Placement of Adjectives
Unlike in the English language, in French, most adjectives come after the noun. Major exceptions like "beau", "jeune", "bon" and "petit" are often taught as the "BAGS" adjectives because they fit into the following categories: Beauty, Age, Goodness, Size. Words like this go before the noun they describe. Example: "Un chat noir" (a black cat) BUT "Un petit chat" (a small cat) http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/adjectives_4.htm has more information and exceptions to this rule
"Grand" is figurative in this case, because it means "great", this sentence translates to "The great white shark". If it were describing size it would come after the noun. This link is very helpful to understand about adjectives with figurative meanings: http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/adjectives_fickle.htm
That resource doesn't tell the whole story about "grand(e)".
In describing a person, grand is "great" when it comes before the noun, and "tall" after, but otherwise, it means "large" or "tall" when it comes before the noun. So "grand requin blanc" can indeed be interpreted as just "large white shark".
The issue with the English "great white shark" is that "great" is not (necessarily or technically) expressing a figurative or subjective judgement in this particular expression. As with many animal and place names, it can actually be considered to be describing simply the relative size of the entity compared to others of its kind, and not necessarily its perceived magnificence. "Great", "greater", "lesser", "least", etc. are often used this way. Some animal examples:
- Great cormorant
- Great egret
- Great horned owl
- Great kiskadee
- Great skua
- Great white pelican
- Greater adjutant stork
- Greater blue-eared starling
- Greater flamingo
- Greater kudu
- Greater rhea
- Greater roadrunner
- Greater sage grouse
- Lesser double-collared sunbird
- Lesser flamingo
- Lesser masked weaver
- Lesser mouse lemur
- Least chipmunk
(An interesting question to consider is which meaning of "grand(e)" is its "usual" meaning, "magnificent" or "large"?)
Two weevils crept from the crumbs. 'You see those weevils, Stephen?' said Jack solemnly.
'Which would you choose?'
'There is not a scrap of difference. Arcades ambo. They are the same species of curculio, and there is nothing to choose between them.'
'But suppose you had to choose?'
'Then I should choose the right-hand weevil; it has a perceptible advantage in both length and breadth.'
'There I have you,' cried Jack. 'You are bit – you are completely dished. Don't you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils? Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!'
― Patrick O'Brian
Numbers also come before the noun. And if you want to get really detailed, when adjectives have a literal and a figurative meaning, the figurative meanings appear before the noun. http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/adjectives_4.htm
It's important to notice that before these adjectives in the plural form the partitive article "des" becomes "de": ex. "j'ai de nouveaux amis", "il y avait de gros problèmes".
Moreover, as my French teacher explained me, one can put an adjective who counts more than two syllables before a noun to put more emphasis to the sentence: ex. "nous avons visité un magnifique musée!"
You can play with the place of adjectives in French, when the adjective can be placed either before or after the noun (as it is the case with some adjective), you can change the meaning or emphatize something by moving the adjective. Ex: une jolie fille (a pretty girl), is not exactly the same than une fille jolie. The second turn of phrase is less common, but emphatize more on "jolie" than the first one.
Please note that I edited this post from the original to clarify precisely what I am asking.
I have a puzzle...
If I encounter an adjective that falls in one of the BRANGS+T groups, and that word has both a figurative and literal meaning, how can I be sure that I properly understand the meaning?
For example, if I encounter "J'ai une grande cuisine", how do I know that the writer was talking about size, and not how awesome the kitchen is?
Or the opposite? If the writer intended to imply that the kitchen is totally awesome by using the word "grande"?
This alternative interpretation of the meaning of "grande" is implied in the earlier conversation. If it isn't applicable, please simply say so and then answer the real question.
To be perfectly clear, don't give me examples of ways in which the phrasing could be modified to clarify - I just want to know how any reader can be certain about the author's intention when the adjective used is in this situation.