In Which Tigger and Jo Discover a New Species Called the French Adjective
Tigger, let me know when you're ready, and this is where we will work.
Rule: Adjectives come after the noun in French. This is their default position. Adjectives that are a color or shape, carry political significance, or are formed from a verb with an active, non-figurative meaning always come after the noun. You don't even have to think about them. So, unless you have a really good reason, always put your adjective after your noun.
Exception: Except when they don't. You've probably heard the BANGS exception, adjectives referring to the beauty/ugliness, age/youth, number, goodness/badness, and size of the noun come before the noun. These match the basic adjectives mentioned on the page.
Let's talk about the functional adjectives now. These are your number adjectives, but it's important to understand that they're not just specific numbers, like first, second, third, etc. They are quantifiers, and so they include non-numerical adjectives such as "the same," "many," "several," etc.
Next, we've got emphatic adjectives. Since the default adjective position is behind the verb, it stands to reason that you should put the adjective before the noun if you want to emphasize something. The page refers to un accident horrible and un horrible accident. Both are acceptable, but un horrible accident would be worse than un accident horrible because of the added emphasis given due to the abnormal adjective placement.
Exception to the exception: Except when they do again. The last, and most confusing group is the group of variant adjectives. These adjectives can come both before and after the noun. Since the default adjective position is after the noun, it stands to figure that the adjective is being most literally or objectively used when the adjective is in the default position, or coming after the noun. Variant adjectives have an emphatic, figurative, or subjective meaning when they come before the noun. French.about.com calls these "fickle adjectives" and has a good list of them as found in the Links section.
Hello, Jo (and Tikru too)! I hope you do not mind having a grammar-obsessed lurker here. :)
I would like to add that some adjective change meaning depending on whether they are placed before or after a noun. Examples:
- cher - (before) dear / (after) expensive
- ancien - (before) former / (after) very old
- pauvre - (before) poor as in being unfortunate / (after) poor as in having no money
Here is a longer list with examples. :)