You may have heard that most of the time, an adjective in French is placed after the noun. But not always. How are we supposed to know? We find plenty of clues and start to gain an intuitive understanding when we watch authentic French videos. Let's have a look at a few instances when the adjective almost always follows the noun it modifies: color or shape, and origin/nationality, ethnicity, or religion.
Let's have a look at shapes and colors first. In English we say "square meter," but in French, the adjective carré (square) follows the noun mètre (meter). This is evident in our video about "green tides" in Brittany:
Mètre carré par mètre carré.
Square meter by square meter.
Caption 3, Le Journal: Marée verte en Bretagne
Colors follow the same pattern. Listen to master chef Daniel Boulud describing what goes into his extremely high-end hamburgers:
Un pavé de bœuf braisé au vin rouge, avec du foie gras dedans...
A, a chunk of, of beef braised in red wine, with some foie gras inside...
Caption 9, Le Journal: Un hamburger très cher!
Like most Frenchmen, M. Boulud loves his vin rouge (red wine). Note that he puts the color "red," rouge, after the noun "wine," vin, not the other way around.
Similarly, Ina-Ich, the lovely chanteuse parisienne (Parisian singer) d'origine vietnamienne (of Vietnamese origin) places the color kaki (khaki) after the noun habits (dress/clothes), in her song Âme armée (Armed Soul).
En habits kakis, plus rien n’a de prix
In khaki dress, nothing more has any value
Caption 14, Ina-Ich: Âme armée
Notice that when we describe Ina-Ich, we say that she is a chanteuse parisienne and not a parisienne chanteuse; we say that she is d'origine vietnamienne and not de vietnamienne origine; and French web sites proclaim that she sings rock français (French rock) and not français rock. Why? Because another instance when adjectives pretty much always come after the noun in French is when the adjective is indicating origin, nationality, or ethnicity. That is why we find parisienne (Parisian) following chanteuse (singer), vietnamienne (Vietnamese) following origine (origin), and français (French) following rock.
We hear this in our "Farm Stand" video from Montreal, Quebec, when François, the proud farmer, describes for us his finest organic vegetables:
Ici, c'est le choux chinois.
Here, this is Chinese cabbage.
Caption 15, Farmer François: Le stand de légumes
Here again we find an adjective that describes origin/nationality, chinois (Chinese) coming after, not before, the noun it modifies, choux (cabbage).
In Le Journal's segment about last year's hotly contested Parisian Book Fair, the Salon du Livre, we hear an adjective describing ethnicity (arabe/Arab) and one describing religion (musulman/Muslim):
L'Egypte, pays arabe et musulman, pourrait bien être à son tour l'invitée d'honneur du Salon du Livre.
Egypt, an Arab and Muslim country, could well be the next guest of honor of the Book Fair.
Captions 19-20, Le Journal: Salon du Livre
(In a similar vein, you'll see the same placement, after the noun, for an adjective describing an official function: for example, une rencontre ministérielle, "a cabinet meeting.")
So there we have it: color, shape, origin, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and official function—a few of the types of adjectives that almost always come after the noun in French. Keep your ears open while watching Daniel Boulud making his infamous burger, farmer François talking up his organic vegetables, Ina-Ich singing Âme armée, and all the other videos on Yabla French and you'll notice the rule is nearly universal!