Adjectives are the spice of the sentence, allowing speakers to give juicy descriptions of events, identify or quantify what they’re referring to, and express their opinions about things.
Learning Spanish adjectives will allow you to add all kinds of flavor to your language learning experience, but before you go straight to your vocabulary flashcards, it’s important to take a look at the “recipe” for sprinkling some adjectives into your Spanish.
When Adjectives Change
All Spanish nouns have an arbitrary “gender” of masculine or feminine, which unfortunately don’t follow rhyme or reason, and consequently just need to be memorized. Luckily, you can usually tell the gender of a noun by its ending; nouns that end with -o, -e, or an accented letter (á, é, í, ó, ú) are masculine, while those that end in -a, -d, -z, or -ión are feminine.
Knowing the gender of Spanish nouns is crucial for being able to replace it with a pronoun, use the correct article (“the” or “a(n)”), or use an adjective to describe it.
Some adjectives don’t need to be adjusted for gender.
Adjectives that end in an -e:
Adjectives that end in a consonant:
Marrón (dark brown)
Adjectives ending in -ista:
Comparative adjectives ending in -or:
Superior (superior, or “above” in regard to position)
Spanish adjectives also need to be adjusted to match the noun in quantity, namely whether the noun is singular or plural. To make an adjective plural, simply add an -s (in most cases).
El gato es pequeño.
The cat is small.
Los gatos son pequeños.
The cats are small.
If the adjective does not end in a vowel, add -es.
Los gatos son grises.
The cats are grey.
If the adjective ends in a -z, change it to a c and then add -es.
El gato es feliz.
The cat is happy.
Los gatos son felices.
The cats are happy.
The vast majority of adjectives in Spanish come after the noun, rather than before the noun (as in English).
El gato negro caminó.
The black cat walked.
Just like English, adjectives can also come after a verb.
El gato es negro.
The cat is black.
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After the Noun: Qualifying Adjectives
Colors, nationalities, and other physical descriptions are considered qualifying adjectives, and are usually placed after the noun. Notice that nationalities are not capitalized in Spanish.
La mujer americana está aquí.
The American woman is here.
If you use two adjectives after the noun, rather than commas as in English, use y (“and”) to join them.
El hombre alto y guapo sonríe.
The tall, handsome man is smiling.
Want to make your noun phrases more vibrant? Or perhaps differentiate which item you prefer at a shop? Then colors are essential! Check out our Spanish color course for examples of more specific colors (such as lilac!) in Spanish.
Marrón (dark brown)
Café (light brown)
Before the Noun: Identifiers, Demonstratives, Short-Form Possessives, Limiting Adjectives, Emotional Impact, and Essential Qualities
As rules in languages are often more like guidelines, there are of course several important exceptions to the “adjectives come after the noun” rule.
Identifiers: Demonstrative & Possessives
“Identifiers” are adjectives that identify or pick out a specific entity, such as demonstratives or possessive adjectives.
|este/esta, estos/estas||this, these ones|
|ese/esa, esos/esas||that/that one, those ones|
|aquel/aquella, aquellos/aquellas||that one over there, those ones over there (for something further away)|
Demonstrative adjectives look just like demonstrative pronouns, except that as they are adjectives, they need to concur with the noun that they describe.
Esta bebida es deliciosa.
This drink is delicious.
Remember that demonstrative pronouns replace a noun rather than modify it.
Esto es delicioso.
This is delicious.
In order to distinguish a possessive adjective from a possessive pronoun, you have to think about the role it plays in the sentence. The appropriate use of possessive pronouns versus possessive adjectives also mirrors the familiar English usage.
While a pronoun stands in for a noun, an adjective “modifies” or describes a noun. Simply put, if there’s no noun present, it’s a possessive pronoun.
Esto es tuyo.
This is yours.
If there’s something that looks similar to a subject pronoun + a noun, it’s a possessive adjective.
The first example below shows what’s called a short-form possessive adjective. The second example is of a long-form possessive adjective (it’s longer!), which is used to give extra emphasis to the ownership, such as to correct someone’s understanding of who something belongs to.
Este es tu lápiz.
This is your pencil.
Ese es mi lápiz y este es el suyo.
That is my pencil and this is his pencil.
The nosotros and vosotros forms of possessive adjectives are the same in both long and short form, and are distinguished by their sentence placement after the noun in the long form (as you can see in the second example above). Several of these forms need to be changed to match the gender and number of the noun.
|Short form||Long form||English translation|
|mi, mis||mío/mía, míos/mías||my|
|tu, tus||tuyo/tuya, tuyos/tuyas||your|
|su, sus||suyo/suya, suyos/suyas||his/hers/its|
|nuestro/nuestra, nuestros/nuestras||nuestro/nuestra, nuestros/nuestras||our|
|vuestro/vuestra, vuestros/vuestras||vuestro/vuestra, vuestros/vuestras||your (plural)|
|su, sus||suyo/suya, suyos/suyas||their|
Note that only the written accent differentiates the prepositional object pronoun mí from the adjective mi.
El gato me lamió la mano.
The cat licked my hand.
Limpié la casa hoy.
I cleaned my house today.
Adjectives that limit or quantify nouns, like suficiente (“enough”) and all numbers, are placed before the noun.
Comí suficiente sopa.
I ate enough soup.
Comí cinco churros.
I ate five churros.
Emotional Adjectives and Essential Qualities
Adjectives which emphasize the qualities of a noun are placed before the noun. These “attributive adjectives” endow the statement with a poetic or literary tone.
Mi novio me ha traído una bonita flor.
My boyfriend brought me a beautiful flower.
El frío hielo me tocó el pie.
The cold ice touched my toe.
Some of these adjectives can be used before or after the noun to change the meaning (see the next section).
Ella es mi mejor amiga.
She is my best friend.
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Before or After the Noun
Some exceptional adjectives can occur before or after the noun.
Sometimes changing the pairing of the adjective + version of the verb “to be” (ser/estar) can also change the meaning of the adjective. Pairing an adjective with estar generally means the description could change, while ser is used for more permanent qualities. Some adjectives are rigidly tied to one or the other verb. See this list and use the following phrase to help you remember: How you feel and where you are, that is when you use estar.
Many of these ambiguities are also present with the English translations, so think of it as an extra option to make your meaning clearer in Spanish.
See the list below for the most common adjectives (in singular form) that can be in either place and how they or their meaning changes.
|Before: form||Before: meaning||After: form||After: meaning|
|Buen*||good (to you)||Bueno/a||good (in general)|
|Pobre||poor (expresses pity)||–||poor (monetary sense)|
|Varios||several (in number)||–||varied/various|
|Nuevo/a||different||–||new (temporal sense)|
*Buen/bueno/a and mal/malo/a can have slight changes in meaning when the position varies, but they are mostly very flexible. To describe “a good day,” both un día bueno and un buen día are okay. Malo only loses its final letter before a masculine noun, not a feminine one.
Order of Adjectives
In Spanish, the adjective is placed before or after a noun for semantic reasons, such as to add emphasis or to correct previous information. For multiple adjectives, use y (“and”) in between. You’ll mostly only hear multiple adjectives used in literary or poetic contexts.
Observaba el atardecer: bello y lleno de color, pero extraño a la vez.
I watched the sunset: beautiful and full of color, but strange at the same time.
If you’re describing multiple nouns with one adjective, you assume the masculine tense, unless all the nouns are feminine. According to Nueva Gramática de la Lengua Española, this is called “masculino genérico,” and “…it is usual in Romance languages (…) to use masculine nouns to describe all the individuals of the class that are mentioned, whether male or female.”
Las ruedas (f pl) y el coche (m sg) negros (m pl)
The black car and wheels…
La silla (f) y la mesa (f) rojas (f pl)
The red chair and table…
Choosing an adjective from a list of synonyms can be daunting. In your native language, you have developed intuitions about which words go together and which ones just don’t sound right. This is the reason that only “big,” and never “large,” sounds right before “mistake.” Words that come together in predictable chunks are called “collocates,” and are usually simply a product of how many times they’ve been used together among native speakers of a language.
Without you realizing it, your brain has been keeping detailed statistics about which words it has seen together. This is also how you keep track of which words are appropriate for certain contexts (Most native speakers agree that “compelling” would be a better adjective for a co-worker’s presentation than “rad” in a professional setting).
As language learners, these statistics just aren’t readily available to us. The key to beginning to use adjectives in a native-like fashion is simply gathering data by exposing yourself to as much of the language as possible.
Luckily, your brain will do the tedious part of keeping track of all of those statistics, meaning rather than pouring over spreadsheets, you get to do more fun things like watching films in Spanish or listening to Spanish podcasts. Using some structured Spanish instruction, such as Lingvist’s online Spanish course, will also give you practice with applying the rules you’ve learned so far about adjectives and quiz your intuitions about appropriate usage. Lingvist is a super-fast way to learn vocabulary as well, so sign up today to start learning new adjectives! Depending on where you plan to use your Spanish the most, Lingvist’s online Spanish course allows you to select either European or Latin American Spanish.
Now that you know how to add adjectives to sentences, you’re ready to cook up some sentences sabrosas. ¡Qué delicioso!