Spanish Adjectives

We are going to look at:

  • how to use Spanish adjectives; and
  • when adjectives go before nouns rather than after

What are Spanish Adjectives?

If you already know what adjectives are, you can skip this part, but if not, let me explain. Examples of adjectives in English are ‘big’, ‘small’ and ‘beautiful’. Adjectives describe people and objects, rather than what is being done or how it is being done.

Key rules for Adjectives

The key rules to try to remember are:

  • Adjectives usually come after nouns, so in Spanish ‘the pretty house’ would be ‘the house pretty’ (la casa bonita).
  • Spanish adjectives usually agree with the gender (masculine/feminine) and number (singular/plural) of the noun being described. The ending depends on the type of adjective you are using. There are several types of adjectives in Spanish. Below we deal with the main ones.

As regards agreements:

  • You choose the masculine singular ending if you are describing a singular masculine noun (e.g. a man, a book, etc.)
  • The feminine singular ending is used when describing a feminine singular noun (e.g. a woman, a table, etc.)
  • The plural masculine version is used for describing more than one masculine noun (e.g. men, books, etc,) or when describing mixed gender (e.g. men and women, a book and a table, etc.)
  • Feminine plural is used for describing exclusively feminine nouns (e.g. women, tables, etc.).

Now let’s look at the different types of adjectives below:

1. Spanish Adjectives which end in o

An example of an adjective ending in o in Spanish is ‘bonito’ which means pretty. Bonito by default has the masculine singular ending, so can be used to describe a masculine singular noun straight away. For example:

  • El pueblo bonito = The pretty village

When we want to describe more than one masculine object or person we need to change ‘bonito’ to ‘bonitos’, so for example:

  • Los pueblos bonitos = The pretty villages

When we however want ááto describe a feminine singular object or person we need to change ‘bonito’ to ‘bonita’, so for example:

  • La mesa bonita = The pretty table

Finally when we want to describe more than one feminine object or person we need to change ‘bonito’ to ‘bonitas’, so for example:

  • Las mesas bonitas = The pretty table

Adjectives which end in ‘o’ can be summarised using the table below:


Masculine
Feminine
Singularbonito
bonita
Plural
bonitosbonitas

2. Spanish Adjectives which end in e

An example of an adjective ending in e in Spanish is ‘triste which means sad. Triste by default has the masculine singular ending, so can be used to describe a masculine singular noun straight away. For example:

  • El chico triste = The sad boy

When we want to describe more than one masculine object or person we need to change ‘triste’ to ‘tristes’, so for example:

  • Los chicos tristes = The sad boys

For feminine singular the ending remains as e:

  • La chica triste = The sad girl

For feminine plural the ending is es:

  • Las chicas tristes = The sad girls

Adjectives which end in ‘e’ can be summarised using the table below:

Triste= sad


Masculine
Feminine
Singular
tristetriste
Plural
tristestristes

3. Spanish Adjectives which end in a consonant i.e. not a vowel (not ending in dor & not describing a nationality. These are dealt with separately later).

An example of an adjective in this groupin Spanish is ‘difícil’ which means difficult. Difícil by default has the masculine singular ending, so can be used to describe a masculine singular noun straight away. For example:

  • El libro difícil = The difficult book

When we want to describe more than one masculine object or person we need to add ‘es’ to the ending, so ‘difícil’ becomes ‘difíciles’, so for example:

  • Los libros difíciles = The difficult books

For feminine singular there is no additional ending, so it remains as ‘difícil’:

  • La tarea difícil = The difficult task

For feminine plural, you need to add ‘es’ to the ending, so ‘difícil’ becomes ‘difíciles’:

  • Las tareas difíciles = The difficulty tasks

This group of adjectives can be summarised using the table below:

Difícil = Difficult


Masculine
Feminine
Singular
difícildifícil
Plural
difícilesdifíciles

4. Spanish Adjectives which end in ista

These are less common, but an example of an adjective ending in ista in Spanish is ‘optimista which means optimistic. Optimista by default has the masculine singular ending, so can be used to describe a masculine singular noun straight away. For example:

  • El chico optimista = The optimistic boy

When we want to describe more than one masculine object or person we need to change ‘optimista’ to ‘optimistas’, so for example:

  • Los chicos optimistas = The optimistic boys

For feminine singular the ending remains as ista:

  • La chica optimista = The optimistic girl

For feminine plural the ending is istas:

  • Las chicas optimistas = The optimistic girls

This type of adjective can be summarised using the table below:

Optimista = Optimistic


Masculine
Feminine
Singular
optimistaoptimista
Plural
optimistasoptimistas

5. Spanish Adjectives which end in dor

This group is the first of two groups which I like to refer to as ‘gender specific’ in that although normally consonant ending adjectives do not add an ending in the feminine, these ones require you to show clearly what gender noun is being described.

‘Hablador’ by default is the masculine singular form and therefore can be used to describe a masculine singular noun. For example:

  • El chico hablador = The talkative boy

When we want to describe more than one masculine object or person we need to add ‘es’, so ‘hablador’ becomes ‘habladores’, so for example:

  • Los chicos habladores = The talkative boys

For feminine singular you add ‘a’ to ‘hablador’, so ‘hablador’ becomes ‘habladora’:

  • La chica habladora = The talkative girl

For feminine plural, you add ‘as’ to ‘hablador’, so ‘hablador’ becomes ‘habladoras’:

  • Las chicas habladoras = The talkative girls

Adjectives which end in dor can be summarised using the table below:


MasculineFeminine
Singular– dor– dora
Plural– doresdoras

6. Spanish Adjectives which describe nationality

Firstly, note that nationality adjectives do not use a capital letter in Spanish. Secondly, note there are two main types of nationality adjectives, firstly those that end in ‘o’ and those that end in a consonant (i.e. not a vowel).

Group 1: Spanish Adjectives describing nationality which end in ‘o’

Adjectives which end in o which describe nationality have the same endings as all other o ending adjectives:

chileno = Chilean


MasculineFeminine
Singularchilenochilena
Pluralchilenoschilenas

Group 2: Spanish Adjectives describing nationality which end in a consonant

Adjectives which describe nationality which end in a consonant however are what I unofficially call ‘gender specific’ in that although normally consonant ending adjectives do not add an ending in the feminine, nationality adjectives require you to show clearly what gender noun is being described. They act in the same way as ‘dor’ ending adjectives.

By way of an example ‘español’ means ‘Spanish’ and by default is the masculine singular version of the adjective:

  • El chico español = The Spanish boy

You add ‘es’ to ‘español’ when you want to describe a masculine plural noun:

  • Los chicos españoles = The Spanish boy

When you want to describe a feminine singular noun you add ‘a’:

  • La chica española = The Spanish girl

Like ‘dor’ ending adjectives, when you want to describe a feminine plural noun you add ‘as’:

  • Las chicas españolas = The Spanish girls

Nationality adjectives ending in a consonant can be summarised as follows:


MasculineFeminine
SingularNo extra ending+a
Plural+es+as

7. Spanish Adjectives which end in an ‘i’ or ‘a’

Adjectives which end in ‘i’ or ‘a’ are admittedly very uncommon, but have been included here for completeness. Essentially with these adjectives no change happens in the singular, but s is added in the plural. Some examples can be seen below:

Example one: ‘a’ ending adjective ‘belga’

The adjective ‘belga’ means ‘Belgian’ and is the masculine singular version of the adjective by default. It therefore does not need to be changed when describing a masculine singular noun:

  • El chico belga = The Belgian boy

You add ‘s’ to ‘belga’ when you want to describe a masculine plural noun:

  • Los chicos belgas = The Belgian boys

When you want to describe a feminine singular noun you do not add anything:

  • La chica belga = The Beglian girl

When you want to describe a feminine plural noun you add ‘s’:

  • Las chicas belgas = The Belgian girls

Example one: ‘i’ ending adjective ‘iraquí’

The adjective ‘iraquí’ means ‘Iraqi’ and is the masculine singular version of the adjective by default. It therefore does not need to be changed when describing a masculine singular noun:

  • El chico iraquí = The Iraqi boy

You add ‘s’ to ‘iraquí’ when you want to describe a masculine plural noun:

  • Los chicos iraquís = The Iraqi boys

When you want to describe a feminine singular noun you do not add anything:

  • La chica iraquí = The Iraqi girl

When you want to describe a feminine plural noun you add ‘s’:

  • Las chicas iraquís = The Iraqi girls

Nationality adjectives ending in ‘a’ or ‘i’ can be summarised as follows:


MasculineFeminine
SingularNo changeNo change
Plural1+s+s

You may wish to note that for adjectives ending in ‘í’ instead of adding ‘s’ in the plural, you could alternatively add ‘es’. It appears that both ‘s’ and ‘es’ endings are acceptable.

Practice Exercise using Spanish Adjectives

Have a go at filling in the following blanks with the appropriate adjective in brackets. You may need to change the adjective ending depending on the gender and quantity of the noun being described.

If you send your answers to adam@farehamtutor.co.uk I will happily let you know whether you have answered everything correctly.

  • Es un libro ________ (bonito: ‘o’ ending adjective) = It is a pretty book.
  • Es una mesa ________ (bonito: ‘o’ ending adjective) = It is a pretty table.
  • Vivo en una casa _________ (grande: ‘e’ ending adjective) = I live in a big house.
  • Son dos hombres _________ (simpático: ‘o’ ending adjective) = They are two kind men.
  • Es una historia _________ (interesante: ‘e’ ending adjective) = It is an interesting story.
  • Tengo un coche ________ (genial: consonant ending adjective not describing nationality and not ending in ‘dor’) = I have a brilliant car.
  • Es ________ (trabajador: ‘dor’ ending adjective) = He is hard-working.
  • Es ________ (trabajador: ‘dor’ ending adjective) = She is hard-working.
  • Los chicos son ________ (argentino: adjective describing nationality ending in ‘o’) = The boys are Argentinian.
  • Las mujeres son _______ (francés: adjective describing nationality ending in a consonant) = The women are French.
  • Los hombres son ______ (francés: adjective describing nationality ending in a consonant) = The men are French.
Spanish Adjectives Before Nouns

Once you have an understanding of how to use Spanish adjectives generally, it is a great idea to learn when to use them before the noun, rather than after.

Learning when they go before nouns and when after can at first appear confusing, but fear not! This topic is fairly logical when you understand the key concepts.

Read on to discover when you should put Spanish adjectives before nouns and when after.

Looking back at the general rule

Before we move on, let’s quick remind ourselves of the general rule of thumb, namely that Spanish adjectives normally go after the noun, for example:

  • La casa roja = The red house (i.e. ‘The house red’ in Spanish)

The discussions below do not really alter this general rule, but in certain situations it would be strange to put the adjective after the noun. In brief, sometimes putting the noun in front of the noun changes the meaning and sometimes it emphasises the adjective over the noun.

Which Spanish adjectives go before nouns?

First of all, the following adjectives normally go before the noun:

  • Alguno*/Alguna/Algunos/Algunas = Any
  • Ambos/Ambas = Both
  • Bastante/Bastantes = Enough
  • Bueno*/Buena/Buenos/Buenas = Good
  • Cada = Each/Every
  • Malo*/Mala/Malos/Malas = Bad
  • Mucho/Mucha = Much/A lot of (Singular)
  • Muchos/Muchas = Many/A lot of (Plural)
  • Ninguno*/Ninguna/Ningunos/Ningunas = Not any
  • Otro/Otra = Another/Other (Singular)
  • Otros/Otras = Other (Plural)
  • Poco/Poca = Not much
  • Pocos/Pocas = Not many
  • Suficiente/Suficientes = Enough
  • Todo/Toda/Todos/Todas = All
  • Varios/Varias = Several

* These drop the ‘o’ when placed before a masculine singular noun to make ‘buen’, ‘mal’, ‘algún’ and ‘ningún’ as appropriate.

Cardinal and Ordinal numbers also go before the noun

Un/Una, dos, tres, etc…. go before the noun

Primero, segundo, tercero, etc…. go before the noun. [Note that primero and tercero drop the ‘o’ before a masculine singular noun].

Adjectives that describe inherent characteristics also go before the noun

When an adjective describes an inherent characteristic, the adjective may be placed before the noun in Spanish.

What is an inherent characteristic?

An inherent characteristic is a characteristic is natural and normal for all nouns of that type. Some examples could include:

  • las altas montañas = the tall mountains
  • la blanca nieve = the white snow

In this situation, putting an adjective before the noun essentially shows that it is an inherent characteristic of the noun being described. It is clear that mountains are always tall and snow is always white.

Putting an adjective after the noun when it describes an inherent characteristic emphasises the adjective. For example:

  • las montañas altas = the tall mountains

Here the mountains are especially tall (i.e. taller than other ones).

Adjectives which change meaning depending on their position

In Spanish a number of adjectives have one meaning in front of the noun and a different meaning when after. Some important examples of these adjectives are as follows:

  • antiguo/a(s) = former (before the noun)/ancient (after the noun)
  • diferente(s)/distinto/a(s) = various (when plural)(before the noun)/different (after the noun)
  • gran(es) – This is used before the noun to mean ‘great’
  • grande(s) – This is used after the noun to mean ‘big/large’
  • mismo/a(s) = same (before the noun)/’self’ (after the noun) e.g. yo mismo/a = myself (male/female speaking)
  • único/a(s) = only (before the noun)/unique (after the noun))

There are other adjectives which go before the nouns, but the above ones are some of the most important ones.

We would discuss further adjectives that are similar to those above during Spanish tuition.

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Final Word

I hope that the above has helped you to understand Spanish Adjectives, where to position them and their endings.

If you have any questions or are interested in Spanish language tuition feel free to contact me on adam@farehamtutor.co.uk or use the Contact Me form below. Alternatively look at my Online Language Tuition page for more details on how I could help you.

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