Adjectives and Exclamations

Unlike English, French adjectives agree in number and gender with the nouns they modify. It is, therefore, important to know whether a French noun is masculine or feminine and singular or plural.

Forming singular adjectives

The rules for the formation of singular adjectives in French are:

  • The feminine singular form of most adjectives is formed by adding an ‐e to the masculine singular form. If the masculine singular form ends in an unpronounced consonant, that consonant is pronounced in the feminine form:

 

  • Masculine singular adjectives that end in a silent ‐e do not change in the feminine. Both forms are spelled and pronounced in the same manner:

 

  • If the masculine singular adjective ends in an ‐é, the feminine singular adjective adds another ‐e:

  • Masculine singular adjectives ending in ‐x form the feminine by changing ‐x to ‐se:

 

  • Masculine singular adjectives ending in ‐f form the feminine by changing ‐f to ‐ve:

  • Masculine singular adjectives ending in ‐er form the feminine by changing ‐er to ‐ère:

  • Some masculine singular adjectives form the feminine by doubling the final consonant before the ‐e ending: 
  • Some adjectives are irregular and follow no rules. They must be memorized:

beau (beautiful)

belle

blanc (white)

blanche

complet (complete)

complète

doux (sweet, gentle)

douce

faux (false)

fausse

favori (favorite)

favorite

fou (crazy)

folle

frais (fresh)

fraîche

franc (frank)

franche

inquiet (worried)

inquiète

long (long)

longue

mou (soft)

molle

nouveau (new)

nouvelle

public (public)

publique

sec (dry)

sèche

secret (secret)

secrète

travailleur (hardworking)

travailleuse

vieux (old)

vieille



The French use special forms of beau (bel), fou (fol), mou (mol), nouveau (nouvel), and vieux (vieil) before masculine nouns beginning with a vowel or vowel sound. If, however, the adjective comes after the noun, the regular masculine form is used:

  • un bel appartement (a beautiful apartment):
  • L'appartement est beau. (The apartment is beautiful.)

Forming plural adjectives

The rules for the formation of plural adjectives in French are as follows:

  • Adding ‐s to the singular of the masculine or feminine adjective forms the plural of most adjectives:

  • An adjective modifying two or more nouns of different genders uses the masculine plural:
  • Le garçon et la fille sont contents. (The boy and the girl are happy.)

  • If a masculine singular adjective ends in ‐s or ‐x, the singular and plural are identical:

 
  • Most masculine adjectives ending in ‐al change the ‐al to ‐aux in the plural:

 

  • The adjective tout (all) is irregular in the masculine plural: 

  

Placement of adjectives

Unlike in English, most adjectives in French follow the nouns they modify:

  • une fille heureuse (a happy girl)
  • un ciel bleu (a blue sky)

A few short, descriptive adjectives, usually expressing beauty, age, goodness, and size (you can remember this with the acronym BAGS), generally precede the nouns they modify:

  • Beauty: beau (beautiful, handsome), joli (pretty)
  • Age: nouveau (new), vieux (old), jeune (young)
  • Goodness (or lack of it): bon (good), gentil (nice), mauvais (bad)
  • Size: grand (large, big), petit (small, little), court (short), long (long), gros (fat , thick), large (wide)

Other common adjectives that precede the noun (but do not fall into the BAGS categories) include the following:

  • autre (other)
  • chaque (each, every)
  • dernier (last)
  • plusieurs (several)
  • premier(first)
  • quelques (a few)
  • tel (such)
  • tout (all, whole, every)

In addition, tout precedes both the noun and the definite article ( le, la, l', les):

  • tous les hommes (all the men)
  • toutes les femmes(all the women)

To use more than one adjective in a description, place each adjective according to its normal position before or after the noun. Two adjectives in the same position are joined by et (and):

  • une longue et mauvaise histoire (a long, bad story)
  • une grande maison blanche (a big, white house)

Past participles may be used as adjectives and, therefore, must agree with the nouns they modify:

  • C'était une surprise inattendue. (It was an unexpected surprise.)
  • Ces places sont prises. (These seats are taken.)

The meaning of some adjectives changes depending on the placement of the adjective before or after the noun it modifies. Before a noun, the adjective has a figurative sense; after a noun, the adjective is used literally:

Irregular adjectives

Be careful to use the following irregular adjectives correctly:

  • bon( ne)( s) (good)
  • meilleur( e)( s) (better)
  • le ( la/les) meilleur ( e)( s) (the best)

and

  • mauvais( e)( s) (bad)
  • mauvais( e)( s) (worse)
  • le ( la/les) plus mauvais( e)( s) (the worst)

Use the adjective quel when exclaiming:

  • Quelle belle maison!(What a beautiful house!)
  • Quelles histoires intéressantes! (What interesting stories!)

Quel must agree with the noun it modifies, as shown in Table 1.