Transformation Complete! When Adjectives Act as Nouns in Spanish
Did you know there are words in Spanish that can magically transform into a different part of speech?
This post will teach you how to take a Spanish adjective, do some hocus-pocus and transform it into a noun.
But thanks to a couple of little helpers, you can do it easily and effortlessly, nonetheless.
- The Difference Between Adjectives and Nouns
- Gender and Number in Spanish Nouns and Adjectives
- Transform Adjectives into Nouns in Spanish with 5 Magical Techniques
The Difference Between Adjectives and Nouns
The main difference between an adjective and a noun is its function and usage in a sentence.
A noun is a word that names people, things, places, ideas… Practically everything around you is a noun: el ordenador (the computer), el aire (the air), la mamá (the mom), el amor (the love), etc. Here is a near trick: If you can add “the” before a word and it makes sense, it is probably a noun.
An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun. Every noun can be described or modified somehow, and you can see this by adding an adjective to the nouns mentioned in the last paragraph:
el ordenador rápido (the fast computer)
el aire fresco (the fresh air)
la mamá amable (the nice mum)
el amor incondicional (the unconditional love)
Although they serve different functions, nouns and adjectives in Spanish have something in common, as well: their gender and number.
Gender and Number in Spanish Nouns and Adjectives
Spanish has two genders (masculine and feminine) and two amount indicators (singular and plural).
Adjectives and nouns have a gender and a number in Spanish:
el perro negro (the black dog) — masculine singular
la mesa grande (the big table) — feminine singular
los perros negros (the black dogs) — masculine plural
las mesas grandes (the big tables) — feminine plural
As you can see, while adjectives are invariable in English, they do change in Spanish. The rule is very simple, though: Adjectives and the nouns they modify must agree in gender and number. Always!
So if you see a sentence where the noun and the adjective do not agree, there has to be something wrong, like in the following incorrect examples:
*el niño guapa (the pretty boy) — masculine noun and feminine adjective
*las tazas pequeña (the small mugs) — plural noun and singular adjective
*los hermanos soltera (the single brothers) — masculine plural noun and feminine singular adjective
The relationship between nouns and adjectives goes further than just having the same gender and number. There are many instances where you can change an adjective into a noun, and that is what this post is about.
Transform Adjectives into Nouns in Spanish with 5 Magical Techniques
Nouns are nouns and adjectives are adjectives, but adjectives love transforming themselves and becoming nouns.
There are five magical techniques that will take an adjective and morph it into a noun.
1. Using the Definite Article
Possibly the easiest way for an adjective to be transformed into a noun is by using the definite article.
Almost any adjective can undergo this change without breaking a sweat, because it is indeed easy as pie!
Just add a definite article to an adjective, and there you go! You now have a noun.
The only thing you have to bear in mind is that the article and the adjective, now a noun, have to agree in gender and number:
el rojo (the red one) — masculine singular
la roja (the red one) — feminine singular
los rojos (the red ones) — masculine plural
las rojas (the red ones) — feminine plural
Here are some complete examples:
Compré la roja y la azul. (I bought the red one and the blue one.)
Mi hermano perdió las grandes. (My brother lost the big ones.)
Vinimos en el rápido. (We came in the fast one.)
2. Using the Indefinite Article
This second magic trick is practically the same as the one above except it uses indefinite articles instead of definite ones.
The rules, however, are the same. Add an adjective to an indefinite article, make sure they agree in gender and number and you have your new noun:
uno negro (a black one) — masculine singular
una negra (a black one) — feminine singular
unos negros (some black ones) — masculine plural
unas negras (some black ones) — feminine plural
Check it out in action here:
Tenía unos negros. (He had some black ones.)
Encontramos una negra y una amarilla. (We found a black one and a yellow one.)
In case there is any doubt, the difference between techniques one and two is that the first one deals with definite, specific nouns, while the second one refers to indefinite, non-specific ones:
He comprado la roja. (I have bought the red one.)
He comprado una roja. (I have bought a red one.)
If you’re having trouble with this grammatical aspect, here are some resources to help. This podcast explains adjective transformation in more detail. If you want to watch how natives use these words, you can watch authentic Spanish videos with interactive captions on the FluentU language learning program.To practice using these sentences, the Clozemaster app teaches you grammar by having you find the correct missing word for certain sentences.
3. Using Demonstrative Adjectives
Demonstrative adjectives “demonstrate” a quality about the noun they modify: the distance between the speaker and the noun.
English has two distances: close (this, these) and far (that, those).
Spanish, on the other hand, has three distances: close (este, esta, estos, estas), far (aquel, aquella, aquellos, aquellas) and somewhere in between (ese, esa, esos, esas).
Demonstrative adjectives can also be used to transform adjectives into nouns. Just take an adjective and modify it with a demonstrative adjective with the same gender and number and you will be making a noun:
aquel pequeño (that small one over there) — masculine singular
esa pequeña (that small one) — feminine singular
estos pequeños (these small ones) — masculine plural
aquellas pequeñas (those small ones over there) — feminine plural
Let’s see these little fellas in full sentences:
Papá quiere aquel pequeño. (Dad wants that small one over there.)
Compraré esa pequeña. (I will buy that small one.)
Necesitamos estos pequeños. (We need these small ones.)
4. Using the Neutral Article Lo
Spanish has a very magical article with the power of being neutral and that article is lo, which can be broadly translated as “what.”
This article also has the capacity of accepting adjectives, which allows them to transform into nouns. Magically, of course.
When you have the neutral article lo followed by an adjective, you can translate the expression as “what is + adjective” or “the + adjective + thing”:
lo bonito (what is beautiful)
lo peor (what is worse)
lo interesante (what is interesting)
lo mejor (what is best)
Since lo is a neutral article, gender and number have little say here. The adjectives following lo can only be masculine and singular.
Here are some examples:
Lo peor es que se olvidó de cerrar la puerta. (What is worse is he forgot to close the door.)
Lo interesante es que no me gusta el café. (What is interesting is I do not like coffee.)
Ser feliz es lo mejor del mundo. (Being happy is the best thing in the world.)
5. Using the Personal A
Sometimes, we can transform adjectives into nouns while referring to people instead of things.
If that is the case, we will need to use the personal a together with an article and an adjective:
al (a + el) guapo (the handsome one) — masculine singular
a la pequeña (the little one) — feminine singular
a los altos (the tall ones) — masculine plural
a las jóvenes (the young ones) — feminine plural
This kind of construction will normally be the object of the verb and as every Spanish personal object, it needs the personal a in order for the sentence to be grammatically correct:
He visto al guapo. (I have seen the handsome one.)
Les hemos comprado sillas a los altos. (We have bought chairs for the tall ones.)
Veo a las jóvenes, pero no veo a los otros. (I see the young ones, but I do not see the other ones.)
And here ends the magic show, my friends.
The five techniques presented in this post are all you need to know if you ever want to do a nice grammar magic trick and change a Spanish adjective into a noun.
Now you know how to help noun wannabes make their dreams come true. So get out there and start transforming adjectives like there is no tomorrow!
Stay curious and, as always, happy learning!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.