Spanish Adjectives: A Complete Guide for Spanish learners

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What’s the point of learning Spanish adjectives?

Mastery of adjectives is crucial to fluency in Spanish. In this guide we are going to uncover the many questions students of Spanish have concerning this fascinating topic. In each section there will be Grammatical explanations along with a list of Spanish adjectives and how they are used in sentences.

How do you know which Spanish adjective ending to use?

To know the correct ending to a Spanish adjective, you have to take into account the nature of the thing it describes:

  • Is the thing (noun or pronoun) male or female?
  • Are you describing one thing or many (singular or plural)?
  • Is an invariable adjective being used?
  • Do you need to use the short form or the long form adjective?

All of this is explained below.

Agreement of adjectives Spanish

Spanish adjectives (with rare exceptions) agree in number, and a majority also agree in gender, with the noun or pronoun they modify:

  • un edificio blanco a white building (masc.)
  • una casa blanca a white house (fem.)
  • tres edificios blancos/tres casas blancas three white buildings/three white houses, etc.

How do you make Spanish adjectives plural?

The plurals of adjectives in Spanish follow fairly simple rules. To make Spanish adjectives plural add -s to an unstressed vowel:

  • grande - grandes big
  • roja - rojas red (fem.)

Add -es to a consonant or to a stressed vowel:

  • individual - individuales individual
  • iraquí - iraquíes Iraqi

-z is changed to c if -es is added:

  • feroz - feroces ferocious
  • feliz - felices happy

How do you make Spanish adjectives feminine?

Masculine and feminine adjectives in Spanish are usually identified by their endings. It is very important to understand how this works, especially when using adjectives to describe a person in Spanish.

Spanish adjectives ending in -o: the -o changes to -a. Examples:

  • bueno good (masculine singular) becomes buena
  • buenos good (masc. plural) becomes buenas
  • fantástico fantastic (masc. sing.) becomes fantástica
  • fantásticos fantastic (masc. plural) becomes fantásticas

Adjectives ending in any vowel other than -o have no separate feminine form in Spanish:

  • inherente inherentes inherent
  • grande grandes big
  • indígena indígenas indigenous
  • hindú hindús hindu

Exceptions: Adjectives ending in -ote, -ete:

Masculine Feminine Meaning
Singular grandote grandota huge
Plural grandotes grandetas huge

Adjectives ending in consonants have no separate feminine forms:

Singular Plural Meaning
natural naturales natural
feliz felices happy
gris grises gray (Brit. grey)

But the following exceptions must be noted:

Adjectives ending in -és:

Masculine Feminine Meaning
Singular francés francesa French
Plural franceses francesas French

Exceptions: courteous

cortés cortés courteous
corteses corteses courteous

Adjectives ending in -n or -or:

 Masculine Feminine Meaning
Singular chiquitín chiquitina tiny
Plural chiquitines chiquitinas tiny
Singular revelador reveladora revealing
Plural reveladores reveladoras revealing

But comparative adjectives ending in -or have no separate feminine form:

Singular Plural Meaning
mejor mejores better
anterior anteriores anterior
exterior exteriores exterior
inferior inferiores inferior
interior interiores interior
mayor mayores greater
menor menores smaller
superior superiores superior
peor peores worse
posterior posteriores later/subsequent
ulterior ulteriores ulterior/further

The following two adjectives also have no separate feminine forms:

Singular Plural Meaning
marrón marrones brown
afín afines related by affinity

español and andaluz:

 Masculine Feminine Meaning
Singular español española Spanish
Plural españoles españolas Spanish
Singular andaluz andaluza Andalusian
Plural andaluces andaluzas Andalusian

INVARIABLE ADJECTIVES

A small number of Spanish adjectives are invariable (at least in literature and careful speech), i.e. they have no separate plural or feminine form, e.g. las camisas rosa pink skirts, los rayos ultravioleta ultraviolet rays. The following are the most common:

  • alerta alert, optional plural alertas
  • ardiendo burning
  • escarlata scarlet
  • hembra female (los ratones hembra female mice)
  • hirviendo boiling
  • macho male (las ratas macho male rats)
  • malva mauve
  • modelo model (i.e. exemplary)
  • naranja orange
  • tabú taboo
  • violeta violet

Two-word color adjectives of the form navy blue, deep brown, signal red are also invariable:

  • los ojos verde oscuro dark green eyes
  • los zapatos azul marino navy blue shoes
  • las corbatas azul claro light blue ties

In the case of adjectives joined by a hyphen, only the second element agrees:

  • las negociaciones anglo-francesas Anglo-French negotiations

SHORT FORMS OF SPANISH ADJECTIVES

Grande big becomes gran immediately before any singular noun: un gran libro a big/great book, but dos grandes libros two big books.

The following lose their final -o before a singular masculine noun:

  • bueno good un buen momento a good moment
  • malo bad un mal ejemplo a bad example
  • tercero third el tercer día the third day
  • primera first el primer año the first year

The adjective/pronouns alguno some and ninguno none/no also lose their final vowel before a singular masculine noun, and cualquiera any loses its vowel before any singular noun.

Santo saint becomes san before the names of male saints not beginning with Do- or To-: San José St Joseph, but Santo Domingo, Santo Toribio. It is not abbreviated when it means holy, el Santo Padre the Holy Father.

AGREEMENT OF ADJECTIVES

Spanish adjectives agree in number and, when possible, in gender with the noun or pronoun they refer to. Mixed groups of feminine and masculine nouns are treated as masculine:

  • tres profesores españoles three Spanish teachers (males, or males and females)
  • tres profesoras españolas three female Spanish teachers

Exceptions to this rule are:

Adjectives placed before nouns, which usually agree only with the first noun:

  • su notoria inteligencia y perspicacia his well known intelligence and clear-sightedness

Adjectives used as adverbs are always in the masculine singular form:

  • Estamos fatal. We're feeling awful./We’re in a real mess.
  • María habla muy claro. Maria speaks very clearly.

Adjectives that do not refer to any specific noun or pronoun. These are always masculine singular in form:

  • Eso es fantástico. That’s fantastic.
  • Es muy bueno lo que has hecho. What you’ve done is really good.

COMPARISON OF ADJECTIVES

In Spanish, the Comparative is formed by using más more or menos less. Than is que:

  • Eres más grande que yo. You’re bigger than me.
  • El terremoto fue más violento que el anterior. The earthquake was more violent than the previous one.
  • Esta silla está menos sucia que la otra. This seat is less dirty than the other.

There are four special forms which replace más + the adjective:

  1. bueno good / mejor better
  2. grande big / mayor (or más grande) bigger/greater
  3. malo bad / peor worse
  4. pequeño small / menor (or más pequeño) smaller

These must not be used with más: ella es mejor actriz que su hermana she's a better actress than her sister.

Mayor and menor usually mean greater and lesser rather than bigger and smaller, but mayor is also used of physical size: esta aula es mayor/más grande que la otra this lecture room is bigger than the other (más grande is more usual in everyday language).

  • Más de or menos de must be used before numbers or quantities:
  • Su hijo tiene más de cuarenta años His son is more than forty
  • No traigas menos de un kilo Don’t bring less than a kilo

The correct number and gender of del que (del/de la/de los/de las que) must be used if the que precedes a verb phrase:

  • Pone más azúcar del que le recomienda el médico. He puts in more sugar than the doctor recommends him.
  • Siempre le da más flores de las que ella se espera. He always gives her more flowers than she expects.

The form de lo que must be used if there is no noun with which él que could agree:

  • Es menos tonta de lo que parece. She’s less stupid than she looks.
  • más de lo que tú piensas... more than you think...

As... as is expressed by tan... como (not tan que).

  • Una jirafa es tan alta como un elefante. A giraffe is as tall as an elephant.
  • Este problema no es tan complicado como el anterior. This problem isn’t as complicated as the one before.

The more...the more, the less...the less:

The standard formula, normal in speech in Spain, is cuanto más... más or cuanto menos... menos. Cuanto is often replaced by mientras in Latin-Amerícan speech or, in Mexico and some other places, by entre:

  • Cuanto más trabajas, más/menos te dan The more you work, the more/the less they give you

The Superlative is usually expressed by using a definite article with the Comparative:

Tú eres el más fuerte. You’re (masculine) the strongest.

Eres la mujer menos sincera que he conocido. You’re the least sincere woman I’ve met/known.

The definite artícle is omitted:

(1) When a possessive (e.g. mi, tu, su, nuestro, etc.) precedes:

  • Fue nuestro peor momento. It was our worst moment.
  • Es mi mejor amigo. He’s my best friend.

The article is retained if de follows:

  • Ésta ha sido la peor de mis películas. This was the worst of my films.

(2) When the adjective does not refer to any specific noun:

Sería menos complicado dejarlo como es. It would be less/least complicated to leave it as it is.

(3) After el que the one who:

  • Ana fue la que más colorada se puso. Ana was the one who blushed most.
  • Éste es el que menos estropeado está. This is the one that’s least spoilt.

What does ísimo mean in Spanish?

The suffix -ísimo (fem, -ísima, plural-ísimos/ísimas) strongly intensifies the meaning of an adjective: es grande it’s big, es grandísimo it’s enormous.

It is added after removing a final vowel (if there is one):

  • duro hard durísimo extremely hard
  • fácil easy facilísimo extremely easy

Adjectives whose masculine singular end in -go, -co or -z require spelling changes:

  • rico rich riquísimo tremendously rich
  • vago vague/lazy vaguísimo very vague/bone idle
  • feliz happy felicísimo really happy

Placement of adjectives in Spanish

Where do you put the adjective in spanish?

The question of whether a Spanish adjective appears before a noun, as in un trágico incidente or after, as in un incidente trágico (both translatable as a tragic incident) is one of the subtler points of the Spanish language. Hard and fast rules are difficult to formulate, but the following guidelines should help to train the ear of beginners.

An adjective follows the noun:

If it is used for the purposes of contrast. Sometimes the other term in the contrast is missing, but if a contrast is implied, the adjective must follow the noun:

  • Quiero comprar una camisa azul. I want to buy a blue shirt. (i.e. and not a red/green one, etc. Implied contrast)
  • Debiste casarte con una mujer. paciente You should have married a patient woman.
  • El pan blanco cuesta más. White bread costs more. (i.e. contrasted with others)

If It is a scientific, technical or other adjective that is not meant to express any emotional or subjective impression:

  • la fusión nuclear nuclear fusion
  • un programa gráfico a graphics program/programme
  • la física cuántica quantum physics
  • la vida extraterrestre extra-terrestrial life
  • un líquido caliente a hot liquid

With very rare exceptions, if it denotes religion, ideology or place of origin:

  • un niño católico a Catholic child
  • unas actitudes democráticas democratic attitudes
  • un libro francés a French book

An adjective precedes the noun:

If it is an adjective used so often with a specific noun that it virtually forms a set phrase. Swear-words also fall into the this class:

  • el feroz león africano the tierce African lion
  • la árida meseta castellana the arid Castilian plain
  • los majestuosos Andes the majestic Andes
  • mi adorada esposa my beloved wife
  • este maldito sacacorchos this damned corkscrew

If it is one of the following common adjectives:

  • ambos both
  • llamado so-called
  • mero mere
  • mucho a lot of
  • otro another
  • pleno total, mid-
  • poco little/few
  • tanto so much

The following adjectives may precede the noun, and usually do in emotional, poetic or high-flown styles:

Any adjective denoting the speaker’s emotional reaction to something:

  • un triste incidente a sad incident
  • un feliz encuentro a happy encounter
  • un sensacional descubrimiento a sensational discovery

Adjectives describing shape, color, size, appearance

These especially tend to precede the noun in poetic or emotional styles:

  • la enorme mole del Everest the enormous mass of mount Everest
  • una remota galaxia a remote galaxy
  • la blanca luna the white moon

Grande and pequeño usually precede the noun, although grande tends to follow when it is necessary to restrict its meaning to big/large rather than great.

  • un pequeño problema a slight problem
  • un gran poeta a great poet
  • un gran libro a big/great book
  • un libro grande a big book

Spanish demonstrative adjectives and pronouns

These are words that translate this, these, that, those. Spanish differs from English in having two words for that/those, one resembling the old English yonder in that it points to distant things.

masculine feminine meaning
singular este esta this or this one
plural estos estas these or these ones
(neuter form esto: see below)
singular ese esa that or that one
plural esos esas those or those ones
(neuter form eso: see below)
singular aquel aquella that or that one (far)
plural aquellos aquellas those or those ones (far)
(neuter form aquello)

When these are used as pronouns, i.e. when they mean this one, those ones, etc., they may be written with an accent. According to a ruling made by the Royal Spanish Academy in 1959, the accent can be omitted except in those very rare cases where confusion could arise, as in esta llama this flame and ésta llama this woman is calling, or este vale this receipt, and éste vale this one is okay. This ruling of the Academy has not met with universal approval and many of the best publishers and most ordinary people always put an accent on the pronouns.

In this website the accent is always written on the pronoun forms. The accent must never be written on a demonstrative adjective: un libro como ése or (according to the Academy) un libro como ese a book like that one (pronoun) is correct, but éste libro for este libro this book (adjective) looks very bad. The neuter forms esto, eso, and aquello are never written with an accent.

What is the difference between ese and aquel?

Aquel and ese must be used correctly when a contrast is made between there and further over there:

  • Ponlo en el estante. Put it on the shelf.
  • No en ése sino en aquél. Not that one but that one over there.

If no such contrast is involved, either aquel or ese may be used for things that are far from the speaker. Aquél is also often used for things that are in the distant past.

  • ¿Ven ustedes esas/aquellas montañas? Do you see those mountains (over there)?
  • en aquella/ésa época at that time (aquella if we are talking of a remote past)

The former... the latter:

The difference between ese and aquel is often exploited to mean the former, the latter, aquel meaning the former.

  • Había dos grandes grupos políticos, los Conservadores y los Liberales, aquéllos de tendencias clericalee y éstos enconados enemigos de la Iglesia There were two large political groups, the Conservatives and the Liberals, the former clerical in tendency and the latter bitter enemies of the Church

Use of the Neuter Demonstrative Pronouns

These are esto this, eso that and aquello that; eso can usually replace aquello. These refer to no noun In particular:

  • Eso es horrible. That’s horrible.
  • No quiero hablar de esofaquello. I don't want to talk about that. (aquello suggests something further in the past)

The following patterns should be noted:

  • Éste es un problema. This one (male or masculine object) is a problem.
  • Esto es un problema. This (i.e. business, matter) is a problem.
  • Éste es el problema. This is the problem.

Possessive adjectives in Spanish

There are two sets of possessive adjectives. The Short Forms can function only as adjectives and appear only directly before a noun phrase; these words translate the English my, your, his, her, its, etc. The Long Forms function as adjectives or pronouns and translate the English mine, yours, ours, theirs, etc. They cannot appear directly before a noun phrase.

Short form possessive adjectives in Spanish

Singular Plural English
masculine feminine masculine feminine
mi mi mis mis my
tu tu tus tus your (= de tí)
su su sus sus his (your= de usted)
nuestro nuestra nuestros nuestras our
vuestro vuestra vuestros vuestras our
su su sus sus their (your = de ustedes)

These agree in number and, where possible, in gender, with the thing possessed, not with the possessor:

mi hijo my son mis hijos my sons/my children
tu agenda your diary tus agendas your diaries
su lápiz his/her/ÿour pencil sus lápices his/her/your/ their pencils
nuestro coche our car nuestros coches our cars
nuestra hija our daughter nuestras hijas our daughters
vuestro amigo your friend vuestros amigos your friends
vuestra mano your hand vuestras manos your hands

Vuestro is used only in Spain: su replaces it in Latin America.

Su/sus has so many possible meanings that ambiguity occasionally arises. The identity of the possessor can be clarified by adding de él, de ella, de usted, de ustedes, de dios or de días as required: su casa de usted y no la de él your house, not his. However, context nearly always makes such clarification unnecessary.

REPLACEMENT OF POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVES BY THE DEFINITE ARTICLE

Spanish Possessive Adjectives differ from their English counterparts in one major respect: they are replaced by the Definite Article when the sentence makes the identity of the possessor clear. This happens when:

An Indirect Object pronoun also refers to the possessor, as is normal when an action is done to someone’s body or to some intimate possession:

  • Me estrechó la mano. He/she shook my hand.
  • Le cortaron el pelo. They cut his hair.
  • Me dejé el dinero en casa. I’ve left my money at home.
  • Quítate la blusa. Take off your blouse.
  • Nos aparcó el coche. He parked our car for us.

When the meaning of the sentence makes it obvious who the possessor is (this replacement is optional, but usual):

  • Maria levantó la mano. Maria raised her hand.
  • Mario puso la cartera en el maletín. Mario put his notebook/wallet in his briefcase.
  • Dame la mano. Give me your hand.

Long form possessive adjectives in Spanish

All of these forms agree in number and gender:

singular plural meaning
masculine mío míos mine
feminine mia mías mine
masculine tuyo tuyos yours
feminine tuya tuyas yours
masculine suyo suyos his/its/ (yours = de usted & de ustedes) theirs
feminine suya suyas hers / (yours = de usted & de ustedes) theirs
masculine nuestro nuestros ours
feminine nuestra nuestras ours
masculine vuestro vuestros yours (= de vosotros)
feminine vuestra vuestras yours (= de vosotras)

Vuestro is replaced by suyo in Latin America.

The long forms are used:

To translate a... of mine, a... of yours, etc.

  • un amigo mío a friend of mine
  • una tía nuestra an aunt of ours
  • una carta suya a letter of his/hers/yours/theirs

To translate mine, yours, etc.

  • Este saco es mío. This jacket is mine. (Spain Esta chaqueta es mia.)
  • Esta casa es nuestra. This house is our.s

The Definite Article is used (a) when the thing possessed is the Subject or Object of a verb, (b) if the possessive is preceded by a preposition:

  • De los tres dibujos yo prefiero el tuyo. Of the three drawings I prefer yours.
  • La mia está abajo. Mine is downstairs. (refers to some feminine object)
  • Estamos hablando del suyo. We’re talking about his/hers/yours/theirs. (refers to some masculine object)

The definite article is not used after the verb ser when the thing referred to is owned by the person involved e.g. ese reloj es mio that watch is mine. The article is used when the thing referred to does not literally belong to the person involved: ese asiento debe de ser el tuyo that seat must be yours.

USE OF POSSESSIVES AFTER PREPOSITIONS AND PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES

Colloquial language in Latin-America tends to use long forms of possessives after prepositional phrases, i.e. delante mío for delante de mí in front of me, detrás nuestro for detrás de nosotros/nosotras behind us. This is avoided in standard Spanish and is frowned upon in Spain: the prepositional forms of pronouns should be used. However, the possessive construction appears even in the best authors in Argentina.

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