spanish adjective clauses

Spanish Adjective Clauses: When 1 Word Isn’t Enough

Spanish adjective clauses?

Yep, just as you think you have learned everything there is to learn about adjectives, we spring another type on you.

You can describe personalities with adjectives, say what anyone looks like with physical adjectives and even spice up your everyday speech. But what if you need more than a word or two to describe something?!

That’s where Spanish adjective clauses come in!


What Is an Adjective Clause?

Adjectives are descriptive words; they imbue nouns with vibrant emotions, brilliant colors and unique features. That last sentence would have been much duller if I had just said “they imbue nouns with emotions, colors and features.” That is the power of adjectives.

But what is an adjective clause?

Adjective clauses are also known as relative clauses or adjectival clauses. An adjective clause works pretty much the same as a regular adjective, but it uses more words to express its meaning, including a subject and verb.

Here is an important key to remember when you are dealing with adjective clauses: they are non-essential to the sentence. They are added on to provide more information about something and are often placed between commas to separate them from the rest of the sentence.

Removing an adjective clause should not change the meaning of the sentence.

If this all sounds confusing, seeing it in action will clarify everything! Here are some examples in English; the adjective clauses are in bold:

The Spanish book that was published in 1904 was dusty.

Miguel Cervantes, who wrote “Don Quixote,” is a famous Spanish author.

Relative pronouns in English

Relative pronouns are major components of adjective clauses because their job is to connect a clause to the noun it modifies. Lucky for you, they also make it easier to identify adjective clauses.

Here are the same examples as above, except this time only the relative pronouns are in bold:

The Spanish book that was published in 1904 was dusty.

Miguel Cervantes, who wrote “Don Quixote,” is a famous Spanish author.

Adjective Clauses in Spanish

That concludes our trip down English class memory lane. Hopefully, it did not stir up any horrendous nightmares of bad grades, mean English teachers and long hours spent struggling over homework. Oh wait, those are my nightmares!

Now that English is behind us, you might be wondering how Spanish clauses differ from English ones.

You will be blown away when I tell you the difference: A Spanish adjective clause works the same as an English one… except it is en español (in Spanish)!

All kidding aside, Spanish adjective clauses really do function the same as English ones, with some minor differences.

Here are the examples from above, translated into Spanish with the adjective clauses bolded:

El libro de español que fue publicado en 1904 estaba cubierto de polvo. (The Spanish book that was published in 1904 was dusty.)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, quien escribió “Don Quixote,” es un autor español famoso. (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who wrote “Don Quixote,” is a famous Spanish author.)

And here are a few more examples:

El perro que tiene las orejas grises corre más rápido que la tortuga. (The dog that has gray ears runs much faster than the turtle.)

La película, que ganó el premio a mejor película, se llevó también el premio a mejor director. (The movie, which won the best movie award, also took home the best director award.)

Creo que la tortuga que come toda la lechuga del jardín no esta aquí hoy. (I think the turtle who eats all the lettuce in the garden is not here today.)

Relative pronouns in Spanish

Just like in English, Spanish relative pronouns are the key to forming proper Spanish adjective clauses. Here are the pronombres relativos (relative pronouns) in Spanish:

quien — whom

quienes — whom (plural)

que — that

el que/la que — that (masculine)/that (feminine)

los que/las que — that (masculine plural)/that (feminine plural)

cual — which

cuales — which (plural)

el cual/la cual — which (masculine)/which (feminine)

los cuales/las cuales — which (masculine plural)/which (feminine plural)

cuyo/cuya — whose (masculine)/whose (feminine)

cuyos/cuyas — whose (masculine plural)/whose (feminine plural)

You might be thinking that the list above is way more complex than English relative pronouns. The masculine and feminine articles combined with the plural forms make it look much longer.

But do not worry! It is not as complicated as it looks. For the most part, you use the same pronoun in Spanish as you would in English: “who” for people, “that” for objects and so on.

In Spanish, you also have to pay attention to whether the antecedent (el antecedente)—the noun that the pronoun refers to—is feminine or masculine and singular or plural, then choose your pronoun accordingly. For example, take the sentence below:

Las personas, para quienes internet es muy importante, creen que las noticias son verdaderas sin cuestionárselas. (The people, for whom the internet is very important, believe that the news stories are true without a doubt.)

If the sentence had been about a single persona, the relative pronoun you would pair it with would be quien, not quienes.

El que and el cual are not used often in spoken speech—you will see them more often in written language. To use el que and el cual correctly, they must also agree in number and gender to the antecedent. They are mostly used when there are a lot of words between the relative pronoun and the antecedent.

Here are some examples using el que and el cual:

El pájaro rojo, el que vive en el campo, canta canciones hermosas. (The red bird, the one that lives in the countryside, sings beautiful songs.)

Las canciones del pájaro rojo, las cuales consisten en fuertes graznidos, son muy extrañas de oír. (The red bird’s songs use whistles and squawks which are very rare to hear.)


Nunca hablaré donde vive el pájaro rojo, el cual se siente muy perturbado si no siente paz. (I will never tell where the red bird lives, the one that feels disturbed without its peace.)

Everyone’s favorite online Spanish dictionary,, has a great Spanish relative pronoun quiz if you want to get some practice.

Spanish Adjective Clauses in the Subjunctive and Indicative Tenses

Two more important things to consider when constructing Spanish adjective clauses are the subjunctive and indicative verb tenses. That’s right, every Spanish learner’s favorite mood makes an appearance!

You have probably already learned about the differences between indicative and subjunctive tenses.

Here is a quick refresher: The indicative tense is used when you are speaking about definite facts, while the subjunctive tense is used when you are speaking about thoughts, beliefs, hopes and other indefinite topics.

To remember the differences between the two tenses, you can use this mnemonic: The word “subjunctive” sounds a lot like “subjective,” which refers to personal thoughts and opinions. Thoughts and opinions are not facts!

My indicative mnemonic is a bit more abstract. I use the expression “the evidence indicates facts,” relying on the word “indicates” to remind me that indicative only uses cold, hard facts.

Subjunctive and indicative tenses have different verb conjugations in Spanish. The indicative tense is the most common one used in spoken and written Spanish, so you are probably already familiar with the conjugations for -ar, -ir/-er and at least the most common irregular verbs.

You can practice subjunctive conjugations online if you have not mastered them yet.

What does all this have to do with adjective clauses?

Well, the subjunctive is used in adjective clauses when you do not know the adjective you are referring to, or when the adjective does not exist (as in a negation).

Here are a few examples:

Queremos hablar con un profesor que pueda ayudarnos con este formulario. (We want to speak to a professor who can help us with this formula. [We do not have a particular professor in mind.])

No hay nadie que te pueda ayudar con eso. (There is no one who can help you with this. [The antecedent is negative, and therefore nonexistent.])

If the main adjective is something or someone you know, just use the indicative! For example:

Queremos hablar con el profesor que dio la clase de español de ayer. (We want to speak with the professor who conducted yesterday’s Spanish class. [We want that specific teacher, not any other.])

Ways to Practice Spanish Adjective Clauses

Spanish adjective clauses are fairly straightforward but they require a little study to understand their intricacies. A good way to practice is just to create your own Spanish clauses by yourself or with a friend!

Here are some fun ideas for practicing Spanish adjective clauses:

  • Get a Spanish Mad Libs book, but instead of filling in single adjectives when requested, write out entire adjective clauses. If you do not want to buy a book, you can do this with any short Spanish text—just remove a few words here and there, noting their part of speech (and making sure to get plenty of adjectives!).
  • For practice in context, the FluentU app and program provides you with hundreds of videos of real-life conversations so you can see exactly how and when native speakers use these adjective clauses. The videos are part of a language learning system which comes with transcripts, interactive subtitles and word lists that appear before the clip, so it’s easy to spot them.
  • For more practice, 123TeachMe has a great rundown on Spanish adjective clauses and a fun game.

We hope this journey, which was about Spanish adjective clauses, has been a productive one for you. Enjoy your newly found descriptive skills!

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