Adjective Use

An adjective is a word that modifies (describes) a noun. There are different types of adjectives that indicate possession, demonstrate distance, and make comparisons. A Spanish adjective will change its ending to match the gender and number of the noun it describes. When you look up an adjective in the dictionary, it is always listed in its singular masculine form. It is up to you to know the rules to change an adjective to its feminine and/or plural form. If you want to use an adjective correctly in a complete sentence, you must consider the gender of the noun you want it to describe. Then you must choose the correct form of the adjective and place it either in front of or behind that noun based on the rules.

Adjectives and gender

It's important to know that adjectives in dictionaries and vocabulary lists are always presented in their singular masculine form. In this form, most adjectives end in – o, but a few end in – e or a consonant. This section provides some extremely common adjectives you need to learn in order to understand the examples. Remember that the article in front of the noun will indicate the gender of the noun and the adjectives that follow the noun will match that gender.

Some useful adjectives that end in – o are:

If an adjective ends in – o in its singular masculine form, the final – o will change to – a when the adjective is used to describe a feminine noun. If the noun is plural, the adjective must also be plural, in which case the adjective will end in –os or –as. The definite article is included here to remind you of the gender of the noun so you can review the gender rules as you read these examples. To use an adjective correctly, you have to know the gender of the noun it modifies.

Some commonly used adjectives that end in – e are:

Adjectives that end in – e do not change endings for feminine nouns. In their singular forms they are used exactly the same to modify both masculine and feminine nouns. Consider the following examples:

A few adjectives end in consonants. For example:

Adjectives that end in a consonant usually will not change endings to indicate gender except for those indicating nationality.

The adjectives of nationality that end in a consonant are special and will often change depending on the gender of the person to whom they refer. Unlike other adjectives ending in a consonant, you actually add the letter – aafter the consonant at the end of an adjective of nationality to use it with a feminine noun. It is also possible that other descriptive adjectives ending in a consonant will also change in the feminine form.

In the following examples, note that adding a syllable to the end of a word usually changes where the stress of the word will fall. If an adjective of nationality has an accent mark on the last syllable, it will disappear when you add – a to the end. This occurs quite often with adjectives of nationality.

Some adjectives that indicate nationality end in – o and are used like any other adjectives. Simply change the – o ending to – a if the adjective is describing a feminine noun. Notice in all the following examples that Spanish does not require the capitalization of adjectives of nationality, but English does.

Adjectives of nationality that end in – e are also like other adjectives. The same form is used for both genders.

Adjectives and number

You may have noticed that all of the examples so far have been singular nouns. Once you understand the rules for creating the different gender forms of adjectives, you are ready to tackle plurals. An adjective will become plural if the noun it modifies is plural. In English, when a noun becomes plural, the definite article and adjectives do not change. “The red pen” becomes “The red pen s.” Only the noun “pen s” is pluralized.

In the Spanish equivalent, when the noun “pens” becomes plural, so do the article “the” and the adjective “red.” The definite article el becomes los and la becomes las when the noun is plural, and the adjective that follows the noun will be in its plural form also.

            La s camisa s roja s the red shirt s

The plural forms of adjectives are created the same way as the plural forms of nouns. If an adjective ends in any vowel, add – s to make it plural.

If an adjective ends in any consonant, add – es to make it plural.

When you create the plural form of an adjective that ends in – z, don't forget the rule that “ z changes to c when followed by e.

Adjective placement

Generally, an adjective of quality (which includes most adjectives) is placed after the noun it modifies in a Spanish sentence, as shown in the examples in the preceding section. However, there are a few simple rules to learn about the types of adjectives that must be placed in front of a noun.

Adjectives of quantity are placed in front of the noun they quantify. This includes all numbers and any adjectives that indicate amount. The following are some common adjectives of quantity:

The word “apocope” means “cut short.” Some adjectives are called apocopated because their endings are cut short in specific circumstances.

The apocopated adjectives listed below are usually placed in front of a noun, and, if that noun is singular and masculine, only then should you drop the final – o of the adjective.

While those adjectives drop the – o only in front of a singular masculine noun, there is one adjective that is cut short in front of any singular noun.

The adjective grande (great, large) can be used both in front of a noun or after it. It's unique because grande becomes gran when placed before any singular noun, regardless of gender. The full form of grande is used when placed after the noun. The meaning of the adjective may change to “large” according to the context.

In these sentences, the adjective is not shortened even if the noun is singular and masculine because the adjective is not in front of the noun.

One other circumstance that affects the placement of an adjective is when it is modified by an adverb. When an adverb such as bien, más, or muy precedes an adjective, both words will usually follow the noun.

Adjectives that change meaning

If you place the adjective incorrectly in a sentence, most of the time you will not alter the meaning of the sentence. You may sound a little silly to a native speaker, but you will still express what you mean to say. However, a few adjectives change meaning depending on where they're placed in the sentence. Imagine telling your teacher that she's large when you meant to say she's great–just because you put the adjective in the wrong place! Here is the complete list so you won't make mistakes like this in your own conversations.