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How to use adjectives in French?

By: Céline Bateman-Paris Thu Mar 21 2024
French
Adjectives

To use French adjectives, the adjective must agree in gender and number with the noun it describes. Most of the time, adjectives will take an -e for feminine forms and an -s for plural nouns. Although the position of the adjective in the sentence varies, it is usually placed after the noun. Did you know that you can intensify or soften the tone of an adjective by using adverbs like très(very) and un peu(a little)? In this post, we'll review gender and number of adjectives, where they go in a sentence, and how to change the adjective’s tone. Keep reading to find out more!

Table of Contents

    How to make adjectives agree in gender in French?

    To make adjectives agree in gender (masculine or feminine) in French, the gender of the adjective must match the gender of the noun it modifies. On your French learning journey, you will continue to expand your vocabulary as you learn to describe things and thoughts more accurately. By mastering the difference between masculine and feminine, you’ll also avoid some mocking smiles!

    Because adjectives in French have to have the same gender of the noun they modify, you will often need to change the endings of the adjectives. Let’s learn three basic rules:

    • Rule #1: Add -e

      If you describe someone or something feminine, most of the time just add -e to the masculine form of the adjective.

      masculinefeminine

      Mon collègue est américain et ma voisine est aussi américaine.

      My coworker is American and my female neighbor is also American.

      Masculine
      Feminine
      English

      grand

      grande

      big

      américain

      américaine

      American

      poli

      polie

      polite

      occupé

      occupée

      busy

      Pronunciation TIP

      Don’t pronounce the final consonants of masculine adjectives ending in -s, -d, or -t. The feminine ending -e allows you to pronounce the last consonant.

      Il est grand.

      /gra(n)_/

      He is big.

      Elle est grande.

      /gra(n)d/

      She is big.

    • Rule #2: Different endings

      Sometimes you’ll need to add something extra to the adjective before the -e to make pronunciation easier and prettier in the feminine form! You may need to double the final consonant or change the ending completely.

      Masculine
      Feminine
      English

      -ier

      premier

      -ière

      première

      first

      -ien

      canadien

      -ienne

      canadienne

      Canadian

      -if

      sportif

      -ive

      sportive

      sporty

      -ien

      canadien

      -euse

      serieuse

      serious

      -ien

      canadien

      -lle

      gentille

      kind, nice

      There are some irregular French feminine adjectives that are different from the patterns above!

    • Rule #3: No change

      Here is the good news: sometimes, you don’t need to do anything! This happens when the adjective already ends in -e.

      Masculine
      -e
      Feminine -e
      English

      bizarre

      bizarre

      weird

      drôle

      drôle

      funny

      sympathique

      sympathique

      friendly

    How to make adjectives agree in number in French?

    To make adjectives agree in number (singular or plural) in French, the adjective will need to change its endings, just like with gender. That is, if the noun is plural then the adjective is too! Let’s see how to make the adjectives plural. Like with gender, there are a few different ways to make a French adjective plural:

    • Add -s (most of the time!)

      When describing more than one thing or person, you’ll generally need to add -s:

      Les pommes sont rondes.

      The apples are round.

    • Other endings

      • A masculine adjective ending in -al changes to -aux:

        Ce tableau est original et ceux-là sont aussi originaux.

        This painting is original and those ones are also original.

      • A masculine adjective ending in -eau changes to -eaux:

        Ce tableau est beau et ceux-là sont aussi beaux.

        This painting is beautiful and those ones are also beautiful.

    • No change! If the masculine adjective ends in -s or -x:

      Le canapé est gris et les fauteuils sont également gris.

      The sofa is gray and so are the armchairs.

    Here’s a summary of the plural endings, including what the plural will look like for feminine forms of the adjectives:

    Rule
    Masculine
    (Masculine Plural)
    Feminine
    (Feminine Plural)
    English

    + s for most adjectives

    amusant

    (amusants)

    amusante

    (amusantes)

    funny

    -al -aux (masc.)

    original

    (originaux)

    originale

    (originales)

    original

    -eau -eaux (masc.)

    beau

    (beaux)

    belle

    (belles)

    beautiful

    No change when the adjective ends in -s (masc.)

    gris

    (gris*)

    grise

    (grises)

    gray

    No change when the adjective ends in -x (masc.)

    faux

    (faux*)

    fausse

    (fausses)

    wrong

    *PRONUNCIATION NOTE:
    Don't pronounce these plural endings.
    Les enfants sont polis.[polis is pronounced /poli/](The children are polite.)

    Like with feminine adjectives, there are some irregular French plural forms!

    Important

    After the French expression c’est(it is/this is/that is) the adjective is always masculine and singular no matter what you're talking about.

    Les fleurs, c’est beau.

    Flowers are a beautiful thing.

    not c’est belles!

    Boire de l’eau dans le désert, c’est essentiel.

    Drinking water in the desert is necessary.

    Where do adjectives go in a sentence in French?

    Most of the time, French adjectives go after the noun. Here are the rules for where to position an adjective in the sentence:

    • Rule #1: Unlike English, French adjectives come after the noun 90 percent of the time!

      nounadjective

      Mon collègue anglais a un ordinateur performant.

      My English coworker has an effective computer.

    • Rule #2: A handful of adjectives, usually short words like jeune(young) and vieux(old), are placed before the noun. Check the table we created of French adjectives placed before the noun and learn them by heart!

      adjectivenoun

      Sa grande maison se trouve dans un petit village.

      Her big house is located in a small village.

      Tip

      These adjectives all have an antonym that also comes before the noun. So, if you remember that jeune comes before a noun, you'll know vieux will too!

      Important

      In front of an adjective, the indefinite article des shortens to de.

      adjective

      Elle porte de belles chaussures et des lunettes originales.

      She is wearing beautiful shoes and original glasses.

    • Rule #3: Nine euphonic adjectives

      What?! Don’t worry, you won’t have to pull out your euphonium in order to learn how these work. These adjectives, when placed before a noun starting with a vowel or a mute h, need to be altered to make pronunciation easier and prettier. This means that sometimes a feminine or masculine form of an adjective will change slightly if the noun it modifies begins with a vowel or mute h. Check the table below to learn them by heart:

      Euphonic adjectives
      Regular form
      In front of a vowel or mute h
      1.

      cecet

      ce jeune

      this young man

      cet ado

      this teenager

      2.

      mamon

      ma copine

      my girlfriend

      mon amie

      my good friend

      3.

      taton

      ta routine

      your routine

      ton habitude

      your habit

      4.

      sason

      sa noix

      her walnut

      son amande

      her almond

      5.

      nouveaunouvel

      un nouveau jour

      a new day

      le nouvel an

      the new year

      6.

      beaubel

      un beau portrait

      a beautiful portrait

      un bel acteur

      a handsome actor

      7.

      vieuxvieil

      un vieux journal

      an old newspaper

      un vieil album

      an old album

      8.

      foufol
      (quite rare)

      un amour fou

      passionate love

      un fol amour

      passionate love

      9.

      moumol
      (very rare)

      un effort mou

      a weak effort

      un mol effort

      a weak effort

      Check out our articles to learn more about French demonstrative adjectives like cet(this) and possessive adjectives like mon(my) and ton(your)

    • Rule #4: Some adjectives mean something different when placed before or after the noun. For example:

      un homme grand(a tall man)vs. un grand homme(an admirable man)

      Check out this list with more French adjectives whose meaning changes depending on their position in the sentence.

    How to change the tone of an adjective in French?

    To change the tone of an adjective in French, you can use adverbs to intensify or minimize the meaning of an adjective. For example:

    adverbadjective

    Ces étudiants sont assez intelligents.

    These students are rather clever.

    adverbadjective

    Ces étudiants sont très intelligents.

    These students are very smart.

    You can study the adverbs below to become more precise when describing things or people and when sharing your opinion.

    Type of adverb
    French
    English

    Adverbs used to intensify an adjective

    très

    very

    vraiment

    really

    assez

    rather, enough

    trop

    too

    plutôt

    rather

    fort

    very

    super

    super

    Adverbs used to minimize an adjective

    (un) peu

    a little

    modérément

    moderately

    passablement

    passably

    à peine

    barely

    Tip

    Remember the combo: noun + adverb +adjective

    In brief: Tips to master French adjectives

    To master French adjectives, keep the following tips in mind:

    • Add -e to French adjectives when describing something or someone feminine, and pronounce the last consonant before -e.

    • Add -s to French adjectives when describing many things and people but do not pronounce it!

    • Most of the time you will have a noun + adjective structure (the adjective will follow the noun).

    • When intensifying your description, use an adverb: noun + adverb + adjective.

    So, how do you feel? Are you starting to get the hang of French adjectives? If you would like to practice using French adjectives, take a look at our activities!

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