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

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


Un ancien collègue
A former colleague


Mon ancien petit copain
My ex-boyfriend



Q&A Forum 4 questions, 12 answers

AliC1Kwiziq community member

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??? 
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Ali,

This query has been flagged up...

BarneyB1Kwiziq community member

...and the "which" is misleading.

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??? 

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JamesC1Kwiziq community member

l'ancienne maison = la maison dernière

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

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!

JamesC1Kwiziq community member

are these two the same meaning?

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
No, they mean different things. "L'ancienne maison" is "the former house", whereas "la maison derrière" is "the house behind" (spatially speaking). 
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Sorry, I mesread derrière for derrière. 
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
Zut! DERNIÈRE for DERRIÈRE. 
James asked:View original

l'ancienne maison = la maison dernière

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DavidC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

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

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

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. 

DavidC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
So my answer might have been correct after all, but I appreciate the difference. Thank you for your prompt responses which are appreciated 

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

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AurélieKwiziq team member

Susan suggested a great mnemonic to remember this lesson !

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
"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."
DorellB1Kwiziq community member
And when 'A'fter a word, it means Aged. :)
Emmanuel B2Kwiziq community member

Thanks Susan. Your mneumonic was really helpful.

Susan suggested a great mnemonic to remember this lesson !

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Getting that for you now.