French Lessons


Pas de Deux

To wrap up our series of lessons on adjectives, we want to show you a few examples of multiple adjectives qualifying the same noun.

Native speakers of a language know instinctively how to order multiple adjectives. For example, Anglophones know that we say a "big old black truck" rather than "black big old truck." The rules that govern this ordering process are somewhat cumbersome to explain, and are often a bit flexible. (It's not exactly "wrong" to say "black big old truck"; it just doesn't sound quite as good—don't you agree?)

We won't delve into too many nitty-gritty details governing multiple-adjective order today. We'll leave that to the linguistics PhDs. Since, to most of us, it's simply a matter of what sounds good, we thought we'd give you a sense of what sounds good in French by taking a look at some examples and offering you a few simple pieces of advice.

Let's start out where many lessons do: in a classroom. In French, the teacher at the front of the room will write on un grand tableau noir (a big blackboard)—ordered this way because we say: un "grand" tableau (a big board), and because we say: un tableau "noir" (a blackboard). (Adjectives like grand are explained in this lesson, and color adjectives are explained in this lesson.)

Ready for some more examples? Off we go to the land of fashion. Even if you aren’t a celebrity or your pockets aren’t lined with gold, you can still check out the Chanel collection in Le Journal's fashion show videos:

La fameuse petite robe noire

The famous little black dress

Caption 3, Le Journal: Défilé de mode - Part 3

Notice how each adjective takes its usual place in this phrase. The adjective petite (which, like grand, is discussed here) comes before the noun robe. It turns out that fameuse is also an adjective that tends to come before the noun in French. And color, as we established in our blackboard example, comes after the noun. So, we place each adjective in its proper place and we get fameuse petite robe noire

Of course, sometimes you'll see multiple adjectives on just one one side of a noun (either before or after). Take a look at the story of little Morgane, who was, at two pounds, a greatly premature baby who grew up to be a perfectly healthy and cheery child.

À quatre ans, Morgane est une enfant gaie et vive sans aucun problème de santé.

At four years old, Morgane is a happy and playful child without any health problem.

Caption 2, Le Journal: Grands prématurés

Here the two adjectives describe the same type of quality—the little girl's pleasant disposition—so the conjunction et (and) is appropriately positioned between them. And, of course, both adjectives come after the noun they qualify, as they would if they were used alone: We say une enfant gaie (happy) and we also say une enfant vive ("playful" or "vivacious").

Let's look at another example, this time love-related:

Comme deux jeunes mariés, nos destins sont liés.

Like two newlyweds, our destinies are linked.

Caption 5, Ina-Ich: Âme armée

Perhaps this is just common sense, but when you have a common expression in French that's made up of an adjective-noun combo, and is then modified by another adjective, keep that common expression together. In Ina-Ich's song lyrics above, we have the common adjective-noun combo jeunes mariés (newlyweds—literally "young marrieds"). And as newlyweds typically come in pairs, we see this expression quantified by the numerical adjective deux (two), which, because it is a number, appears in front of the noun phrase, as seen in this lesson.

Here's a final point to leave you with, and perhaps the most important thing to take away from our series of adjective lessons. As is wisely written in one of Pierre Larousse's famous language books:

C’est le goût et surtout l’oreille qui déterminent la place que doivent occuper les adjectifs!

"It’s taste and especially sound that determine the place that adjectives must occupy!"

Keep taking your daily dose of Yabla video vitamins and you'll get more and more of that native-speaker sense of how to season your phrases with multiple adjectives!


Signup to get Free French Lessons sent by email

You May Also Like