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An adjective (adjetivo in Spanish) is a word that modifies, or describes another word, namely a noun. In the sentence That is a big red barn, big and red are adjectives that modify, describe or quantify the noun barn. In English, adjectives normally go before the noun they modify, but in Spanish, they usually go after the noun. The red car. = El coche rojo. Some adjectives, such as the demonstratives and determiners, are normally used before the noun. Some adjectives can go before or after the noun, but with a difference in meaning or emphasis.

Types of adjectives

There are different types of adjectives, such as:

Adjectives in Spanish

In Spanish, adjectives must agree in number and gender with the noun they modify. However, while many adjectives have distinct forms for each combination of gender and number (rojo / roja / rojos / rojas, inglés / inglesa / ingleses / inglesas), some adjectives have only two forms, one singular and one plural (verde / verdes, azul / azules), and some adjectives have only one form regardless of number and gender (rosa).

First let's look at that word modify. It means that the adjective is describing the noun in some fashion. It's giving us some piece of information about the noun it's near. So let's examine some rules of using adjectives in Spanish.

Adjective placement

Most adjectives normally are placed after the noun they modify, which is normally the opposite of English adjectives. In the following example, casa is the noun (house), and roja is the adjective (red).

The red house.— La casa roja

Some types of adjectives are placed before the noun, including:

  • Descriptive adjectives that emphasis something perceived as an essential quality of the noun; that is, something that seems to be obviously true about the noun even if it isn't expressed explicitly.
  • Limiting adjectives; anything that limits the number or amount of the noun.
  • Possessive adjectives or demonstrative adjectives. Note that possessive adjectives can also be placed after the noun, especially when they are the only adjective that follows the noun or when the noun is indefinite rather than definite.
  • Some adjectives change meaning (or have a different translation equivalent in English) when they are placed before the noun.
Some common meaning-changing adjectives
adjectivebefore nounafter noun
altotop, best, high-qualitytall
antiguoancient, former, oldantique
buenogood, simplegood, gentle, generous
ciertocertaintrue, right
cualquierany (of those available)any (type doesn't matter)
dulcegood, nicesweet
mismosamehimself, herself
nuevoanother, newly acquirednew, newly made
pobreunfortunatepoor; lacking money or resources
propiohis own, her ownespecially for someone
purosheer, nothing butpure
simplemeresimple, modest
soloonelonely, alone
viejoformer, long-timeold, aged

Agreement in number

Main article: Number

This means that the adjective morphs (the actual word changes form) to agree with the noun. In English a noun agrees with the actual number of objects that it's representing. If I say I have one eye, and you say I have two, you use the word eyes. The English plural is an example of the word changing to agree in number with the actual objects represented. There are languages where this doesn't take place-- where it would be one eye and two eye-- the plurality is not encoded into the noun, rather, the adjective one or two adequately represents that information. So, we understand the concept of agreement. Spanish takes this concept a bit further than English does.

The red house.— The red houses.

In English, the noun house changed when the number of houses did, but the adjective red did not change.

La casa roja.— Las casas rojas

In Spanish, articles, nouns and adjectives all change when the number changes in order to encode the information about plurality.

Agreement in gender

Main article: Gender

Spanish adjectives also agree in gender with the noun they modify or describe. Imagine there are two arbitrary adjectives - rede and redu - for our word red. Also imagine a rule that states that the rede form is only used when the noun it modifies ends in the letter e and the latter is used only with nouns that end in the letter u. According to the rules we've invented, a noun like booke would take the rede adjective and a noun like lampu would require redu. Another rule insists that articles also agree in gender. According to our invented rules, the following would be a properly-formed sentence:

Set thee rede booke under theu redu lampu.

That's how agreement in gender works in Spanish. Your task with adjectives that have different forms for each gender is to learn which of the two adjective forms a noun requires and match them up.

Here is the same sentence written above, but in Spanish this time. See if you can find both adjective forms for the word red in the sentence. Can you also find the matching articles?

Ponga el libro rojo bajo la lámpara roja.


How to form Spanish adjectives, the plural and feminine versions.

Special cases

Adjectives that change meaning depending on if they are placed before or after the noun.

See also

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