Can anyone tell me the rules for adjective position in Provençal?

I know that, like most other Romance languages, most adjectives go after the noun, with some exceptions. But I can't find the exact rules that govern these exceptions.

I have a small book (L'occitan tout de suite!) which teaches the Lengadocian dialect of Occitan, which is very closely related to Provençal, but it doesn't give a very precise or detailed explanation of adjective position, and more confusingly, some examples of Provençal I've seen seem to differ from similar examples in that book.

I get the impression that Provençal puts a lot of adjectives before the noun that Lengadocian would put after the noun, but resources are scarce and nowhere I've looked made me any wiser.

For example, the book has these examples:

  1. Una veitura polida (a nice car, FR: une jolie voiture)
  2. Una taula granda (a big table, FR: une grande table)
  3. Una cambra pichòta (a small room, FR: une petite chambre)
  4. Son de pomas polidas (these are lovely apples, FR: ce sont des jolies pommes)

All of which have the adjective after the noun, but notice that in French, I believe all of them would have the adjective before the noun (my French is very basic, so correct me if I'm wrong).

Now, from a published translation of The Little Prince into Provençal (Mistralian norm), I found these examples:

  1. Un poulit cacalas (a pretty laugh, FR: un joli éclat de rire)
  2. Uno grando persouno (a "big person" [an adult], FR: une grande personne)
  3. Uno grando mountagno (a big mountain, FR: une grande montagne)
  4. Un pichot bout d'ome (a little fellow, FR: un petit bonhomme)

And from the dicod'Òc (CREO Provença) (classical norm) online dictionary, I found these:

  1. Una filha polida (a pretty girl, FR: une jolie fille)
  2. Un grand jardin (a big garden, FR: un grand jardin)
  3. Una granda taula (a big table, FR: une grande table)
  4. Lo pichòt det (the little finger, FR: le petit doigt)

Notice the difference between #9 and #5, and between #11 and #2.

I can't deduce any obvious, consistent rule from this, but I get the impression that Provençal perhaps follows something close to the French system while Lengadocian does something else.

  • 2
    1. Comparing to standard French is not optimal. (The examples you post seem much closer to Italic and Iberian. French is really an outlier among Romance languages.) Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 18:11
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    2. In Romance, most of the adjectives that can come before the noun can also come after the noun. But the meaning may change. Usually after the noun gives the more literal meaning. Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 18:16
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    I agree with your bet that the one variant is under more French influence, that's almost inevitable in this situation. Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


I'll do you one better and answer both for Provençal and Lengadocian!

I know a group of Occitan speakers online and decided to ask them about it. The general explanation for this irregularity really comes down to how much the writer wants to sound poetic or professional vs. how much they want to reflect spoken language (which is quite important in this case since written language is quite limited).

  • For Lengadocian

    • positioning adjectives after nouns is even more common than in French, to the point where it is almost the rule. My informant immediately said that "una vèitura polida" (#1) was how they would expect to hear it with "una polida vèitura" sounding rather unnatural.
    • regarding "una filha polida" (#9) they said that it wasn't too unnatural to swap it with "una polida filha" (#9 reversed), however they would still prefer using the first one. "Una polida filha" puts an emphasis on the beauty, an equivalent example in English could be preferring "Eyes beautiful, like stars in the night sky" to sound more poetic or romantic, over "Beautiful eyes, like stars in the night sky".
  • As for Provençal

    • it seems to be closer to French as you suspected but not quite. Again it's somewhere between Lengadocian and Parisian French in terms of how frequently an adjective comes after the noun.

      In short this is why we can say "Una taula granda" (#2) is more characteristic of Lengadocian and "Una granda taula" (#11) of Provençal.

    • But interestingly; unlike in Lengadocian where you move the adjective to before the noun to sound more poetic, in Provençal you will tend to position an adjective that would have otherwise been before the noun, after it to sound more poetic.

      This is why poulit/poulid might come before the noun in the case of "un poulit cacalas" (#5) when describing the quality of the laugher, but it might appear after the noun in a construct such as "una filha polida" (#9) describing the prettiness if a girl.

Another important point that they made was that Occitan languages/dialects aren't that rigidly defined, so you can expect to see freer word order. Nevertheless I at least hope this was a good enough description for the rules and when to break them.

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    Did you mean 'but it might appear after the noun in a construct such as "una filha polida" (#9)'?
    – S.T. Veje
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 17:52
  • Yeah after, that sentence was so awkward I had to reword it at least 5 times. But I'm glad that this was so clear that you could actually make some sentence out of it :~> Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 20:58
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    It was pretty clear what you meant, just wanted to be certain :) So to see if I understand correctly: the Lengadocian rule (of thumb) is "always after the noun unless being poetic" and the Provençal rule is "like French, unless being poetic," and "like French" means "adjectives describing Beauty, Age, Number, Goodness, or Size go before the noun, others go after the noun", is that correct? And of course: "None of this is 100% rigid, because Occitan is highly varied and fluid."
    – S.T. Veje
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 7:28
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    More or less, though Provençal perhaps might have a slight more tendency to place adjectives after nouns compared to French. At least that's what I understood Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 17:49

Historically there was a great degree of freedom in adjective position in Occitan:

Position of the Adjective

  1. A great amount of freedom characterizes the position of the adjective in relation to the noun it modifes. What we are dealing with here is essentially a problem which is not amenable to scientific analysis: «ce chapitre est un des plus difficiles à écrire et à la vérité il appartient plutôt à la stylistique qu'à 1a syntaxe de s'en occuper» (S. de Vogel § 448). At the most, certain trends are discernible.

  2. Common, usually short adjectives tend to precede the noun:

    • er' ai gran joi (G. de Bornelh 1,1) 'now I have great joy';
    • far una leu chanso (ibid., 4,18) 'write a light poem';
    • lo bon rei (F. de Marselha I 44) 'the good king';
    • fin' amors (ibid. , II 6) 'true love';
    • us novels jois (ibid., VI 5) 'a new joy';
    • sa bela cara (Jaufré, v.3137) 'her beautiful face'.

Postposition of short adjectives is inhabitual and hence emphatic in nature:

  • e d'ome qu'es aissi conques, pot domn’ aver almorna gran (B. de Ventadom 1,47) 'and for a man who is thus defeated, a lady ought to feel great compassion';
  • et ieu... seguial apres ab dolor gran (Marienklage, v. 265) 'and I followed after him with great sorrow'.

  1. Pronouns used in adjectival function, whether demonstrative, possessive or indefinite, usually precede:

    • aquest hom es enginhos (Guillaume IX V 49) ‘this man is clever’;
    • en guerra laissarai mon fil, e faran li mal siei vezi (ibid., XI 7) ‘at war I shall leave my son, and his neighbors will do him harm’;
    • tal paor ay (ibid., IX 44) 'I am so afraid’;
    • anc non vi nulla domn' (ibid., 11 13) ‘I never saw any lady’;
    • de moutas colors (Jaufré, v. 544) ‘of many colors’;
    • manhtas vetz (B. de Ventadorn 20,10) ‘many times’.
  2. Objective adjectives, i.e. those which serve to establish logical distinctions, usually follow the noun:

    • Caraduis ab lu bras cart (Jaufré, v. 109) 'Caradui with the short arm';
    • cavalcan un rosin liar (ibid., v. 524) ‘riding on a grey horse’;
    • aisi con om aperseuputz (ibid. , v. 595) 'like a clever man’;
    • ap espasa trenchan (ibid., v. 612) ‘with a sharp sword’;
    • al latz senestre (ibid., v. 676) ‘on the left side’;
    • et el vi... un cavalier mort (ibid., v. 826) ‘and he saw a dead knight’.

But while such a trend does seem evident, the adjective remains extremely mobile: dins lo senestre costat (ibid., v. 1065) ‘in the left side’. One may get an idea of its mobility by comparing the following passages:

  • del tieu car filh (Marienklage, v. 201) ‘of your dear son’
    vs. de mo filh car (ibid. , v. 209) ‘of my dear son’;
  • sa dolenta maire (ibid., v. 712) ‘his grieving mother’
    vs. ab cor dolen (ibid., v.279) 'with a grieving heart’;
  • can l'erba fresch' e·lh folha par (B. de Ventadom 20,1) 'when the fresh grass and the leaves appear’
    vs. can creis la frescha folh’ (G. de Bornelh 33,1) ‘when the fresh leaves grow’.

Compare also: e (ac) cara bela... e betas mas (Jaufré, v. 530) ‘and her face and her hands were beautiful’. Since color adjectives serve principally to express a distinguishing feature, they normally follow the noun, but they may precede, specifically when an affective coloring is present:

  • tut aqueh home blanc eisso de paradis (Appel 6,141) 'All these white people come out of paradise’ vs.
    pres la per la blanqua man (ibid., 51,39) ‘he took her by her white hand’.

Changes in word order may be ascribed to a variety of reasons: emphasis, emotional content, style, versification needs, Special effects, etc., but quite often, the reason for choosing pre-position over post-position or vice versa escapes us. Subjective adjectives such as fi(n) ‘fine, pure’; dur ‘hard’; ple(n) ‘full’ are particularly mobile (Togeby § 76; and see Wydler).

  1. A noun is often placed between two qualifying adjectives:
    • ans que venha·l nous fruchs tendres (G. de Bornelh 3,1) ‘before the new, tender fruit appears’;
    • ai! doussa res covinens (F. de Marselha IV 61) ‘oh, sweet and charming lady”;
    • de la bela erba fresca (Jaufré, v. 3177) ‘of the beautiful, fresh grass’.

Both adjectives may precede the noun:

  • per son belh plazent esguar (Guillaume IX IX 22) ‘because of her beautiful and pleasant look’,

or all the adjectives may follow the noun, with or without the use of coordinating conjunctions:

  • ab aitan ils viron intrar,... un donzel gran, e bel e gen (Jaufré, v. 523) cthen they saw a tall, beautiful and handsome young man enter’;
  • e vi u fuec clar, gran e espes e resplanden (ibid., v. 964) ‘and he saw a bright, big, large and shining fire’.

The coordination of adjectives is usually avoided in pre-position.

  • But just to be clear, this just applies for the medieval form of the language? I tried clicking the link but it's not giving me access, what period is being covered exactly? Up until the 14th, 15th Century? Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 19:03
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    @madprogramer Try this link instead. I agree that it's not clear how much this applies to the modern language. In my own search I also found this and this, but wasn't sure how much stock to put it in, especially given the age of the books.
    – S.T. Veje
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 5:47

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