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A literal translation of "pauvre" is poor. This could have at least two meanings 1) not rich, and 2) unfortunate.

I was told (and forget which is which) that if you place pauvre before the noun, it has one meaning, and if you place it after the noun, it has the other.

Example: l'homme pauvre and le pauvre homme.

Edit: Based on my current understanding, pauvre before homme means "unfortunate, and "pauvre" after homme means "not rich." Is this true?

Are there many other adjectives with dual meanings for which this is true? Could you give some EXAMPLES of how their meanings DIFFER when the adjective is placed before or after the noun.

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@Gilles: cette question n'a pas reçu de réponse, je ne pense pas qu'on puisse la fermer comme un doublon. Il faut je pense accepter le cas par cas, tout du moins ceux qui ne sont pas suffisament détaillés dans un dictionnaire lambda. –  Stéphane Gimenez Feb 23 '13 at 0:07
    
Tom, un pauvre homme n'est pas nécessairement pauvre ;-) –  Stéphane Gimenez Feb 23 '13 at 0:15
    
@StéphaneGimenez L'idée, je crois, est de garder toute l'information pertinente à un sujet dans la même question. Dans cet esprit, peut-être serait-il préférable de répondre à cette question-ci dans l'autre question (ajouter l'information dans la réponse acceptée) que de laisser les deux questions ouvertes? –  Kareen Feb 23 '13 at 4:45
    
@Kareen: vu la quantité, je ne vois pas comment on pourrait couvrir tous les doubles sens dus à la position d'un adjectif dans une seule réponse sans en oublier. Donner un lien vers la réponse générique approximative, pas de problème, mais clore pour répondre ailleurs, ça me paraît insensé. –  Stéphane Gimenez Feb 23 '13 at 19:50
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@StéphaneGimenez Well, ok. But the specific answer is to be found in a dictionary, and the duplicate gives as much information about general trends as can be expected. TomAu: A master list is too much for this site, we'd have to list all the adjectives. That's a job for a dictionary. –  Gilles Feb 24 '13 at 0:27
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Pauvre, in the sense of “not rich”, is always placed after the noun: un homme pauvre, une famille pauvre, une ville pauvre, ...

Pauvre, in the sense of “unfortunate”, is always placed before the noun: un pauvre homme, une pauvre hère, ...

There is a general trend whereby some adjectives have a literal meaning when placed after the noun and a figurative meaning when placed before the noun: un grand homme (a great man) vs. un homme grand (a tall man). There is a difference between pauvre and grand however: the position of pauvre is based on its meaning, whereas grand normally comes before and is only placed after the noun in a few expressions where the figurative meaning kicks in.

In general, there is no rule, and you must look it up in a dictionary.

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I can't speek english, sorry, so I write a comment in french... Je pense que la clef est que pauvre s'utilise tel un substantif (un faisant fonction de nom) quand il est placé devant. Ce mode est bien noté dans le tlfi, et dans la page substantif de wikipedia Le pauvre est explicitement cité comme tel. Donc ça doit être vraiment vrai ? –  Istao Feb 24 '13 at 7:43
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@Istao Je ne vois pas du tout en quoi ce serait un substantif. Le TLFI ne présente pas pauvre comme un substantif dans ce sens : il peut être substantivé, mais quand il est épithète (un pauvre homme, etc.), par définition, il est n'est pas substantivé. –  Gilles Feb 24 '13 at 19:40
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L'homme pauvre” means that this man is poor, he doesn't have any money (there are a lot of synonyms for this case like misérable, fauché, sans le sou, etc.)

Le pauvre homme is an expression that means that you have some pity for this person (in this case you can replace pauvre with malheureux). It's an expression that is very often used in the current language, for example you have “mon/ma pauvre !” which means “I'm sorry for you”, or “le/la pauvre” which means “I'm sorry for him/her”.

In southern France, they also say “Pauvre !” (or “Malheur !”) as an exclamation mark meaning that you're complaining about something (never use that expression in Paris or people will laugh at you).

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