The feminine of words ending in -eur (advanced)

In our overview of adjectives/nouns ending in -eur, we gave some simple rules that will predict most of the time when to make the feminine end in -euse and when to make it end in -(t)rice. We also mentioned the adjective meilleur, which unusually has its feminine ending in -eure. On this page, we'll go into some more detail. It's important to stress that you don't need to to know most of this detail for GCSE/SAT exams.

It turns out that nouns and adjectives ending in -eur can fall into a number of patterns:

  • most adjectives and nouns ending in -eur that are derived from a verb have their feminine ending in -euse;
  • adjectives and nouns ending in -teur/-deur, especially ones not derived directly from a verb stem, have their femining ending in -trice;
  • adjectives ending in -érieur, plus a couple of other "quantity/quality" adjectives, have a regular feminine ending in -eure;
  • a few words ending in -eur, especially job titles, usually don't have a feminine form;
  • a handful have irregular feminine forms, notably a few archaic forms ending in -esse.

Choosing between -euse and -(t)rice

Many nouns/adjectives ending in -eur derive from a verb. The ending is actually similar to the English ending -er. Compare the pattern travailler/travailleur with English work/worker.

But whether the feminine form is -euse or the more unusual -(t)rice depends on whether the noun/adjective comes directly from the verb stem.

If by replacing -eur with -ons and -ez you get the nous and vous forms of the corresponding verb, then the feminine form will end in -euse.

Here are some examples. Notice how we can replace -eur with -ons and get the nous form of the corresponding verb. (We could also have replaced it with -ez and got the vous form.)

Masculine adjective/nounRelated verb formFeminine form
(nous) buvons
(from boire)
(nous) chantonschanteuse
fisher(man), angler
(nous) pêchonspêcheuse
(nous) programmonsprogrammeuse
(nous) travaillonstravailleuse

Very often in practice, replacing the -eur with -er will give you the infinitive of an -er verb (since most French verbs are -er verbs). But the example of buveur shows that they're not always -er verbs, and it is specifically the nous/vous form that these nouns/adjectives are derived from.

Feminine forms ending in -trice

There are a few French nouns/adjectives ending in -eur where the feminine form actually ends in -rice. Practically always, the masculine form ends in -teur and the feminine in -trice. These are cases where the word ending in -eur doesn't derive directly from a verb stem:

Masculine formFemining formMeaning
facteurfactricepostman/woman; maker, manufacturer

Note, for example, that there's no such verb as *facter, *acter etc. So if you try and replace the -eur of acteur with -ons, you just get nonesense: nous actons doesn't exist!

So how can you tell if the French verb exists or not? Well, unfortunately, in some cases you just have to know. Sometimes the presense of a "special" form in English can be a clue that the French form is also a special form. For example, consider the English word consolatory. There's no actual English verb "to consolate"; the real verb is to console. And similarly in French, the verb is consoler, but it has an adjective form consolateur (meaning comforting, consolatory); the feminine form is consolatrice, because there's no such verb consolater.

Another pattern to watch out for is the pair -ucteur/-uctrice from verbs ending in -uire (where the English verb usually ends in -uce, e.g. produire > produce).

Existence of both -eur and -ateur forms for the same verb

Occasionally, a "doubling up" occurs, and both forms ending in -eur derived "directly" from the verb plus a form ending in -ateur exist. For example, the verb annoncer ("to announce, advertise") has the corresponding noun annonceur ("announcer, advertiser") and also an adjectival form annonciateur ("omenous, about to herald..."). The two words give feminines as expected, so annonceur gives annonceuse and annonciateur gives annonciatrice.

Difficult cases: "modern" verbs

Just to make matters worse, there are a few awkward cases. Despite the existence of the verb éditer, some speakers use the feminine form éditrice instead of éditeuse.

Feminine ending in -eure

There are a few French adjectives ending in -érieur, which also exist in English but ending in -erior, which are completely regular. If you've started learning French fairly recently, you probably won't need to use these words very much. But, for example, you'll see several of them crop up frequently in newspaper articles:

Masculine formFeminine formUsual English translation(s)Related English word
antérieurantérieureprevious, earlier anterior
inférieurinférieurelower; smallerinferior
postérieurpostérieurelater, subsequent; back, rearposterior
supérieursupérieureupper; largersuperior

The following also have a "regular" feminine form ending in -e:

Masculine formFeminine formUsual English translation(s)
meilleurmeilleurebetter, best

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.