This is the infamous BANGS rule: Beauty Age Number Goodness Size go before the noun.
There is more to it than that however. Fuller explanation better than I could manage here:
Position of French Adjectives http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/adjectives_4.htm
It is a known bug, a real nasty one, too. We are begging the owl to please fix it but so far no action has been taken. It stems from the notion that "she has" may be contracted to "she's" so now the owl spits out "she's" whenever "she has" is part of the answer, notwithstanding that "she's" is the standard contraction for "she is". Duolingo discourages contracting he/she/it has for this reason. Pandora has been let out of the box and the programmers and trying to get it back in again.
There is a slight pronunciation difference between petits chiens and petites chiennes.
With the masculine petits we do not pronounce the final t. We also do not pronounce the n in chiens.
The final t is pronounced with the feminine petites and the n in chiennes is also pronounced.
Please read the entire sentence.
Petit chien/ small dog means a small, male dog OR a small dog of unknown gender.
Petite chienne means a small dog of known female gender.
Chien is inclusive of both male and unknown gender dogs. Chienne is exclusive of everything except female dogs.
Aha, so now I can see what you mean: the perfectly grammatically correct translation of 'elle a de petits chiens' would be something like 'she has some small dogs of unknown gender, possibly including some male dogs', for the 'small male dogs' would unreasonably exclude 'dogs of unknown gender'.
I know I'm slow, but not that slow it appears ;)
There is only the masculine designation or the feminine designation in French gender assignment. There in no neuter/ neutral available. Therefore when the gender is mixed,unknown or considered irrelevant, either the masculine or the feminine must be used to carry that information.
The French language, by custom, has assigned that dual role to the masculine. Some people object to this on principle. Some French speakers say that they and their friends don't conform to this practice. Some English speakers object to using the term chairman when the gender is unknown. Some insist on using a newly invented term chairperson, which they and all their friends use. Whatever floats your boat.
Duo will sometimes take a heart if you use the feminine form when the gender is unknown or mixed, sometimes not. But they will never take a heart if you use the masculine form.Some French speakers may say that you confused them if you use the feminine form to describe a mixed gender or unknown situation. But they will never say you confused them by using the masculine, no matter what region or social circles they travel in.
Some adjectives go before a noun. Just remember BANGS: Beauty, Age, Numbers, Good/Bad, and Size. Verbs describing those things precede nouns. http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/adjectives_4.htm
@NorthernGuy, @Scott Starkey: I agree with SA_Mills' comment above and have not found sufficient information from reliable sources to help me understand your explanations. Do you have any sources you can suggest for consultation, please? Thank you in advance.
F.Y.I.: Since there seem to be discrepancies, confusion and inconsistencies about the subject, "She has small dogs" was accepted as a correct response 14·SEP·2015 and "She has some small dogs" given as an alternate response suggestion.
The word "de" can be used in several different ways. Context will tell you which it is.
- de : of (or) from, e.g., loin de la ville = far from the city
- showing possession, e.g., le livre de mon père = my father's book
- in partitive articles: de+le = du (masc) and de la (fem) http://french.about.com/od/grammar/fl/Du-De-La-Deshellip-Expressing-Unspecified-Quantities-In-French.htm
- de+les = des (mandatory contraction) : may be "some" or "of the" depending on context
- "des" is changed to "de" when it is followed immediately by an adjective.
Chien and Chiens are singular and plural male dog(s) respectively. Chienne and Chiennes are singular and plural female dog(s) respectively. The adjective 'petit' conjugates based on the gender and number (singular/plural) of the noun.
- le petit chien (the small male dog)
- les petits chiens (the small male dogs)
- la petite chienne (the small female dog)
- les petites chiennes (the small female dogs)
CAPTAIN: look at these three: "des chiens", "des chiens blancs", but "de petites chiens". A rule states that 'des' turns into 'de' if there is an adjective between it, the indefinite aritcle, and the noun (all words useable with the 'the' article, i.e. the apple, the thoughts, etc).
Indf. Article + noun (+ adjective) = des chien (blancs) Indf. Article + adjective + noun (+ adjective) = de petits chiens (blancs).
I hope this helps!