Position and meaning of some adjectives in French

Hello friends!

After some confusions and explanations that rose from the meaning of “un pauvre homme” and “un homme pauvre” like two weeks ago, I promised to write a little thing about it, now is the time.

Like in the above phrase “un pauvre homme/un homme pauvre” one can hardly say if they mean 2 different things as they’ll both be translated as “a poor man”. However, the PLACEMENT of the ADJECTIVE “pauvre” makes the difference between the two phrases i.e. while “un homme pauvre” means a poor man with no penny, “un pauvre homme” means a poor man who needs to be pitied.

The bottomline is that the placement of an adjective affects the meaning of the noun it modifies or qualifies. Some adjectives can be placed before and after a noun and the implication of this is that if these adjectives are misplaced i.e. if they are not put in the right position be it before or after the noun, the intended meaning of the speaker will be lost.

For instance, if you want to say “there is only one person in the house” and you say “il y a une PERSONNE SEULE dans la maison” you’ll lose your intended meaning because you have misplaced your adjective which makes your sentence mean “there is a lonely person in the house”. What you should have said is “il y a une SEULE PERSONNE dans la maison”.

Let’s see more examples…

1. Le président ancien = the old president (of age). L’ancien président = the former president. (e.g. Goodluck Jonathan).

2. Un homme grand = a tall man. Un grand homme = a great man.

3. La semaine dernière = last week (the week before/previous week). La dernière semaine = the last week (of a series/month).

4. Une chambre propre = a clean/neat room. Ma propre chambre = ma own room.

I hope this has been of a litle help to someone.

Article by Olabayo Awodirepo


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