Some French adjectives change their meaning depending on whether we put them before or after the noun they modify. For example, in Le Journal's video Les microcrédits, we learn about a fellow who realizes his dream of opening a business. This pauvre homme (poor, as in "pitiable," man) had spent years doing nothing every day. But, because he was also an homme pauvre (poor, as in "penniless," man), he qualified for a microcredit loan, and is now a proud restaurateur!
Il a réussi à monter sa propre pizzeria, il y a maintenant trois mois.
He succeeded in opening his own pizzeria, just three months ago.
Caption 3, Le Journal: Les microcrédits
Sa propre pizzeria means it's his alone, but if he wants customers to keep coming back, he'd better make sure it's also a pizzeria propre (a clean pizzeria)! As you can see, if placed in front of the noun, propre signals ownership; if placed after, it indicates cleanliness.
We hear another interesting example when rugby-player-turned-singer Cali sings the romantic ballad C'est quand le bonheur?
Car qui mieux que ces vieux amants, sait qu'on perd l'amour
Because who knows better than those old lovers that you lose lov
Caption 34, Cali: C'est quand le bonheur?
You may notice that Cali does not mention anyone's age; ces vieux amants, "those old lovers," refers to lovers who have experienced long-lasting love. They might be in their twenties or in their eighties—we don’t know. If Cali had placed the adjective vieux (old) after the noun amants (lovers), then we'd know that he meant elderly lovers (who, for all we know, met last week at bingo). So, amants vieux would indicate their age, while vieux amants indicates the duration of their love.
Dropping in on the Paris Poetry Fair, we hear:
Antonin Artaud, grand homme de théâtre, grand poète du vingtième siècle...
Antonin Artaud, famous playwright, famous poet from the twentieth century...
Notice that grand, placed before the noun, means "famous" or "great"—quite different from when it appears after the noun. Un homme grand means a tall man—a man of physically grand proportions. Can you spot any poètes grands (tall poets) among the aspiring grands poètes (great poets) at this Paris Poetry Fair?
Did you see Le Journal's piece about teen use of marijuana?
Selon lui, certains signes devraient alerter vite les parents.
According to him, certain signs should quickly alert parents.
Caption 24, Le Journal: Cannabis en hausse chez les jeunes
This specialist talks about certains signes (certain, as in "some specific," signs). But are these also signes certains (certain, as in "definite, unquestionable," signs)? Watch the video and decide for yourself!
Keep an eye out for these and other adjectives that change their meaning depending on where they sit!
Extra credit: Certain language sages have noted that, generally speaking, these types of adjectives take a more figurative meaning when placed before a noun, and a more literal one when placed after. Can you see what they mean?