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It's clear that one says "un bel homme", my question is about "un bel/beau et grand homme" or "un bel/beau mais grand homme" for instance.

  • Larousse dictionary says it only depends on the first letter of the next word => "un bel et grand homme" and "un beau mais grand homme"
  • Académie Française is less clear but seems to says it is "bel" in front of a noun that begins with a vowel or silent h => "un beau et grand homme" and "un beau mais grand homme" I guess, but maybe I misinterpret and it is actually "un bel et grand homme" and "un bel mais grand homme" because the noun to which the adjective refers, which is indeed after the adjective, starts with a silent h

Is there a definite rule for this ?

I have seen this related question and that one, but they only handle the usual case where the noun is directly after the adjective.

2 Answers 2

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Google NGrams only find occurrences of bel et when the noun starts with a vowel and only occurrences of beau et when it starts with a consonant:

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Note: adgencement is the 16th century spelling:

Je vouldray premièrement bien sçavoir ma langue et celle de mes voisins, où iay plus ordinairement commerce. C'est un bel et grand adgencement sans doubte que le grec et le latin, mais on l'achepte trop cher.
Montaigne, Essais, livre 1, 1580. (bold mine)

Bel/beau followed by mais is much rarer but here again, whether bel or beau is used depends on the noun referred to. eg:

[...]la grande complaisance des Romantiques l'a trop galvaudé pour qu'il fut autre chose qu'un bel mais facile ornement poétique.
André Silvaire, Le romantisme anglais, 1946. (bold mine)

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  • 9
    Une belle et bonne réponse.
    – Frank
    Nov 16, 2023 at 16:44
  • 5
    @Frank Je partage votre bel mais bref avis.
    – Evargalo
    Nov 17, 2023 at 8:31
  • 1
    C'est l'une des raisons pourquoi j'aime SE FL. Marié à une personne qui apprenait le français "sur le tas" (mais qui parlait plusieurs autres langues), je me retrouvais régulièrement avec ce genre de questions et je me grattais la tête pour essayer de trouver une règle "alors que c'est intuitif" (la réponse de lâche :)) (+1)
    – WoJ
    Nov 17, 2023 at 12:51
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I like Grevisse's approach very much, which is to quote classical or reputed authors in addition to normative dictionaries. In the present case (Le français correct, règle 618):

The forms BEL, NOUVEL, FOL, MOL, VIEIL replace the modern ones, immediately before the singular, masculine noun beginning with a vowel or a mute h: Un BEL arbre, un NOUVEL habit, un FOL espoir, un MOL oreiller, un VIEIL usage.

However, the hiatus remains in: Ce drap est BEAU et bon (Littré). - Un NOUVEAU et rare moyen (Id.). - Un homme MOU et efféminé (Ac.).
The voiced final remains in: VIEUX et usé (Littré).

This observation is not absolute, though. Sometimes, the older form occurs immediately before a word with initial vowel: Un BEL et pathélique récit (G. Duhamel). - Mon or, si BEL et si clair (Montherlant). - Un nez MOL et enfoncé (A. Thérive). - Un NOUVEL et fâcheux événement (Ac.). - VIEIL et illustre dramaturge (M. Druon).

(Le français correct, règle 172):

The older masculine forms FOL and MOL still occur sometimes, even before a word with initial consonant or at a stop: Un FOL gaspillage (G. Duhamel). - La vieille Périne [...] le tenait pour un peu FOL (L. Martin Chauffier). - Le devoir des amis d'un mort n'est pas d'accompagner sa mémoire de MOLS gémissements (Montherlant).
VIEUX sometimes replaces VIEIL before a name with initial vowel : Un VIEUX usurier (Montesquieu). - Un VIEUX appareil (A. Gide).

Finally, let me add I tend to avoid the hiatus whenever possible; in particular I will only write "Ce drap est bel et bon". I am confortable with Montesquieu's vieux z-usurier (with voiced x), although I will only write "un vieil usurier"; the mols gémissements & such like I'd only use for comic effect.

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