Position of adjectives in French grammar

Do French adjectives come before or after the noun?

Generally speaking, most French adjectives come after the noun they are describing. However there are exceptions: some adjectives come before the noun, while there are others that change their meaning depending on whether they come before or after.

Learn about the rules for adjective placement in French grammar with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

Napoléon n’était pas un homme grand, mais un grand homme.

Advertisement

Where to place the adjective in French

  • Usually the adjective comes after the noun it is describing.
    Example:
    le lac geléthe frozen lake
  • Colours also come after the noun.
    Example:
    le tableau noirthe black board
  • Short, often-used adjectives generally come before the noun (beau, bon, bref, grand, gros, faux, haut, jeune, joli, mauvais, meilleur, nouveau, petit, vieux).
    Example:
    la jolie fleurthe beautiful flower
  • If a noun is accompanied by two or more adjectives, they are placed after the noun if they are connected by a conjunction such as mais, donc, or, car, et, ou, ni … ni etc.
    Example:
    Elle avait un visage beau mais sévère.She had a beautiful but stern face.
  • If they are not connected, they frame the noun.
    Example:
    Elle portait une grande jupe bleue.She wore a wide blue skirt.
  • Some adjectives can come either before or after the noun, but their placement changes their meaning (see the table below).
    Examples:
    un homme granda tall man
    un grand hommea great man

Adjectives that change their meaning depending on their position

Adjective Meaning Before a Noun Meaning After a Noun Examples
ancien

former

old
  • mon ancienne maisonmy former house
  • une maison anciennean ancient house
brave respectable courageous, brave
  • un brave hommea respectable man
  • un homme bravea brave man
certain certain (particular) certain (sure)
  • un certain âgea certain age
  • j’en suis certainI’m certain of it
cher dear expensive
  • cher amidear friend
  • un livre cheran expensive book
curieux curious (odd) curious (interested)
  • une curieuse histoirea curious story
  • un homme curieuxa curious (interested) man
dernier last (of all) last (most recent)
  • la dernière semainethe last week (e.g. of the month)
  • la semaine dernièrelast week, this past week
drôle strange amusing, funny
  • une drôle d’histoirea strange story
  • une histoire drôlean amusing story
grand (only with homme) great tall
  • un grand hommea great man
  • un homme granda tall man
pauvre poor (pitiful) poor (without money)
  • le pauvre hommethe poor man!
  • un homme pauvrea poor man
prochain next (when it happens again) next (soon, coming)
  • la prochaine foisthe next time
  • la semaine prochainenext week
propre own clean
  • ma propre chambremy own room
  • ma chambre propremy clean room
pur simple, nothing but pure, fresh
  • une pure formalitéa pure formality
  • l’air purfresh air
sacré damn good/ awesome holy
  • un sacré livrea damn good book
    an awesome book
  • un livre sacréa holy book
sale disgusting dirty
  • une sale histoirea disgusting story
  • une chambre salea dirty room
seul only alone
  • la seule foisthe only time
  • il est seulhe is alone
simple modest, humble simple
  • une simple chaisenothing but a chair
  • des gens simpleshumble people
  • un poème simplea simple poem
vrai real, actual true
  • C’est un vrai problème.This is a real problem.
  • C’est une histoire vraie.This is a true story.