Would you rather watch a black and white movie, or a high definition, full color one?
You’re probably going to choose full color–because it’s more interesting, more exciting, and closer to real life.
Knowing Spanish without any adjectives is kind of like the black and white version of the language. Sure, you can get your point across most of the time, but it’s a little boring!
When you’re a little kid you might know how to say you’re happy, or sad, or that someone is mean, or nice. You see things in black and white, because you don’t have all the colorful crayons.
Those crayons are adjectives. If you’ve learned the Spanish basics, but you find yourself unable to describe things properly, then this ultimate guide to Spanish adjectives should help.
Noun-adjective Agreement in Spanish
Maybe in love, opposites attract, but in Spanish, the words like to agree. No fighting or mix-matched pairs. That means that you need to match your nouns with your adjectives. If a noun is feminine the adjective needs to be changed to be feminine too, ditto if the noun is masculine. (If this is the first you’re hearing of Spanish noun genders, definitely check out this post.)
Adjectives that end in -o always have four endings: one for masculine, feminine, singular and plural. Keep the -o ending for masculine adjectives, and change it to an –a for feminine adjectives. Add an -s to the end of either -o or -a to make it plural.
El coche rojo. (The red car.)
“Car” is masculine and therefore the masculine form of “red” needs to be used.
La chica alta. (The tall girl.)
“Girl” is feminine and therefore “tall” must be used in its feminine form.
This is also true of plural nouns and plural adjectives. If the noun is in the plural you need to adjust the adjective:
Las chicas altas. (The tall girls.)
Los coches rojos. (The red cars)
This is also true if the adjective doesn’t come directly after the noun. For example:
El hombre es alto. (The man is tall.)
Although the verb es is between the two, the adjective (alto) still refers to the noun (hombre) and therefore the two must agree.
Not all adjectives have a feminine and masculine version. Some remain the same.
Adjectives that end in –e or –ista do not change for masculine or feminine. They retain their ending. For example:
El día triste. (The sad day.)
La chica triste. (The sad girl.)
Mi abuela es idealista. (My grandma is idealistic.)
Mi abuelo es idealista. (My grandpa is idealistic.)
Note how the ending did not change in any of the above adjectives. However, you’ll still need to add an –s to make these adjectives plural. See?
Mis abuelos son idealistas. (My grandparents are idealistic.)
Las chicas están tristes. (The girls are sad.)
The same rule applies to adjectives that end in consonants (with some exceptions). For example:
La camiseta azul. (The blue shirt.)
El coche azul. (The blue car.)
To make these plural you need to add –es:
Las camisetas azules. (The blue shirts.)
However, if the ending consonant is a –z, you need to change it to a -c before you turn it into a plural.
La chica es feliz. (The girl is happy.)
Las chicas son felices. (The girls are happy.)
Phew! You did it!
Where Does an Adjective Go in a Spanish Sentence?
Now that you know how to make your colorful adjectives make sense, where do you put them?
The simple answer is after the noun, but the truth is a little more complicated. (Isn’t it always!?)
Qualifying adjectives usually go after the noun. These include those that describe physical characteristics or nationalities, or are derived from verbs.
Una mesa negra (A black table)
Un hombre inglés (An English man)
Usually, Spanish adjectives which are “identifiers” go before the noun.
These identifying adjectives include demonstrative adjectives, for example este (this) or aquel (that). These type of adjectives always precede the noun. The same is true for possessive adjectives which explain who the noun belongs to, for example, mi (my) or nuestro (our).
If an adjective is a limiting adjective then it also goes before the noun. A limiting adjective is one that somehow limits the noun in quantity. For example:
Tengo suficiente tiempo. (I have enough time.)
Here the limiting adjective is suficiente (enough) and since it limits tiempo (time), it goes before the noun. That is also true of numbers.
Adjectives that give emotional impact, or express essential “qualities” go before the noun.
El valiente general. (The brave general.)
Putting valiente first shows the emphasis on “brave,” and refers to a emotional characteristic.
Es un buen amigo. (He/She is a good friend.)
The friend is good, as in good to you, rather than simply a “good” person.
If you want to know more about where to put all the words, check out this article, which explains where all the pieces go to make a sentence that makes sense!
Spanish Adjectives That Change Meaning Based on Placement
Yup, you read that right. There are some Spanish adjectives that actually change meaning depending on if they come before or after the noun.
Putting the adjective before the noun is often done to add emotional resonance or subjective feelings, rather than an objective fact. For example:
La pobre mujer. (The poor woman.)
The speaker feels sorry for this woman, it is more a state of being than a financial fact.
La mujer pobre. (The woman has little money.)
This, on the other hand, is an objective fact.
Let’s look at another example:
Tengo un viejo amigo. ( I have a longtime friend.)
Tengo un amigo viejo. (I have an old friend.) – [The friend’s age is old.]
Putting viejo (old) in front of amigo (friend) signifies that the friend is old, as in longtime, rather than elderly. Putting the viejo after signifies the friend’s age.
Some other adjectives that change based on whether they are before or after the noun include:
- alto – Before the noun it means “top quality,” after the noun it means “tall.”
- cierto – Before the noun it means “certain,” after the noun it means “right/correct.”
- único – Before the noun it means “only,” after the noun it means “unique.”
- varios – Before the noun it means “several” (as in number), after the noun it means “varied.”
- nuevo – Before the noun it means “different,” but after the noun it means “new.”
- gran/grande* – Before the noun it means “great,” but after the noun it means “big.”
*Before the noun we use gran (Marco es un gran hombre), but after the noun we use grande (Marco es un hombre grande.)
Try playing around with some of these adjectives: What sentences could you create by using them before and then after the noun?
How to Qualify Spanish Adjectives
Now, since you’ve probably moved past primary school, you’ll know there are more colors out there then red or yellow or green. Sometimes something is really red, or a little bit green. It might be mauve or lilac or turquoise, but sometimes it isn’t any of those fancy colors, it’s just a really vivid version of a simple one.
Sometimes something is reaaally good, or extra yummy. Or maybe it’s kind of nice, sort of yellow, a bit spicy. How do you show that, in Spanish?
That’s where qualifiers come in. These qualifiers are sometimes extra words, and sometimes suffixes.
You can use words like un poco for “little,” or muy for “very” and más for “most.” For example:
Un poco picante. (A little spicy.)
Muy picante. (Very spicy)
El curry rojo es el más picante. (The red curry is the most spicy.)
You might also you a suffix. For example:
Here the -ita added to chica (girl) might mean small, but it might also be a term of endearment.
You can add these suffixes to adjectives too, to give nuance and make them less harsh. For example instead of using gordo (fat) you could use gordito, which means chubby.
How to Practice Using Spanish Adjectives
To make sure you’ve always got all the colored crayons at your disposal, you need to practice using and remembering them. You can practice using Spanish adjectives in loads of ways, we’ve got a few ideas for you here:
- Choose an artwork and try to describe it to yourself, or somebody else. You’ll need plenty of different adjectives that refer to mood, colors, styles and size.
- Consider yourself and a friend of the opposite gender. Describe yourself and them in at least 5 adjectives (watch out for noun agreement).
- If you have friends with you, take turns describing objects in the room and see who can guess what they are!
- Practice with flashcards and try creating a sentence with each adjective you see.
How to Move Beyond the Basic Spanish Adjectives
Now, we’ve come a long way, but there’s one tiny problem we have yet to face: It’s really easy to get stuck using the same adjectives over and over. That’s kind of like only ever using a red crayon. What happens when you want to color in someone’s face, or you’ve only got a blue crayon and you want to draw the sun?
Here are some great ways to get out of boring habits with Spanish adjectives:
- Try to come up with as many different adjectives as you can that describe something you dislike. Imagine you’re listing the reasons the food is disgusting to a waiter. Now do the same, but for something you really like.
- “Ban” yourself from using the adjectives you constantly lean on. If you always say someone is simpático (nice), then look up five other ways of describing someone who is nice.
- Go on Spanish Buzzfeed and check out all the exciting, and sometimes colloquial adjectives they use! Some will definitely not be the kind in your textbook.
- Try out a fashion blog like Amlul.com; she describes her outfits in English and Spanish. (Bonus style tips!)
- If you’re not into fashion, what about food? This food blog is very descriptive! The authors describe the areas, the restaurants and the food in great detail, so you will learn plenty of amazing new adjectives.
Remember, you don’t want to be stuck in a black and white film! Throw some paint around and get colorful, with all the adjectives you can think of!