A Quick and Simple Guide to Spanish Adjectives - My Daily Spanish
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A Quick & Simple Guide to Spanish Adjectives

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Adjectives take a dull, plain thought and make it more exciting.

They can make a boring sentence dynamic, a nice sentiment sweeter and a harsh word, well… even harsher.
If you want to be able to do anything in terms of describing something, you need to be able to use this handy, and necessary, part of speech!

In Spanish adjectives are a little more complicated than they are in English. But don’t fret! Below you will find a quick guide to how you can spice up your conversations.

The Basics

Let’s start by first figuring out what is an adjective? It’s simple, really. Adjectives are the words we add into a sentence to define our nouns. They describe a person, place, or thing.

For example:

The house- The red house

The boy- The handsome boy

The building The tall building

So, let’s look at how these parts of speech work in Spanish.

Do you need a girl or a boy adjective?

All right, it’s not really a “girl” or “boy” adjective, but one thing about Spanish that is very different from English is that words have a gender. They can be “feminine” or “masculine.”

If you’re familiar with the Spanish language, even just a little bit, you’ve realized that a lot of words end in O’s or A’s. Well, the “o” words are masculine, and the “a” words a feminine.* Like the nouns they modify, the adjectives will need to be either masculine or feminine.

For example: “The red house”- here, the word “house” in Spanish is feminine (casa) so you will need the feminine form of the adjective “red” (roja).

*Note- Not ALL nouns will end in either “o” or “a”. But ALL nouns WILL have a gender! This means it’s something you’ll have to memorize. Example: coche– (car) masculine; leche– (milk) feminine

And how many “reds” will you need?

Just like agreeing in gender, your adjectives need to agree in number. If you have more than one house, you will have more than one “red.”

For example: “The red house”- here, we have only one, singular red house, so our adjective would be roja (singular). But, if we were to say “the red houses” our adjective would become the plural version rojas. No matter if we have 2 or 23 red houses, if there is more than one, they will be rojas.

I know this seems a little weird, but it’s really not all that difficult. Just remember your adjectives have to AGREE, AGREE!! (Two agrees, for two criteria- gender, number.)

Almost time to put it all together

Just one last little detail to throw your way before we can dive in a little deeper to the really juicy technical stuff.

In Spanish, the adjectives come after the noun.

Let’s go back to our example: “The red house”- In Spanish this little phrase would be “La casa roja.” So, literally you’re saying “The house red.”

Examples:

The handsome boy- El chico (the boy) guapo (handsome/ attractive)

The tall building- El edificio (the building) alto (tall)

The handsome boys- Los chicos guapos

The tall buildings- Los edificios altos

The Technicalities

Some adjectives will be able to take ALL the possible forms we looked at briefly above (masculine, feminine, singular, plural) while some, actually, will only take a few of them.

You will find, generally speaking, three different types of adjectives.

  1. Adjectives that end in “o”
  2. Adjectives that end in “e”
  3. Adjectives that end in a consonant.

To make this a little easier, why don’t we look at these in a chart.

AdjectiveMeaningMasculineFeminineSingularPlural
BonitoPretty BonitoBonitaBonito/aBonitos/as
TímidoShyTímidoTímidaTímido/aTímidos/as
GrandeBig-----------------------------GrandeGrandes
InteligenteIntelligent ----------------------------InteligenteInteligentes
LealLoyal----------------------------LealLeales
JovenYoung----------------------------JovenJovenes

As you can see in the chart above, there are a few small differences between the three different types of adjectives you’ll find.

 

    1. Adjectives that end in “o”
      1. Can be masculine or feminine
      2. Can be singular or plural
The shy boyEl chico tímidoSingular/ Masculine
The shy girlLa chica tímidaSingular/ Feminine
The shy childrenLos niños tímidosPlural/ Masculine**
  1. Adjectives that end in “e”
    1. Will only change between the singular and plural forms
    2. To make the plural form, simply add an “s”
The intelligent boyEl chico inteligenteSingular
The intelligent girlLa chica inteligenteSingular (doesn’t change gender)
The intelligent childrenLos niños inteligentesPlural (no gender)

3. Adjective that end in a consonant

    1. Will only change between the singular and plural forms
    2. To make the plural form, add “es”
The loyal boyEl chico lealSingular
The loyal girlLa chica lealSingular (doesn’t change gender)
The loyal childrenLos niños lealesPlural (no gender)

**Note: When describing a group of something, the adjective will become masculine even if only one of the things in the group is masculine. For example- a group of 7 shy girls and only 1 shy boy will still be described using the masculine adjective (los niños tímidos). But if you have a group of 7 shy girls, you will make it feminine (las niñas tímidas).

Of course, the exceptions…

Like with almost everything when learning a language, this part of speech comes with its own little list of exceptions to the rules.

Adjectives ending in -or, -án, -ín, -ón

This group, although they end in consonant, will in fact still have a feminine form.

ExampleMeaningMasculineFeminineSingularPlural
HabladorTalkativeHabladorHabladoraHablador/aHabladores/as

Adjectives that go before the noun

There are some adjectives in Spanish that do, actually, go before the noun they are modifying.

 

    1. The first group of adjectives that you will find in front of the noun are what talk about a quantity. They speak to the amount of something.
      1. For example: There are a few people in the house. Hay poca gente en la casa.
    2. You may be able to put a descriptive adjective before the noun if you are not trying to differentiate (or single out) the noun you are describing.
      1. For example: If I were to say “The intelligent students” (los estudiantes inteligentes) I’m talking about a specific group of students within an even large group of not as bright students.
      2. However if I said “los inteligentes estudiantes” I’m implying that ALL the students are intelligent.

Adjectives that change meaning when they change location

There are a handful of adjectives that can go before OR after the noun, but they will change their meaning depending on where you put them.

The most common are:

AdjectiveMeaning beforeMeaning after
AntiguoFormer, Ex-Old, Ancient
PobrePoor (as in unfortunate)Poor (as in no money)
Gran/GrandeGreatBig, Large
ViejoOld (as in long-standing)Old (as in age)
ÚnicoOnlyUnique

This has just been a quick overview of the basics behind using adjectives in Spanish. At first glance, this very useful part of speech may seem strange and even intimidating to the native English speaker. But, the truth is, it’s really not all that complicated! It just takes lots of practice and adjusting your mindset a little bit.

Remember–your adjectives need to AGREE, AGREE!
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About the Author Ana

Anastasia is a Chicago, Illinois native. She began studying Spanish over 10 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Living in Spain since 2012, she loves Spanish tortilla, vino tinto, and anything that contains jamón ibérico.

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