the last letter before adding the ‘e’. For example: bon/bonne, gentil/gentille.

Note: Some adjectives change completely when they become feminine. For example, as you saw above, “beau” becomes “belle”.

Some adjectives don’t have a feminine equivalent. Many of these are adjectives that already end in the letter ‘e’. Here are some common examples of adjectives that stay the same for both genders:

  • bien – good
  • confortable – comfortable
  • calme – calm
  • difficile – difficult
  • facile – easy
  • pauvre – poor
  • riche – rich
  • propre – clean
  • sale – dirty
  • timide – shy
  • sympathique – kind
  • sympa – kind/nice (frequently used abbreviation of sympathique)

These adjectives don’t have a feminine equivalents, however they can still be transformed into plural…

Plural

Once you’ve mastered the masculine and feminine, you need to get your head around the French adjective agreement for plural nouns. Simply put, when we add an ‘s’ to the noun to make it plural, we need to add an ‘s’ to the adjective too.

  • Un grand lac – A big lake
  • Deux grands lacsTwo big lakes
  • La chaussure rose – The pink shoe
  • Les chaussures rosesThe pink shoes

Of course, this is French we’re talking about, and things are never as straightforward as one might hope! We’ve seen the feminine, we’ve seen the plural, and now we need to combine both to create the feminine plural.

  • Les tables bassesLow tables (meaning: coffee tables)
  • Les chaises hautesHigh chair (meaning: both baby high chairs and bar stools)

Here’s a recap of when to use adjective agreement with the word “petit”:

  • Le petit garçon – the little boy (masculine singular)
  • La petite fille – the little girl (feminine singular)
  • Les petits garçons – the little boys (masculine plural)
  • Les petites filles – the little girls (feminine plural)

When using a plural of both masculine and feminine objects, or talking about a group of both males and females, the default is always masculine (eg. les petits enfants).

Invariable adjectives

Once you can understand the French plural adjectives, feminine adjectives and even the feminine plural, and you think that French might not be too hard after all, we’re going to add one more complication into the mix. Invariable adjectives. These are a small group of adjectives that DO NOT change, therefore they have neither a feminine form nor a plural form. Don’t be afraid, there’s an easy way to remember which adjectives fall into this category…

Colors with two meanings. Colors are of course adjectives, and when the name of the color is derived from a flower, fruit, animal or even metal, then the adjective is invariable. Here are the most common invariable colors along with the noun they derive from:

  • argent – silver (metal)
  • marron – brown (marron: chestnut)
  • lavande – lavender (lavender plant)
  • orange – orange (fruit)
  • turquoise – turquoise (jewel)

The most common exceptions to this rule are rose (color: pink, noun: rose flower), fauve (color: fawn/tawny, noun: big cat or wild animal) and mauve (color: mauve, noun: mallow flower).

Example:

  • 2 chaussures marron et 2 chaussettes roses – 2 brown shoes and 2 pink socks

Other adjectives that don’t follow the French rules are the ones that simply aren’t French. Similar to many other languages, French borrows words from different languages and incorporates them into its own vocabulary. When used in French, these foreign adjectives are invariable.

Examples:

  • fun (English)
  • cool (English)
  • high-tech (English)
  • lambda (Greek, used to mean ordinary/average)
  • light (English, used to mean low fat/low calorie)
  • ad hoc (Latin)
  • a priori (Latin)
  • kif-kif (Arabic, meaning “much of a muchness”)

Time to practice!

Here is a quick exercise where all of the adjectives have been written in the masculine singular form. You need to decide if the adjectives (written in bold) should be changed to feminine, plural or feminine plural.

  1. Une gros araignée
  2. Un livre interessant
  3. Une chambre orange
  4. Des stylos noir
  5. Des joli fleurs

You’ll find the correct answers at the bottom of the page.

Order of French adjectives

As a general rule, French adjectives go after the noun.

  • La fille américaine porte un chapeau rouge.
    The American girl wears a red hat.
  • La semaine prochaine nous allons au restaurant italien.
    Next week we’re going to the Italian restaurant.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. Some adjectives go before the noun. A quick way to remember if the adjective comes before or after the noun is that long adjectives come after the noun while short adjectives precede the noun.

Frustratingly, some of the most frequently used adjectives are part of this group of exceptions that should appear before the noun. The acronym to remember these exceptions is BANGS: beauty, age, numbers, greatness, size.

Beauty:

  • Beau/belle – beautiful
  • joli – pretty

Age:

  • vieux – old
  • jeune – young
  • nouveau – new

Numbers:

Ordinal numbers including…

  • premier – first
  • deuxième – second
  • troisième – third

Greatness:

  • Bon/bonne – good
  • mauvais/e – bad
  • meilleur – best
  • pire – worst

Size

  • Grand/grande – big
  • petit – small
  • gros – big/fat

Examples of sentences with the adjective before the noun:

  • Le premier ministre – The prime minister
  • La vieille dame marche dans la petite rue avec son gros chien. – The old lady walks in the street with her fat dog.
  • Une jeune fille joue avec son nouveau ballon et sa jolie poupée. – A young girl plays with her new ball and her pretty dolly.

Some adjectives have different meanings depending on whether they come before or after the noun.

Ancien – old/former

  • Mon ancienne maison – My former/previous house
  • Une maison ancienne – An old house

Propre – clean/own

  • Il a son propre sac – He has his own bag
  • Un sac propre – A clean bag

Seule – alone/only

  • Le bébé est seul – The baby is alone
  • J’ai un seul bébé – I have only one baby

Cher – Dearest/expensive

“Dear” can mean two things in English, which will help you to remember the two French meanings:

Mon cher grand-père porte une montre chère – my dear Grandfather wears an expensive watch

Note: Dernier (last) and prochain (next) always go before the noun, unless it’s a time word such as week, month and year.

Examples:

  • J’ai vu le dernier match. C’était la semaine dernière. – I saw the last match. It was last week.
  • Février dernier nous sommes allés au dernier spectacle d’Elton John. – Last February we went to Elton John’s last concert.

Adjectives that give praise and show admiration have the same meaning whether they are before or after the noun in a sentence. Some examples of these are excellent, incroyable, formidable, fantastique, remarquable.

Example:

  • Une histoire incroyable – An incredible story
  • Une incroyable histoire – An incredible story

How to use more than one adjective in a sentence

The last of the French adjectives rules that you need to know is the use of several adjectives in a sentence. Most of the time one adjective goes before the noun and another goes after it.

Examples:

  • Une jeune fille intelligente – A young, intelligent girl
  • Un petit chapeau pointu – A small, pointy hat

You can also simply say both adjectives after the noun. In a list form, the last adjective must be preceded by “et” (and). Without saying “et”, the meaning of the sentence can change.

Examples:

  • Un pantalon noir evasé (Black, flared pants/trousers)
  • Des devoirs ennuyants, difficiles et fatigants (Boring, difficult and tiring homework)
  • Un professeur sympa, amiable et drôle (A nice, friendly and funny teacher)
  • Le bol rond et bleu (the round blue bowl)
  • Le bol rond bleu (the blue round bowl, emphasis on the color as there may be other round bowls)

Compound adjectives

The French adjectifs composés, or compound adjectives are two adjectives used together to create a new meaning.

Here are some examples of unique French adjectives.

  • aigre-doux – sweet and sour
  • bleu clair – light blue (or any other color)
  • rouge foncé – dark red (or any other color)
  • anglo-saxon – Anglo-Saxon
  • nouveaux-nés – newborns babies
  • l’avant-dernière – penultimate/second to last
  • ultra-violet – ultra-violet
  • infra-rouge – infra-red
  • sud-américain – south-American
  • bien-aimé – beloved

Invariables don’t change, but other adjectives should agree and therefore use the feminine, masculine or plural according to the noun in question.


Exercise key:

  1. Une grosse araignée – a big spider (feminine singular)
  2. Un livre intéressant an interesting book (masculin singular)
  3. Une chambre orangean orange bedroom (feminine singular, but the color orange is named after the fruit and therefore is invariable)
  4. Des stylos noirs black pens (masculine plural)
  5. Des jolies fleurs – pretty flowers (feminine plural)

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with French adjectives.

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