Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 23): l’adjectif (une introduction)


Source: Berlitz French Grammar Handbook, Merriam-Webster’s French-English Dictionary

Adjectives describe nouns. They can be used either as part of a phrase containing a noun (attributive adjectives) or in the predicate of a sentence (predicative adjectives). For example:

le jeune homme – the young man
L’homme en question était jeune. The man in question was young.

Adjectives in French are singular or plural, masculine or feminine, according to the noun they relate to. There are many variations in the ways in which feminine and plural forms are derived, but the basic pattern is that feminine forms add an -e while plural forms add -s (for masculine) or -es (for feminine).

Singular Plural
Masculine le petit prince les petits princes
Feminine la petite princess les petites princess

In some cases, the feminine is formed by modifying the final syllable, according to the following patterns:

– anc → – anche
franc → franche

– el → – elle
actuel → actuelle

– en → – enne
moyen → moyenne

– er → – ère
passager → passagère

– eur → – euse
frondeur → frondeuse

– eux → – euse
respectueux → respecteuse

– if → – ive
tardif → tardive

– il → – ille
gentil → gentille

Some masculine adjectives modify their ending when immediately followed by a word that begins with a vowel sound, for example:

beau → bel
un bel arbre – a beautiful tree

fou → fel
un fel appêtit – a tremendous appetite

nouveau → nouvel
un nouvel album – a new album

vieux → veil
un veil ami – an old friend

Masculine adjectives ending in -au are pluralized by adding a final -x, for example:

les beaux arts – the fine arts

Masculine adjectives ending in -al are pluralized by changing the ending to -aux, for example:

les moyens normaux – the normal means

In French, adjectives normally follow the noun they relate to, for example:

un passeport français – a French passport
un document confidentiel – a confidential document
une lettre désagréable – an unpleasant letter
une note excessive – an excessive bill

However, a number of common adjectives normally precede the noun, for example:

un beau jour d’été – a fine summer’s day
un bon repas – a good meal
les grands concours – the big contests
de gros problèmes – major problems
un jeune employé – a young employee
une jolie plage – a pretty beach
un long discours – a long speech
un mauvais début – a bad start
un meilleur résultat – a better result
un nouveau voisin – a new neighbor
un petit conseil – a small piece of advice
les vieux arbres – the old trees

Even that great majority of adjectives which normally follow the noun can in certain circumstances precede it, particularly when used in a subjective or stylized way, for example:

La Grèce et ses innombrables richesses… Greece with its countless riches…
Les superbes sites historiques… The superb historic sites…

A number of adjectives have a different meaning according to whether they precede or follow the noun, for example:

un ancien collègue (a former colleague) vis-à-vis un bâtiment ancien (an ancient building)
mon cher ami (my dear friend) vis-à-vis une voiture chère (an expensive car)
ma pauvre chérie! (my poor darling! – pity ) vis-à-vis une famille pauvre (a poor family – money)
leur propre maison (their own house) vis-à-vis une maison propre (a clean house)
le vrai champagne (real champagne) vis-à-vis une histoire vraie (a true story)

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