Adjective position in French
In general, French adjectives are placed after the noun they describe.
- C’est un livre intéressant. (It’s an interesting book.)
However, some adjectives must or may be placed before the noun.
- C’est un bon livre. (It’s a good book.)
Among the adjectives that are always after the noun, you will find:
- colours : un ballon bleu
- shapes : un ballon rond
- physical qualities : un ballon mou
- nationalities : un étudiant français
- religions : un moine bouddhiste
- politics : une mesure écologique
- present participles : un jeu amusant
- past participles : un homme stressé
On the infographic below, you will find a list of adjectives that are placed before the noun they describe.
The adjectives that must come before the noun are often very short ones, so you can be sure that a long adjective like “important” is placed after the noun.
In order to memorise these adjectives easily, you can learn some of them in pairs, one adjective and its opposite. Have a look at my Instagram account for learning them with flash cards.
Another very good tip to memorise these adjectives is to use the acronym BRAGS (Beauty, Rank, Age, Goodness, Size) as a mnemonic device. Yet, note that not all of the adjectives corresponding to the acronym BRAGS are placed before the noun. For example, LAID (ugly) and MÉCHANT (mean, nasty) will come after the noun.
- bon (good, correct, right, tasty) / mauvais (bad, incorrect, wrong, nasty)
- jeune (young) / vieux (old)
- petit (small, little) / grand (tall, big, large)
- beau (beautiful, handsome, attractive, lovely)
- joli (pretty, lovely, nice)
- premier, deuxième, etc (first, second, etc)
- nouveau (new)
- meilleur (better)
- gentil (kind, nice, sweet)
- gros (fat, big, large)
- long (long)
- bref (brief, short)
- faux (false)
In addition, all non descriptive adjectives come also before the noun they describe :
- demonstrative : ce, cette, ces, etc
- indefinite : tout, chaque, plusieurs, certains, autre, même, etc
- interrogative : quel, quelle, quels, etc
- negative : aucun, nul, etc
- possessive : mon, ma, mes, etc
BEFORE & AFTER
Finally, you have some adjectives that can go either before or after the noun they describe. The placement of these adjective will determine the meaning of the adjective or will emphasise it.
When the adjective is after the noun, it has a more literal or objective meaning.
When placed before the noun, it has a more figurative or subjective meaning.
There’s no exhaustive list of such adjectives, but here are some of the most common :
- ANCIEN – placed before = former, ex / placed after = old, antique, ancient
- CERTAIN – placed before = some, certain / placed after = sure, certain
- CHER – placed before = dear / placed after = expensive
- GRAND – placed before = great / placed after = tall
- MÊME – placed before = same / placed after = very, actual
- PAUVRE – placed before = wretched, miserable / placed after = poor, broke
- PROPRE – placed before = own / placed after = clean
- SALE – placed before = nasty / placed after = dirty
- SEUL – placed before = only, single, sole / placed after = alone, lonely, on one’s own
- TRISTE – placed before = pitiful, unfortunate / placed after = sad, sorrowful
- VRAI – placed before = real, genuine / placed after = true
When you have several adjectives for a single noun, you have 3 solutions :
- all the adjectives are normally placed before the noun -> un jeune et beau garçon.
- one of the adjectives is normally placed before and the other one after -> un petit livre rouge
- all the adjectives are normally placed after the noun -> un film drôle et amusant.
It’s also possible to use OU if the adjectives are presented as alternatives -> une chambre simple ou double
Read also: Opposites in French