The Spanish Tan vs. Tanto: Master Comparisons of Equality Like a Poet
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Shall I teach you how to make comparisons in Spanish so that you do not have any more problems with tan and tanto?
Then sit down and relax. It is time to get poetic!
The Spanish tan and tanto are two little words you have probably seen a few times already.
They are used to make equality comparisons. That is, we use them when we want to say that two people, objects, animals, thoughts, actions or any other couple of things are equal in some respect.
If you have already studied the difference between mi (my) and mío (mine), bueno (good) and bien (well) or malo (bad [before noun]) and mal (bad [after noun]), you will not be surprised to find out that Spanish has some word pairs that, despite being related, have different functions and behave differently depending on the context or their position in the sentence.
Tan and tanto are one such couple, and this post is going to teach you everything there is to know about them.
But before going into detail, let’s answer a couple of questions: What are they and when are they used?
What Is the Spanish Tan and When Is It Used?
Tan is not an English tan. A lot of my students have fallen for this false friend the first time they saw it and their faces looked like Picassos on a bad day when they incorrectly translated a sentence like Es tan alto como tú (He is as tall as you) into *He is tanned tall as you. (Wait, what!?)
No one is getting tanned today, though.
Tan is a Spanish adverb, and a very important one that means “as” when making comparisons.
As an adverb, it is invariable, which means it does not matter if it is accompanying a masculine singular adjective or a feminine plural one. It will always remain tan:
María es tan guapa como Juana. (María is as pretty as Juana.)
Los vasos son tan caros como los tenedores. (The glasses are as expensive as the forks.)
You will have much more info on tan in a few paragraphs, but as you may infer from what has been said already, tan loves the company of adjectives, and very often the word como (as, like) will appear when making the comparison.
What Is the Spanish Tanto and When Is It Used?
On the other hand, tanto is an adjective.
This may shock you if you know its meaning is “as much/as many,” but that is the truth.
You are probably used to seeing adjectives like blanco and its siblings blanca, blancos and blancas, or grande and its sibling grandes. They qualify a noun, you feel safe and at home. They are adjectives.
Tanto may not look like your next-door, friendly adjective, but if you get to know it a little bit better, you will learn that it also has siblings and they are indeed a very necessary family of adjectives in Spanish if you want to make comparisons:
Tienes tanto dinero como Andrea. (You have as much money as Andrea.)
Como tanta fruta como mi hermano. (I eat as much fruit as my brother.)
Tenemos tantos coches como Pedro. (We have as many cars as Pedro.)
Quieren tantas piscinas como sus vecinos. (They want as many swimming pools as their neighbors.)
You will get to know these variants of tanto better in the following paragraphs. For now, just bear in mind the tanto family loves nouns and also has a very close friendship with como.
Now that you know today’s two heroes, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of it all and learn everything about them.
Get ready to be compared to a native Spanish speaker after you finish this post!
The Spanish Tan vs. Tanto: Master Comparisons of Equality Like a Poet
Use Tan to Compare Adjectives and Adverbs
As we saw in the introduction of this post, tan is the word we use when we have comparisons that include an adjective. The same is true for adverbs, as well.
Use tan when you need to compare two people, objects or animals and want to say that they share a quality (adjective) or they do something the same way (adverb).
Apart from remembering this, you should not forget about the word como, which also appears in this type of comparison.
The easiest way to remember all the ingredients here is with the use of the following formula:
tan + adjetivo/adverbio + como (as + adjective/adverb + as)
One final thing you have to bear in mind is the behavior of adjectives in Spanish. Remember that they always have to agree in gender and number with the noun they refer to!
All things considered, your Spanish adjective/adverb comparisons should look like this:
El agua es tan barata como la leche. (The water is as cheap as the milk.)
Los niños son tan altos como las niñas. (The boys are as tall as the girls.)
Las tortugas son tan viejas como esta casa. (The turtles are as old as this house.)
La liebre corre tan rápido como el conejo. (The hare runs as fast as the rabbit.)
María escribe tan hermosamente como Ana. (María writes as beautifully as Ana.)
If you have a situation where you want to say that two people, objects or animals are not equal in some respect, the only thing you have to do is negate the verb by adding no in front of it:
El zumo no es tan caro como el agua. (The juice is not as expensive as the water.)
Los niños no son tan rápidos como las niñas. (The boys are not as fast as the girls.)
Esta casa no es tan grande como la mía. (This house is not as big as mine.)
El conejo no corre tan grácilmente como la liebre. (The rabbit doesn’t run as gracefully as the hare.)
Ana no escribe tan lentamente como María. (Ana doesn’t write as slowly as María.)
Use Tanto to Compare Nouns
If you want to compare nouns, you should use tanto and its siblings instead of tan.
As with every Spanish adjective, the sibling you use will depend on the gender and number of the noun you are trying to compare.
tanto for masculine, singular (uncountable) nouns
tanta for feminine, singular (uncountable) nouns
tantos for masculine, plural nouns
tantas for feminine, plural nouns
I mentioned in the introduction that this family of adjectives has a close friendship with the word como as well, so bear this in mind when trying to remember the formula for comparing nouns:
tanto/a/os/as + sustantivo + como (as much/many + noun + as)
The only thing left now is to take a look at some examples:
Bebo tanto té como tú. (I drink as much tea as you.)
Tenemos tanta suerte como ellos. (We have as much luck as them.)
Pepe lee tantos libros como Miranda. (Pepe reads as many books as Miranda.)
Mamá necesita tantas pistas como tú. (Mom needs as many hints as you.)
Just like when we use tan, we can negate the sentences by just adding no in front of the verb:
Tú no bebes tanto café como él. (You don’t drink as much coffee as him.)
Ellos no tienen tanta suerte como yo. (They don’t have as much luck as me.)
Miranda no lee tantos libros como Pedro. (Miranda doesn’t read as many books as Pedro.)
Tú no necesitas tantas pistas como Anna. (You don’t need as many hints as Anna.)
Use Tanto Como to Compare Verbs
Yes! You can compare actions, too! Or rather, you can say that two people or animals do something the same way, or with the same intensity, or in equal amounts—just to name a couple of situations.
The only thing you will need here is a verb (obviously) and the words tanto como, together and after the verb, always!
Watch out, though! Tanto here is not an adjective, so it is invariable.
The formula this time is:
verbo + tanto como + verbo/sustantivo (verb + as much as verb/noun)
Have a look at some examples:
María come tanto como Pedro. (María eats as much as Pedro.)
Juan no estudia tanto como César. (Juan doesn’t study as much as César.)
Yo no juego tanto como debería. (I don’t play as much as I should.)
Ella no cocina tanto como limpia. (She doesn’t cook as much as she cleans.)
Special Cases for Using Tan and Tanto
Even though you already know almost everything about tan and tanto and their role in equality comparisons, there are a couple of special situations where they behave differently or are accompanied by words other than como.
Here is a list of the most important cases:
tan + adjetivo/adverbio + que (as/so + adjective/adverb + that)
Use this formula when you want to make a deduction or affirmation about someone or something:
Juan es tan inteligente que se aburre en clase. (Juan is so intelligent that he gets bored in class.)
El libro es tan caro que nadie lo quiere comprar. (The book is so expensive that no one wants to buy it.)
tanto/a/os/as + sustantivo + que (as/so much/many + noun + that)
Use this construction when you want to say “so much/many of something that something happens as a result”:
Comió tanta pizza que se puso enfermo. (He ate so much pizza he got sick.)
Había tanta gente que tuvieron que cerrar el puente. (There were so many people they had to close the bridge.)
tanto + noun + como + noun
Use this formula when you want to say that both A and B do something:
Tanto Pedro como Juan leen mucho. (Both Pedro and Juan read a lot.)
Tanto el vaso como el tenedor costaron 20 dólares. (Both the glass and the fork cost $20.)
Tanto Gracita como Antonio son muy felices. (Both Gracita and Antonio are very happy.)
And that’s all for today, folks!
As you can see, tan and tanto are little but powerful words that can help you build equality comparisons in Spanish in the blink of an eye.
If you remember tan is an adverb (which makes it invariable) and tanto is an adjective (which means it has three siblings that agree in gender and number with the noun they accompany) you should not have any problem when you need to make comparisons of equality in Spanish.
You now have all the info you need to compare adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs, so take a pencil and a piece of paper and start practicing what you have just learned!
Stay incomparable, my friends, and as always, happy learning!