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I am reading Irène Nemirovsky's novel, Les Biens de Ce Monde. In Chapter 18 Pierre Hardelot is thinking about his relationship with Roland Brugères, his partner in the paper manufacturing business. He thinks

Roland avait pour lui une estime et une amitié curieuses.

That plural ending of the adjective made me do a double-take as I reminded myself that of course it must be plural: it qualifies two curious things. But it leaves me uncomfortable, because they seem more like one admittedly complex qualities. Is this something I should just learn to live with and stop worrying or do French readers raise an eyebrow? Veuillez me pardonner cette question naïve.

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  • Even if the nouns were non-synonymous (actually they're not here) and non-abstract, the plural form on the adjective would be used in such cases. There are stranger cases, even for native speakers: "Un amour des plus émouvantes" for instance. – vc 74 Apr 7 at 5:10
  • @vc74 Mais considère ces nuances avec l'accord du verbe pour des sujets neutres... – escarlate adamantine Apr 8 at 18:32
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In this sentence, both "amitié" and "estime" are "curieuse". We know that precisely because "curieuses" is in the plural form.

Compare :

  • Roland avait pour lui une estime et une amitié curieuses.
  • Roland avait pour lui une estime et une amitié curieuse.
  • Roland avait pour lui une amitié et une estime curieuse.

Here, we understand than only one of the term is "curieux".

Note that the last two sentences are formally correct, but not natural. They should be rewritten :

  • Roland avait de l'estime pour lui, et une curieuse amitié.
  • Roland éprouvait de l'amitié pour lui, et une curieuse estime.

The original sentence is quite elegant.

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  • Thank you. For me your explanation hits the nail on the head. You showed me exactly why it can only be as she wrote it. I'm sorry not to have demonstrated my terrible written French by asking my question in that beautiful language. – Tuffy Apr 8 at 20:35
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It can be surprising because usually, you see the more common construct with an adjective and a noun both plural, and it can be counter-intuitive (or 'uncomfortable') even for native speakers.
But this is the way to go, as curieuses qualifies both une estime et une amitié and as this nominal group is plural (there are 2 elements), the adjective must be plural.

If we replace une estime et une amitié with sentiments, it sounds more familiar: Roland avait pour lui des sentiments curieux.

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  • Thank you for your help. – Tuffy Apr 8 at 20:36
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It is indeed both correct and weird for native speakers. It's even weirder when an adjective qualifies two nouns from a different genre, a masculine and a feminine:

Julie porte un T-shirt et une jupe neufs.

Here the adjective "neuf" has to be at the masculine form because in grammar masculine always wins, but it sounds very weird when it comes right after the feminine noun!

So generally we will try to change the word order to Julie porte une jupe et un T-shirt neufs. to make it sound a bit better...

Many natives would make the mistake to write Julie porte un T-shirt et une jupe neuves. They considered changing the rule, but it hasn't changed so far.

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  • In the last sentence, you're talking about the 'proximity agreement' rule which used to exist centuries ago. Some people talk about bringing it back (I think both rules would be considered correct at the same time), don't I'm not sure the reason is 'because people make the mistake'. – Sacha Apr 8 at 13:28
  • you're right, I got a bit carried away and updated my answer. – Sarah BDnO Apr 8 at 13:46
  • Et si on avait et surtout plutôt que la coordination simple ? Dans un tel cas on pourrait avoir un choix... Si on ratisse trop large pour répondre, on risque de ne pas tenir compte de ces nuances. Par ailleurs il existe une règle de proximité qui n'a rien à voir avec l'accord de proximité, voir ici . cc @Sacha – escarlate adamantine Apr 8 at 18:38

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