Spanish Descriptive Adjectives

Getting Nouns and Adjectives in Order

One of the biggest differences between English and Spanish is the order of the adjectives and nouns.

In English, you say “white horse.” In Spanish, you say “horse white” (caballo blanco).

Descriptive words always come after the noun they describe (such as gato gordo, “fat cat”).

Here are some common descriptive words.

Describing Things

The two most common words used to link nouns and descriptive words are “ser” (to be—a permanent condition) and “estar” (to be—a temporary state).

Los caballos son grandes. (Use “ser” because the horses will always be big.)

The horses are big.

La señora es rubia. (Use “ser” because the woman’s hair color is a stable characteristic.)

The woman is blond.

El niño está sucio. (Use “estar” because the boy is just dirty right now.)

The boy is dirty.

La noche está oscura. (Use “estar” because it is especially dark this night in particular.)

The night is dark.

Adjust the Adjective to Suit the Noun

Adjectives in Spanish reflect the characteristics of the noun. For example, if the noun is feminine, the adjective will have a feminine ending. If the noun is plural, the adjective will have a plural form.

Examine the examples above. In the first example, the noun “caballos” is masculine and plural. Therefore, the adjective “grandes” is in a masculine plural form. In the second example, the noun “señora” is feminine and singular. Therefore, the adjective “rubia” is also feminine and singular.

Adjectives that End in –o or –a

Adjectives ending in –o are already in masculine form. To change to the feminine form of the adjective, you need to change the –o to –a. To make an adjective plural, simply add “s”.

Por ejemplo … lento (slow)

Masculine

Masculine plural

Feminine

Feminine plural

lent-o

lent-os

lent-a

lent-as

El autobús está muy lento hoy.

The bus is very slow today.

Maria es lenta para leer.

Maria is a slow reader. -- (Literally, this means: Maria is slow to read.)

Adjectives that End in –e

Adjectives ending in –e or any consonant will not change their form no matter what the gender of the noun. In other words, their masculine and feminine forms are the same. Nevertheless, they do change according to whether the noun is singular or plural. To convert the singular form to the plural, simply add an “s” to the ending.

Por ejemplo: fuerte (strong)

Masculine

Masculine plural

Feminine

Feminine plural

fuert-e

fuert-es

fuert-e

fuert-es

What Country are You From?

Descriptive adjectives are also used to describe the nationality of people. Review the examples below:

Note that in Spanish, unlike English, adjectives of nationality are not capitalized.

Por ejemplo:

Mi padre es alemán y mi madre española.

My father is German and my mother Spanish.

Yo soy chileno.

I am Chilean.

Mis abuelos son peruanos.

My grandparents are Peruvians.

You can also express your nationality using the phrase Soy de… (I’m from…).

Soy de Alemania / Soy alemán

I’m from Germany / I am German

Ella es de Francia / Ella es francésa

She is from France / She is French

Mis padres son de Inglaterra / Mis padres son ingleses

My parents are from England / My parents are English

Describing How Much in General

You also use adjectives to describe quantity. Unlike descriptions of qualities, these adjectives are usually placed before the noun. Some examples are:

muchos / muchas

many

pocos / pocas

few

demasiado

too much

suficiente

sufficient, enough

por ejemplo:

Short and Simple: Adjectives like BUEN and MAL

Adjectives that are very common, simple, and short may go before the noun in some instances.

For example, you may place the following adjective either before or after the noun:

• grande/gran (big, great)
• malo/mal (bad)
• bueno/buen (good)

The above adjectives will change their structure if placed before a noun by dropping off their final syllable (i.e., -de or –o).

Por ejemplo:

Big or Great? Using GRAN and GRANDE

The meaning of the adjective grande may change from “big” to “great” depending on whether it is placed in front of or after the noun.

Por ejemplo:

Él es un cantante grande.

He is a big singer.

Él es un gran cantante.

He is a great singer.

Es una carrera grande.

It is a long race.

Es una gran carrera.

It is a great race.

In the next lesson we’ll work on Spanish Possessive Adjectives. Check it out!


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