These 3 French adjectives can be quite confusing for students of French. “Gros” and “grand” translate as ‘big’, but are far from being interchangeable. And there are way too many idioms and expressions to be counted. But I hope this helps.
1 – Gros = Big / Imposing / Fat /Serious
Gros (s silent) : big, usually referring to ‘fat’ for a person, and ‘imposing’ for a dog, a house…
It makes grosse(s) (pronounced groS with a pronounced s) in the feminine and comes before the noun.
- Je voudrais un gros morceau: I’d like a big piece
- J’ai peur des gros chiens: I’m afraid of big dogs
- Cet homme est trop gros pour son pantalon: this man is too big, large, fat for his pants.
2 – Gros = Serious in Modern French
Recently, “gros” has been used in colloquial French to reinforce a noun. It can translate as serious.
- J’ai un gros problème: I have a serious problem
3 – Gros and French Insults
It’s very frequently used in insults (so pardon the vulgarity of the examples)
- C’est une grosse salope – she is a serious bitch = this doesn’t mean she is fat. It means she is really a bitch.
- Gros con: dumbass.
4 – Watch-out When Using Gros/Grosse For A Person
Using “Gros” for “fat” for a person can be quite judgmental. I hear people in the US calling themselves “a big person”. We don’t have an equivalent expression in French, but we would say something like “Je suis grande et large”.
I would never say to describe a friend “il est gros” or “elle est grosse”, it’s kind of mean. In this situation, French likes to use a negative construction: “elle n’est pas mince” = she is not thin. We’d also say “il est bien en chair”, which literally translated in “he is well in flesh”. See below for more info with the use of our third adjective: “gras, grasse”.
I would use “gros/grosse” for someone I don’t know, or to describe myself, specially if I’m fishing for compliments:
- “je suis trop groooooooooosse”
- “mais non, mais non, tu es très bien comme ça”… (no-no, you’re perfect the way you are…)
5 – Gros For an Animal = Fat or Imposing
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“Gros” for an animal could mean fat or imposing, like the big dog in the picture. So fat or large, big, imposing? The context will tell you.
6 – Gros and Grosse Do Not Mean Gross
Finally, of course “gros” in French doesn’t mean “gross” in English: use “dégoûtant” (disgusting).
You will find vocabulary in context on how to describe people in my French audio books.
7 – Grand = Tall but Sometimes Honorable
Grand has 2 main meanings:
- great as in honorable, fantastic.
Usually comes before the noun, but could go after when you run into exceptions…
- Un grand arbre = a tall tree (note the liaison in T = gran Tarbr)
- Un grand homme = a honorable/great man (note the liaison in T = gran Tom)
- Un homme grand = un homme qui est grand = a tall man.
The feminine form is “grande” (ends on a final d sound).
When followed by a noun starting with a vowel, D makes a liaison in T.
8 – Gras = Fatty, Oily
Gras (s silent) means fatty or oily.
The feminine form is “grasse”(ends on a final S sound).
Gras and Grasse go after the noun.
We don’t usually use this to describe a person! So watch out for the literal translation here…
Saying of a person: “elle est grasse” is not impossible, but it would really be mean, since it would be focussing not so much on the body shape, but the quality of the skin. If you said: “elle est grasse”, you would be saying she is full of fat !
“La graisse”, not to be mistaken with the island “la Grèce” – Greece, although they are pronounced the same way. Thank Goodness, inhabitants of Greece are called “un Grec, une Grèque, with a K sound.
- Ce poisson est gras = this fish is fatty.
- Elle a la peau grasse = she has oily skin.
9 – Idioms With Gros, Gras, Grand
Then there are so many idioms and expressions based on these words that are very stretched from their original meaning.
- Grosses bises, gros bisous = Like “hugs and kisses” at the end of an email, a letter to friends
- Faire la grasse matinée = to sleep late,
- Un gros mot: a bad word,
- En gros : in bulk…….
- Faire le ménage en grand : to clean the house thoroughly
- Faire le plus gros du travail: to do the largest part of the work
- Le gros des troupes: the largest part of the troops
- Le gras de la viande: the fat in meat
- Quand je serai grand(e): when I will be an adult
- “Mardi Gras” comes from the tradition of using up all the fat before Lent begins.
- Gras is also what we use to say “bold” as in font type.
If you think of more useful idioms using gros/grand/gras, list them in the comments and I’ll add them to the article -merci !
10 – A Fun French Virelangue – Pronunciation Exercise With Gros Gras Grand + Audio
So now just for fun – here is a very famous exercise of pronunciation (called “un virelangue”).
It doesn’t mean much. It has to do with a grain of barley becoming more or less fat and big and conjugates verbs that do not exist.
Why did this make it through time? I have no clue! But it sure is hard to say fast!
Dis-moi gros gras grand grain d’orge,
quand te dégros gras grand grain d’orgeras-tu ?
Je me dégros grand grain d’orgerai
quand tous les gros gras grands grains d’orge
se dégros gras grand grain d’orgeront.
To learn more about adjectives in French, please check out my audio lesson.
You may also be interested in these articles:
– French Adjectives of Description
– Describing clothes and using color adjectives in French
– Understanding French Possessive adjectives
Learn French in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided pronunciation.