Adjectives serve the same purpose in French as they do in English: they are words that describe people, places, and things. In this post, we’ll give a thorough overview of French adjectives. We’ll begin with a brief review of what an adjective is. Then we’ll get into the grammar lessons, starting with French sentence structure when using adjectives and moving on to French adjective agreement with gender and number.
Through the rest of the post we’ll cover the different categories of adjectives in French, including a list of the 30 most-used French adjectives. With plenty of examples in both languages, by the end of this post you’ll be well on your way to recognizing and using a wide selection of adjectives in French.
What is an adjective?
Adjectives are words that modify nouns and pronouns. Adjectives can be used to describe something independently, or in comparison to something else. Let’s describe things independently and then in comparison to one another; we’ll need adjectives for both.
Here are examples of French adjectives used to describe nouns independently:
- I drink a large soda. – Je bois un gros soda.
- You eat a juicy burger. – Tu manges un burger juteux.
- She buys yellow bananas. – Elle achète des bananes jaunes.
You may have noticed that French adjective placement is not always the same as in English. “Gros” (large) went before the noun, just like in English, while “juteux” (juicy) and “jaunes” (yellow) went after the nouns, in contrast to English. We will discuss adjective placement in the section on sentence structure below.
Here are examples of French adjectives used to describe nouns in comparison to something else. In French, these adjectives all require superlative adverbs as helpers to get the job done.
- Her cookie is larger than mine. – Son biscuit est plus grand que le mien.
- The steak is more expensive than the chicken. – Le steak est plus cher que le poulet.
- The salad is healthier than the cake. – La salade est plus saine que le gâteau.
- That is the biggest ice cream in the world. – C’est la plus grande glace au monde.
In order to compare nouns, we use the adverbial phrases “plus…que” (more…than) or “moins…que” (less …than) with the necessary French adjective sandwiched in between. For superlatives, we use “le,” “la,” or “les” (the) with “plus” (most) or “moins” (least), followed by the adjective.
Where are French adjectives usually placed in a sentence?
The most challenging aspect of using adjectives in French is their placement in a sentence. There are three major categories of French adjectives to consider with respect to sentence placement.
The majority of adjectives go after the noun, which differs from English. Colors, for instance, always go after the noun. Here are some examples of adjectives that go after the noun:
- My favorite movie is… – Mon film préféré est…
- The frustrating class was canceled. – La classe frustrante a été annulée.
The most common and generic adjectives are generally referred to as the French BANGS adjectives. BANGS stands for Beauty, Age, Number, Goodness, and Size. These are the only adjectives that normally go before the noun like in English.
- The beautiful woman smiles. – La belle femme sourit.
- He has three pens. – Il a trois stylos.
The third category of French adjectives is the trickiest, since these adjectives change meaning based on their placement in the sentence. Don’t worry, there are only a few such adjectives that belong in this category. You will get used to them in no time!
- My dear friend. Your expensive phone is outdated. – Mon cher ami. Ton téléphone cher est désuet.
- I have my own apartment. My clean apartment is beautiful. – J’ai mon propre appartement. Mon appartement propre est magnifique.
French adjective agreement
Since all French nouns have a gender, all French adjectives that modify these nouns need to agree in gender and number. This concept of gender agreement for French adjectives means that there may be four slightly-different forms of a given adjective: masculine singular, feminine singular, masuline plural, and feminine plural.
Some French adjectives are invariable, meaning that there is no change between masculine and feminine (though they still often require a spelling change for plural). Many of the invariable French adjectives are colors.
- I can understand if you want a pink bike, but who wants a pink car? – Je comprends si tu veux un vélo rose, mais qui veut une voiture rose ?
- My grandfather always wears brown trousers, and he often wears a brown shirt too. – Mon grand-père porte toujours un pantalon marron, et souvent il porte une chemise marron aussi.
- She is a funny woman. It’s normal that she wants a funny man too. – Elle est une femme drôle. C’est normal qu’elle veut un homme drôle aussi.
Most adjectives will add an ‑e for feminine adjectives and an ‑s for plural adjectives. Feminine plural adjectives take both: ‑es. Sometimes it’s necessary to also double the final vowel of the masculine version before adding the -e to get the feminine version.
- He is strong. She is strong. They (masculine) are strong. They (feminine) are strong. – Il est fort. Elle est forte. Ils sont forts. Elles sont fortes.
- The boy is cute. The girl is cute. The boys are cute. The girls are cute. – Le garçon est mignon. La fille est mignonne. Les garçons sont mignons. Les filles sont mignonnes.
Some adjectives, such as those ending in -eau, will add an ‑x to form the masculine plural version.
- He is handsome. They are handsome. – Il est beau. Ils sont beaux.
Many masculine adjectives end in ‑x already though, so their plural form is unchanged. These adjectives’ feminine forms still usually take the ‑se we saw above.
- Because of the defective fridge, we’re not going to eat the dubious fish. But the cats will be happy! – À cause du frigo défectueux, nous n’allons pas manger les poissons douteux. Mais les chat vont être heureux!
- After a few questionable attempts, my wife was happy when I finally succeeded in repairing her defective sewing machine. – Après quelques tentatives douteuses, ma femme était heureuse quand j’ai enfin réussi à réparer sa machine à coudre défectueuse.
Many French adjectives have a change to their accents in addition to the endings between their masculine and feminine forms. These need to be learned individually.
- I rarely buy expensive clothes, but I always buy expensive shoes. – J’achète rarement des vêtements chers, mais j’achète toujours des chaussures chères.
- Can I offer you a cold drink? / A cold water would be great. – Je peux vous offrir un boisson frais ? / De l’eau fraîche serait génial.
A few French adjectives have additional spelling changes when applying gender and number agreement. These different versions need to be learned individually.
- He is beautiful. She is beautiful. – Il est beau. Elle est belle.
- He is old. She is old. – II est vieux. Elle est vieille.
French adjectives created from participles
Similarly to English, we can use certain verb formulations as adjectives in French. These verb forms warrant their own posts, so we’ll just mention them briefly here. The important lesson for now is that both the present participles and the past participles can function as adjectives in French, each with their own meanings. Remember that, like any other French adjectives, these still need to respect the rules of gender agreement we saw above.
Here are some examples of the present participle acting as a French adjective:
- I love my border collie, but he is exhausting. – J’aime mon border collie, mais il est épuisant.
- My work is tiring. – Mon travail est fatiguant.
In these next examples, the past participle acts as an adjective.
- I worked all day and now I’m exhausted. – J’ai travaillé toute la journée et maintenant je suis épuisé(e).
- She’s tired. – Elle est fatiguée.
For more detail on this verb form, including how to manage its endings, check out our post on the French past participle. Likewise, our post on the French passive voice also addresses participle endings.
Other types of French adjectives
So far our focus has been on words that are commonly thought of as adjectives since they’re so descriptive.
From a grammatical perspective, there are several additional classes of adjectives that we can also consider, which we’ll mention quickly here: possessive adjectives and demonstrative adjectives. Click through the links for full lessons on each of them. Even numbers can be considered as adjectives when they’re used to describe nouns, but for those we’ll just refer you to our post on counting in French.
Remember that these still always need to respect the same rules of gender agreement like any other French adjectives. Regarding sentence structure, these two classes of French adjectives are placed before the noun.
Possessive adjectives are used to define the possessor of a noun, which in English are my, your, his, her, its, our, and their. The key difference between the two languages is that in English the possessive adjective reflects the gender of the possessor, whereas in French it takes the gender of what is possessed.
Here’s the table of possessive adjectives in French:
|Possessor (subject pronouns)||English possessive adjectives||For singular masculine possessions||For singular feminine possessions||For plural possessions|
|il, elle||his, her, its||son||sa||ses|
- My bag is in my room. – Mon sac est dans ma chambre.
- Her pizza is on his table. – Sa pizza est sur sa table.
Demonstrative adjectives are used when pointing out or describing something, equivalent to this, that, these, or those in French. Here’s the table of demonstrative adjectives in French:
* cet is used exclusively before words that begin with a vowel sound
- I want that toy. – Je veux ce jouet.
- I love that show. – J’aime cette série.
30 most important French adjectives list
So far we’ve seen the most important aspects of working with adjectives in French, including sentence placement, gender agreement, and a few specific types of French adjectives. Here we present a list of the 30 most important French adjectives. Our focus here is on the descriptive adjectives people use on a daily basis. Check our separate post for lists of French colors.
We include the feminine ending in parentheses, or include the full feminine version where there are big spelling changes. The adjectives without any additional versions are invariable (they don’t change form between masculine and feminine).
|Adjectives, English||Adjectives, French|
Adjectives are an essential part of daily conversation in any language, enabling us to provide nuance and detail about people, places, and things. In today’s post, we came through with a detailed lesson on French adjectives.
There are two main points to consider when using adjectives in French: sentence placement and gender agreement. We saw that sentence placement sees most of the descriptive French adjectives placed directly after the noun they modify, although certain classes of French adjectives go before the noun just like in English. As for gender agreement, we saw that although some French adjectives are invariable, most have a slight spelling change when they’re used to modify feminine and plural nouns.
To round out our lesson, we provided a French adjectives list with the top 30 descriptive adjectives you’re likely to need in everyday conversation. We also went over a few other grammatical categories that are considered adjectives in French, including explanations and examples, while pointing you to those full lessons on numbers, possessive adjectives, and demonstrative adjectives.
We hope the variety we shared here will motivate you to add adjectives to the mix while describing your thoughts in French, and to do so correctly!