Ancien = former / old (adjectives that change meaning according to position)

Certain adjectives change their meanings depending if they appear before or after the noun.

Here's the case of ancien:

L'ancienne maison où j'habitais 
The former house where I lived

La maison ancienne où j'habite 
The old house where I live

Mon ancien petit copain
My ex-boyfriend

Ce tableau ancien
This ancient painting

Before the noun, ancien means former / ex- / no longer

After the noun it means ancient / old
The adjective ancien in the sense of "ancient" is not really used in French for people.

 

Remember that generally adjectives appear after the noun, but some very common adjectives go before (See Adjectives usually go AFTER nouns (adjective position) and Short and common adjectives that go BEFORE nouns (adjective position))

See also: 

Propre = own / clean (adjectives that change meaning according to position) 

Cher= dear / expensive (adjectives that change meaning according to position) 

Certain = specific / sure (adjectives that change meaning according to position) 

Dernier = final / previous (adjectives that change meaning according to position)

Vrai = real / true (adjectives that change meaning according to position)  

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Un ancien collègue
A former colleague


Mon ancien petit copain
My ex-boyfriend



La maison ancienne où j'habite 
The old house where I live


Un vase ancien
An ancient vase


L'ancienne maison où j'habitais 
The former house where I lived


Ce tableau ancien
This ancient painting


Q&A

Ali

Kwiziq community member

28 September 2018

1 reply

Ma voiture ancienne

I wrote: "I believe ma voiture ancienne" means my OLD car and NOT my former car, but was got the answer marked wrong and said it was my "former car". There's a glitch here with the marking of this question surely??? 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

29 September 2018

29/09/18

Hi Ali,

This query has been flagged up...

James

Kwiziq community member

31 August 2018

5 replies

l'ancienne maison = la maison dernière

James

Kwiziq community member

31 August 2018

31/08/18

are these two the same meaning?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

1 September 2018

1/09/18

No, they mean different things. "L'ancienne maison" is "the former house", whereas "la maison derrière" is "the house behind" (spatially speaking). 

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

1 September 2018

1/09/18

Hi James ,

 'Ancienne'  in your example means former/previous so you might say .

"Dans mon ancienne maison j'avais cinq chambres "= In my previous/former house I had five bedrooms.

In my opinion, if you say: "Dans ma dernière maison", it sounds as if you are a serial mover and it is the last one in a long list ...

Hope this helps!

Chris

Kwiziq community member

1 September 2018

1/09/18

Sorry, I mesread derrière for derrière. 

Chris

Kwiziq community member

1 September 2018

1/09/18

Zut! DERNIÈRE for DERRIÈRE. 

David

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

2 replies

But it could be an old computer and not an ex computer which might even be a new computerw

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

Well, it could be a lot of things, I guess. The point being to demonstrate the change in meaning ancien has when going before or after the noun. 

-- Chris. 

David

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

So my answer might have been correct after all, but I appreciate the difference. Thank you for your prompt responses which are appreciated 

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

6 January 2017

2 replies

Susan suggested a great mnemonic to remember this lesson !

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

6 January 2017

6/01/17

"Thought of a simple way to keep straight how "ancien/ne" changes meaning:
When beFore a word, it means Former.
Not the most graceful mnemonic in the world, but it helped until I had mastered the difference."

Dorell

Kwiziq community member

28 May 2017

28/05/17

And when 'A'fter a word, it means Aged. :)
Getting that for you now.