Appendix:Old French adjectives

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Old French is a Romance language, and hence inherited a lot of its grammatical structure from Late and Vulgar Latin.

Old French adjectives have three genders, two numbers and two cases. Regular Old French adjectives follow a similar declension pattern to modern French ones.

Usage[edit]

Adjectives are used to qualify nouns or pronouns, to give more information about them. They agree in gender, number and case with the noun or pronoun they qualify. They are mainly used in two ways, with a copula (that is, estre, to be) and without one:

  • Circa 1170, Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion
    En la sale qui estoit plaine
    In the room that was full

estoit is the verb form estre.


  • Circa 1189, Guy, Châtelain de Couci, Chanson de Croisade
    Com je vos ai esté amis verais
    As I've always been a true friend to you

No form of the verb estre


Word order is not as fixed as it is in modern French so adjectives

  • Late 12th century, Marie de France, Lanval
    ore est Lanval en dreite veie
    now Lanval is on the right path

In this example, in contrast to the one above, the adjective dreite precedes instead of following the noun veie. The noun in the example above is amis.


Similarly, adjectives can come before as well as after the verb estre

The adjective clers precedes fut, the preterite of estre (more commonly spelled fust).

Regular adjectives[edit]

Adjectives have three qualities; gender (masculine, feminine and neuter), number (singular and plural) and case (oblique and nominative), hence twelve different forms. Dictionaries list the oblique masculine singular, this is in line with the way nouns are listed (see Appendix:Old French nouns). The declension of adjectives mimics that of nouns.

The following table shows the original Latin and the Old French descendant forms. The neuter is not listed as it is always invariable.

Language Nominative masculine singular Accusative masculine singular Nominative masculine plural Accusative masculine plural Nominative feminine singular Accusative feminine singular Nominative feminine plural Accusative feminine plural
Latin bonus bonum bonī bonōs bona bonam bonae bonās
Old French bons bon bon bons bone bone bones bones


The final -s is inherited from Latin -us, -ōs and -ās. The final -a and -am of bona and bonam become -e. Thus the regular declension pattern for Old French adjectives is -s, unchanged, unchanged, -s, -e, -e, -es, -es.

Common variations[edit]

For further information, see Appendix:Old French spellings
  • Adjectives ending in a weak -e (pronounced /ə/) cannot take another -e for the feminine.
    Masculine povre → Feminine povre (no change)
  • Adjectives endings in -f have feminine forms ending in -ve.
    jolif →‎ jolive
  • Adjectives with oblique singulars ending in -t have nominative singulars ending in -z. These may sometimes be spelled with -tz, -s or -ts
    mortmorz (mortz, mors and morts are less common but attested)‎
  • Adjectives with oblique singulars ending in -s, -x and -z cannot take an -s in the nominative singular, so remain unchanged
    orgoillusorgoillus
  • Adjectives ending in -nt tend to have identical masculine and feminine forms. In later Old French feminine forms take an -e.
    trenchanttrenchant (no change)
    grantgrant, later grande
  • Adjective ending in -t with a Latin etymon ending in -dus have feminines ending in -de
    froitfroide

Comparatives and superlatives[edit]

Comparatives and superlatives are form as they are in modern French using plus (more) and le plus (the most).

  • 13th century, Guillaume de Lorris, Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose
    Regarde lequel est plus gent
    [the people] look at which is the fairest (see gent)
  • 13th cenutry, Rutebeuf, Ci encoumence la vie de Sainte Elyzabel, fille au roi de Hongrie
    Ne demandoit pas le plus gent
    Mantel qui fust dedenz sa chambre,
    She didn't ask for the nicest
    coat that was in the bedroom

As in modern French, a couple of adjectives have single-word comparatives and superlatives

Parv is an extremely rare derivative of Latin parvus (small), of which the comparative is minor, the etymon of menor. Hence, menor may be considered a stand alone comparative/superlative only adjective, rather than as the comparative and superlative of parv.

Other adjectives that me be considered as separate adjectives in Old French include grandisme, from Latin grandissimus, the superlative of grandis. Despite their roots, they are functionally separate. See French grandissime for more information.

Collapse of the case system[edit]

Moving towards Middle French, the case system collapsed leaving just inflection due to gender and number. As with nouns, the oblique case was retained so that masculine singulars had no -s and masculine plurals had an additional -s. The feminine had identical oblique and nominative forms anyway so the feminine singular continued to have no -s while the plural took one. This system continues in modern French to this day.

References[edit]

  • Faral, Edmond, Petite grammaire de l'ancien français, Hachette, 1941