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Forward-Thinking Adjectives

Do you remember from our last lesson Michel Garcia and his mysterious catch from Easter Island? Today we will reveal his secret: what made him famous worldwide was his discovery of a beautiful shell, extremely rare and previously unknown. And the name of this shellfish? The Garciai! Michel's pride in his namesake is second only to that for his son, Tokiroa.

Tokiroa est tout de même plus important que la belle Garciai.

Tokiroa is all the same more important than the beautiful Garciai.

Caption 41, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques

By now, you're probably used to adjectives in French following the nouns that they modify (as in le ciel bleu, "the blue sky"). But, as you can see above, the adjective belle precedes the noun Garciai. That's because Garciai is a proper noun, a nom propre, and in French, adjectives precede proper nouns.

In fact, there are a few other occasions when you'll see an adjective placed before the noun it modifies. It can also occur when an adjective is used very often in day-to-day language and is easily associated with the noun that it qualifies (generally these adjectives are short words). For example, notice that the common and monosyllabic adjective long (long), comes before frisson (shiver) in the lovely music video Les mots d'amour (The Words of Love) by Debout Sur Le Zinc.

Et ce long frisson qui n'en finit pas

And this long shiver that does not end

Caption 6, Debout Sur Le Zinc: Les mots d'amour 

And, similarly, Ina-Ich places the short and common adjective beau (beautiful/handsome) before gosse (kid), giving us beau gosse, a common French expression that means "handsome" or "good-lookin'," as in, "Hey handsome!"

À quoi penses-tu beau gosse?

What are you thinking about, handsome?

Caption 3, Ina-Ich: Âme armée

The most common adjectives that you will find placed before a noun are: beau (beautiful), bon (good), grand (tall), gros (big), jeune (young), joli (pretty), mauvais (bad/mean), nouveau (new), petit (small), vieux (old) and their feminine forms. Some examples: un bon livre (a good book), une jolie fleur (a pretty flower), un gentil chien (a nice dog).

However, we should point out that when an adjective of this type is accentuated or highlighted, the tendency is to place it after the noun. You would normally say, C'est une gentille fille (She's a nice girl), but you'd say C’est une fille gentille! (She's a really nice girl!) if you wanted to emphasize gentille.

We expect hot sunny days in the summer, but in Un automne bien chaud, a bright, warm November day throws some people off.

Quinze centimètres sous les pas, un soleil gros comme ça, et pourtant pas un chat!

Fifteen centimeters under your feet, a big sun like this, and yet nothing stirring!

Caption 1, Le Journal: Un automne bien chaud

Notice that the short and common adjective gros (big) this time follows the noun soleil (sun) to emphasize how exceptionally large the sun seems to be on an unusually warm autumn day.

The sun, the sea, and the words of love: three magical elements right there at your fingertips, waiting to teach you more about the placement of French adjectives. What are you waiting for? Check out the videos!

Grammar

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