On this website:

notre invité Anthony Lacoudre, [....], expose l’étonnante influence de la langue française sur la langue anglaise au cours des siècles.

Putting this into google translate gives:

our guest Anthony Lacoudre exhibits the astonishing influence of the French language on the English language over the centuries.

I was surprised that the quote had "l’étonnante influence" instead of "l'influence étonnante", because most adjectives come after the noun, although I know that some adjectives can come before the noun as well as after the noun (and when these adjectives come before the noun, they have a more figurative meaning).

I wanted to know what "étonnante" meant when it comes before the noun. I put it into linguee.fr, and the results don't seem to indicate that étonnante is even able to come before the noun, much less what it means when it does! It does give some example sentence fragments of "étonnante", but each of those fragments has "étonnante" appear after the noun.

1. How can I find out what an adjective means when it comes before the noun, using reference resources on the Web?

Edit: My question is different from this "possible duplicate question" question.

My question wants to know, if I see an adjective before the noun, what is its meaning (as opposed to the meaning it takes when it comes after the noun), and also my question wants to know internet resources / research skills I can use to find this information out myself, no matter what adjective I come across.

The linked "possible duplicate question", instead, is asking "how do I know whether an adjective comes before the noun, or after?". The responses in English suggest that certain adjectives (e.g. the BANGS adjectives) typically come before the noun, but they don't seem to acknowledge that some adjectives can appear both before the noun and after the noun.


1 Answer 1


Almost every adjective can come before the noun, and for the vast, vast majority of them with the exact same meaning as when they're post-nominal.

The adjective might be anteposed for stylistic or dialectal reasons. Higher registers will do it more often. Diachronically speaking, French has been moving from allowing every adjective to appear before the noun and rarely placing them after, to systematically placing them after the noun, but the current situation is one of change in progress, which explains the sometimes very large regional and register variations you'll encounter.

For the handful of adjectives who do change meaning when place depending on their placement relative to the noun, any dictionary will mention it.

Rather than listing the adjectives who can placed before the noun (which is the norm), here's a list of those that can't:

  • Colour terms: Outside a few fixed expressions or place names from an older stage of the language (le Rouge Cloître in Belgium, l'expression "blanc-seing") colour adjectives always come after the noun.

  • Nationalities: Un pain français, une attitude américaine. There's one exception, used when you want to imply something is typical of the nationaly, in which case the adjective is always preceded by très: Both "Sa très américaine attitude" and "Son attitude très américaine" is possible.

Besides those, anything goes.

  • wow. i had never had it explained to me that, in fact, every adjective could be placed before the noun. so, given that linguee.fr didn't mention anything about the change in meaning if "étonnante" comes before the noun, i suppose that "étonnante" was placed before the noun for stylistic reasons. (and of course, i do not know what nuances of style doing that provides, but i probably need to be fluent in order to understand those nuances).
    – silph
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 13:13
  • If the vast majority don't change meaning, is there an exhaustive list of those that do/can? (I'm thinking of pauvre, ancien...)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 13:39

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