There’s no question that the sky is blue, no matter what language you’re speaking.
But is it a “blue sky” or a “sky blue?”
If you speak English, you know the first is a description and the second is a type of color.
But if you speak Spanish, things aren’t that simple. You have to ask yourself a few questions: Is it one sky or a few? Is the sky feminine or masculine? Is being blue an inherent quality of the sky?
Luckily, Spanish adjective usage and placement isn’t as complicated as it seems and it can be mastered fairly quickly just by learning a few rules.
The Guide to Spanish Adjective Placement: Quit Misplacing Those Descriptives!
Just fire up FluentU to see all these concepts illustrated by actual native Spanish speakers.
Here are some important things to remember when trying to put Spanish adjectives in their place (so to speak).
Spanish Adjectives Follow Nouns
First, forget everything you know about English adjectives.
Ok, good. Now you’re ready to learn the most important rule about Spanish adjectives: place the adjective after the noun it modifies.
I know it’s weird for English speakers, but once you practice a little, you’ll pick up the rule in no time. Instead of a “blue car,” you’ll have a “car blue.” It’s almost poetic, isn’t it?
Here are some examples of Spanish sentences with adjectives. The adjectives that show this rule are bolded:
Al cachorrito marrón le gusta a comer salchichas picantes. (The brown puppy likes to eat spicy sausages.)
Mi computadora portable está vieja. (My portable computer is old.)
Me gustan gorras escocesas con purpurina plateada. (I like plaid hats with silver glitter.)
Spanish Adjectives Have Genders
In order to speak accurate Spanish, you need to know how to use masculine and feminine genders.
Spanish adjectives work almost the same way as Spanish nouns. Nouns also have masculine and feminine genders. When a noun is paired with an adjective, the adjective must be altered to reflect the noun’s gender. In other words, the genders of the noun and adjective must agree with each other.
Changing Spanish adjective endings isn’t that difficult, because it’s similar to how los / las / el / la (the) and una / unas / un / una (a) change to match the noun’s gender. Here are the rules:
- Feminine adjectives often end in -a and masculine adjectives often end in -o.
- To change an adjective from masculine to feminine, change the ending to -a: Rojo (Red, masculine) → Roja (Red, feminine).
- To change an adjective from feminine to masculine, change the ending to -o: Roja → Rojo.
- Adjectives that end in -e, -ista or a consonant don’t change their gender: Interesante (Interesting) → Interesante (Interesting). No change!
- The only exception is when an adjective is referring to a nationally. Nationality adjectives always change to reflect the gender of the person (or thing) being referenced: inglés (English, masculine), inglesa (English, feminine), mexicano (Mexican, masculine), mexicana (Mexican, feminine).
Here are a few adjective examples showing the singular forms:
Tengo una gallina roja. (I have a red hen.)
Tengo un gallo rojo. (I have a red rooster.)
Me gusta el perrito pequeño. (I like the small dog.)
La mesa pequeña es la más linda. (The small table is the nicest one.)
El perro come la tarta dulce. (The dog eats the sweet cake).
Spanish Adjectives Can Be Pluralized
When Spanish adjectives are used to refer to a plural noun, they also have to become plural. Don’t forget to also match the gender while you’re at it!
So, to master adjectives, you need to identify the nouns getting modified, recognize their gender and determine if they’re plural. Once you have all of these facts, you can alter the adjectives to be in perfect agreement with the nouns.
Usually, all you have to do to make an adjective plural is add an -s to the end of the word.
Here are the same examples as above, made plural, to put what you’ve learned to use. You’ll notice that some words only have one plural form, instead of changing between masculine and feminine forms—these are generally the adjectives that are gender-neutral in the singular.
Tengo dos gallinas rojas. (I have two red hens.)
Tengo doce gallos rojos. (I have twelve red roosters.)
Me gustan los perritos pequeños. (I like the small dogs.)
Las chicas pequeñas son muy simpáticas. (The small girls are very nice.)
El perro come las tartas dulces. (The dog eats the sweet cakes.)
Putting It All Together
Let’s use these words in some Spanish sentences, so you can see the Spanish adjective rules at work. The adjectives are in bold:
El perrito marrón come muchas salchichas picantes. El perrito también come huesos duros y arroz blanco. (The brown puppy eats more than the spicy sausages. The puppy also eats hard bones and white rice.)
El perrito marrón tiene una hermana que tiene pelo negro y cuatro collares metálicos. (The brown puppy has a sister with black fur and four metal collars.)
Ahora el perrito marrón y la perrita negra juegan con algunas pelotas coloridas. (Now the brown puppy and the black puppy play with some colorful balls.)
Ambos perritos tienen sus bocas llenas de dientes afilados. (Both puppies have mouths full of sharp teeth.)
¡Ay, no! Los perritos traviesos muerden las pelotas coloridas y las rasgan. (Oh no! The mischievous puppies bite the colorful balls and rip them.)
Exceptions to the Rules
Did you think that there wouldn’t be any exceptions to these rules? In a perfect world that would be the case, but Spanish isn’t a perfect language.
In some cases, adjectives go in front of the modified nouns like they do in English. Here are these cases:
- Proper nouns, i.e. Miguel Cervantes, Salvador Dalí, Jorge Gutierrez:
El creativo Jorge Gutierrez se especializa en películas animadas. (The creative Jorge Gutierrez specializes in animated movies).
- Nouns or relations that we only have one of, i.e. state birds, presidents, siblings, a nose, heart, etc.:
El árido y frío Plutón ya no es una planeta. (The barren and cold Pluto is not a planet anymore).
- Inherent qualities of nouns or details/adjectives that always associated with a noun, i.e. white snow, wet water, blue sky:
La brillante estrella es conocida como Sirius o “la estrella del perro.” (The bright star is called Sirius or the dog star).
- Adjectives referring to a specific noun, or in other words, when you know the noun the adjective is referencing:
El travieso perro del cuento se comió la tarea importante. (The naughty dog from the story ate the important homework).
English is pretty cut-and-dry when it comes to adjective-noun agreement. When English speakers switch to Spanish, they must think about gendered words and plurality.
Keep these important rules in mind when you’re learning and speaking Spanish:
- Adjectives usually come after the noun in Spanish
- Adjectives must be plural if the noun is plural
- Adjectives must match the noun’s gender
Don’t forget that the best way to become fluent in this Spanish skill is to practice, read, listen and write! So get practicing!
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