Spanish Grammar Guide

Adjectives (e.g.: buena, gran, pequeño, inteligente, excelente)

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An Overview of Spanish Adjectives:

Adjectives are used to describe nouns. They must agree in gender and number with nouns (e.g.: las flores bonitas). Most adjectives come after the noun. To use Spanish adjectives correctly you need to know: a) the most common adjectives; b) how to form masculine, feminine and plural adjectives; c) how to show agreement with nouns; and d) where to place the adjective.

Forms of Adjectives

Masculine and Feminine

Spanish adjectives are either masculine or feminine (depending on the noun they modify). Many common masculine adjectives end in -o, while feminine ones end in -a, e.g.: alto/alta, rápido/rápida, bonito/bonita. Other adjectives have masculine forms that end in a consonant and add an -a to form the feminine, e.g.: hablador/habladora, inglés/inglesa, musulmán/musulmana. Still others have the same masculine and feminine singular forms, e.g.: pobre, fácil, cerca, posible, cortés. Adjectives that end in -ista have the same masculine and feminine forms, e.g.: oportunista, feminista, with the exception being listo/lista.

Some common adjectives are presented in the following table:

masculine feminine English
bueno buena "good"
bello bella "beautiful"
gentil gentil "kind"
viejo vieja "old"
último última "last"
grande grande "big"
bajo baja "low/short"
falso falsa "false"
seco seca "dry"
blanco blanca "white"
largo larga "long"
alto alta "high/tall"
fácil fácil "easy"
difícil difícil "difficult"
joven joven "young"

Plural Forms

The most common way to make an adjective plural is to add -s if it ends in a vowel or -es if it ends in a consonant. For example, alta > altaspobre > pobres, gentil > géntiles.

Adjectives that are stressed on the second last syllable and end in a consonant (e.g.: joven, gentil) must have an accent in the plural form to preserve the original stress. This is because the plural -es ending adds a syllable to the word, e.g.: joven > jóvenes.

Masculine singular adjectives with an accent on the final vowel, lose the accent in the plural, e.g.: inglés > ingleses.

Adjectives that end in z change the z to c in the plural, e.g.: feliz > felices.

Colours

Colour adjectives agree in gender and number, just like other adjectives, e.g.: unos vestidos azules, dos blusas blancas. The two main exceptions to this are:

  • if the colour is derived from a noun, e.g.: una naranja > dos servietas naranja
  • if it is a compound color, e.g.: dos vasos azul claro

Adjective Agreement

Since adjectives describe nouns, they share features with them. As you know, nouns can be masculine (e.g.: un libro) or feminine (uncamiseta) and they can also be singular or plural. The form an adjective takes reflects the gender and number of the noun it describes. For example, if you use the adjective pequeño to describe the feminine plural noun casas, it must show both feminine and plural agreement, e.g.: las casas pequeñas (where the -a indicates feminine and the -s indicates plural).

In the examples we have just seen, the adjective and noun are side by side. However, this is not always the case. Often enough, the adjective and noun may be separated by a word, e.g.: Mi madre es americana or by several words, e.g.: La persona que viaja conmigo es española. Regardless of the distance that separates a noun and its adjective, they must agree in gender and number.

Adjective Placement

The vast majority of Spanish adjectives come after the noun, e.g.: 

  • un libro interesante
  • un examen difícil
  • una blusa blanca
  • un estudiante americano

However, a few adjectives are frequently placed before the noun. If they occur before a masculine singular noun they often have a shortened form. Some adjectives that frequently occur before the nouns they modify are buen/buena, mal/malagran, algún/alguna, ningún/ninguna, primer/primera, e.g.:

  • un buen amigo
  • una mala profesora
  • un gran día 
  • No hay ningún carro que me guste.

Note than when the plural grandes is used when it precedes a noun (e.g.: sus grandes éxitos). When other adjectives are placed before the noun, they are generally interpreted as more poetic, impressionistic, or emotional, compared to when they are placed after the noun, e.g.:

  • Tuve una tremenda experiencia. "I had a tremendous experience" (highlights emotional/subjective aspect of the experience)

Place and meaning

A small number of adjectives change meaning more significantly, depending on whether they precede or follow a noun. Here are a few examples:

grande/gran = "big/great", e.g.:

  • un edificio grande "a big building"
  • un gran edificio "a great building"

pobre = "poor/miserable", e.g.:

  • un amigo pobre "a poor friend (has little money)"
  • un pobre amigo "a miserable friend"

falso = "forged/not real", e.g.:

  • una identidad falsa "a falsified/faked identity"
  • una falsa identidad "an identity that is not real"                                    
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