In English, you can happily pile on adjectives before a noun (e.g. the big fat ugly green alien), in French, not so much. On top of that, in French some adjectives go before and others afterwards (I humbly admit to never having taken the time to work out why, mostly intuited).

This is something where literal translation just won't cut it, and periphrase work-arounds can just clutter up your text.

What rules of thumb do professional translators use in these cases? Just jettison some adjectives?

(ported from EN-FR proposal)

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    Do you mean "paraphrase"? Although "periphrase" ties in nicely with your "work-arounds".
    – hairboat
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:39
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    I'm confident you can pile quite a lot of adjectives too, but with certain typographic rules, such as the use of commas and et. Une magnifique grande maison rouge, spacieuse et bien ensoleillée. If you care to throw English examples at us, I'm sure we'll make a decent job of translating them to French no matter how long.
    – Joubarc
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:47
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    As for position of adjectives: french.stackexchange.com/questions/319/… Aug 31, 2011 at 13:48
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    @Benjol one more thing... in whatever order you put the adjectives, don't forget the noun.
    – Joubarc
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:04
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    @Stephane, having looked at the answers to that question, I'm thinking that intuition was easier and possibly more reliable :)
    – Benjol
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


You can also pile adjectives in french, before and after the noun.

I don't think there's any formal rule. This is mostly a question of style and usage (the section "Épithète liée" of this article explains this an interesting way). In certain specific cases, the position of the adjective changes the meaning (the article above includes a few words about that as well) but this is also a question of usage.

So we would say:

Le gros alien vert

Le gros alien vert et moche

Le gros, grand et affreux alien vert et malpoli

L'alien vert, grand, affreux, et malpoli

But we wouldn't say (but in poetry, maybe):

Le gros, grand, affreux, malpoli et vert alien

Le bleu alien moche

Even if all of the sentences above are actually not incorrect.
And, specific case:

Un alien sale (an alien that is dirty)

doesn't mean:

Un sale alien (a bloody alien, not to use an f-word)


Le gros vert Alien
courait dans la plaine
La lune était pleine,
proche ;
pour lui quelle aubaine :
roches !
(Mais il se cassa tout de même la figure).


I think a reasonable paraphrase would be "[noun] who/which was [adjective,adjective,...]"

For example:

L'alien qui était grand, gros, moche, et vert...

Or even more compactly:

Le grand alien gros moche vert...

Either way, I'd put all or all but one of the adjectives after the noun (maybe you want to put one adjective which is the primary one - here, "big" - before the noun, but you could put them all after it).

However, it looks like native French speakers are also fine with doing things in a more "English" way and putting most of the adjectives before the noun (although leaving one after the noun which you'd never do in English), eg.:

Le grand, gros et moche extraterrestre vert...

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    Le grand, gros et moche extraterrestre vert works for me.
    – Joubarc
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:53
  • J'avais l'affreux, gros et gras extraterrestre vert (subtilement différent de l'affreux, gros et gras, extraterrestre vert). Aug 31, 2011 at 13:55
  • @Joubarc But does it sound better than putting the adjectives after the noun? Somehow putting the adjectives after seems like more natural French to me.
    – Jez
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:15
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    It's complicated.
    – Joubarc
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:17

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