Reminder: The principal function of adjectives is to modify or otherwise describe nouns. Therefore, the number (singular or plural) and the gender (masculine or feminine) of an adjective depends on the noun involved. As you know, the gender of a noun often has nothing to do with the concept of male vs. female but is rather the result of centuries of grammatical and spelling conventions.
Regular adjectives (four forms: -o, -a, -os, -as).
Most adjectives have both masculine and feminine, singular and plural forms: the “masculine” vowel is -o, and the “feminine” one is -a. An -s is added to either vowel to form the plural.
- un libro nuevo - a new book (masculine singular)
- dos libros nuevos - two new books (masculine plural)
- una mesa nueva - a new table (feminine singular)
- dos mesas nuevas - two new tables (feminine plural)
Adjectives with two forms.
These adjectives usually end in an -e, in -ista, or in a consonant in the singular form; they use the same form for both masculine and feminine forms. To form the plural, add an -s if the singular ends in an unstressed vowel, or -es if it ends in a consonant or í or ú.
- un libro interesante - an interesting book (singular)
- dos libros interesantes - two interesting books (plural)
- una obra difícil - a difficult work (singular)
- dos obras difíciles - two difficult works (plural)
Adjectives with special feminine forms.
Adjectives of nationality whose masculine singular form ends in a consonant and adjectives ending in -dor have feminine forms ending in -a and -as.
- un libro español* - a Spanish book (masculine singular)
- dos libros españoles - two Spanish books (masculine plural)
- una obra española - a Spanish work (feminine singular)
- dos obras españolas - two Spanish works (feminine plural)
*Note the distinction between un libro español (= a book from Spain) and un libro de español (= a book about the Spanish language).
Some other adjectives of nationality which end in a consonant include:
alemán (German) holandés (Dutch) escocés (Scottish) inglés (English) francés (French) portugués (Portuguese)
Note that adjectives ending in -ense do not have special feminine forms: la(s) estadounidense(s), la(s) canadiense(s).
Adjectives which end in -dor in the masculine singular likewise have feminine forms with -a:
hablador, habladora, habladores, habladoras - talkative
Adjectives with shortened or contracted forms. Several adjectives are somewhat analogous to the indefinite article un and have a special form used when the adjective precedes a masculine singular noun:
alguno: algún alguna algunas (some, any) ninguno: ningún ninguna (ningunos ningunas) (no, none) primero: primer primera primeros primeras (first) tercero: tercer tercera tercero terceras (third) bueno: buen buena buenos buenas (good)
¿Hay algún estudiante aquí que sea buen jugador?
Is there any student here who is a good player?
However, if the adjective occurs anywhere other than immediately before a masculine singular noun, the long form is used:
No vi hombre alguno allí.
I didn't see a single man there.
Es un libro muy bueno.
It's a very good book.
Note that ninguno is normally used in the singular unless the noun modified is used exclusively in the plural.
No hay ningún comunista aquí.
There aren't any Communists here.
The word grande is shortened to gran before a singular noun, even a feminine noun:
Es una gran idea.
It's a great idea.
Santo when used to mean “Saint” before male's name, is shortened to San unless the name begins with a To- or Do-:
San Pedro Saint Peter San Francisco Saint Francis Santo Tomás Saint Thomas Santo Domingo Saint Dominic
Demonstrative adjectives are used instead of articles to “point out” nouns in terms of their physical relationship to the speaker: este/esta/estos/estas (this or these, for things near the speaker), ese/esa/esos/esas (that or those, for items somewhat further from the speaker, or close to the person spoken to), and aquel/aquella/aquellos/aquellas (that or those for items in the distance). NOTE THAT THE MASCULINE SINGULAR FORMS END IN AN -e OR A CONSONANT, NOT AN -o.
En aquel instante este chico hablaba con esas mujeres.
At that instant this boy was talking with those women.
Note: The demonstratives —particularly ese— are sometimes placed after the noun for a pejorative effect.
No me gusta el libro ese.
I don't like that (worthless) book.
Note: Pronouns can be created from these forms. These pronouns are identified by a written accent mark over the stressed syllable for masculine and feminine forms to distinguish them from the adjective forms (for example, éste, ésta, éstos, éstas. The neuter forms (esto, eso, aquello) are not written with accent marks since there is no corresponding adjective to be confused with .
¿Qué es eso que tienes en la mano?
What is that you have in your hand?
Aquello que nos dijeron es rídiculo.
That (stuff) they told us is ridiculous.
Possessive adjectives can be divided into two groups: the non-stressed and the stressed forms.
The non-stressed possessives are only used in front of nouns. The forms are:
mi(s) nuestro(s) tu(s) vuestro(s) su(s) su(s)
They must agree in number (and in gender for nuestro and vuestro) with the noun, not the person or pronoun to which the refer:
- mis libros
- nuestra madre
Remember that su(s) is ambiguous; su casa = your [usted] house, his house, her house, its house, your [ustedes] house, their [male and/or female] house.
A mi gato no le gustan tus perros.
My cat doesn't like your dogs.
Sus caballos arruinaron nuestras flores.
Your [formal] / his / her / their horses ruined our flowers.
The stressed possessives are:
mío nuestro tuyo vuestro suyo suyo
They used after nouns or by themselves or can be used with articles as pronouns:
Ésa es la casa mía.
That is my house. [Or: That's the house that belongs to me.]
Esa casa es mía.
That house is mine.
Mi casa es más grande que la tuya.
My house is larger than yours.
Note that the forms su and suyo are ambiguous and for clarity or emphasis sake may be replaced by the expressions de usted, de él, de ella, de ustedes, de ellas, and de ellos. For example:
La casa de él es roja, pero la de ella es blanca.
His house is red, but hers is white.
(Su casa es roja pero la suya es blanca.)
Depending on the type of adjective and the context, it may occur either before or after the noun it modifies. Most frequently, adjectives follow the noun unless they are limiting adjectives or used metaphorically or modify a noun which is one-unique.
Limiting adjectives (adjetivos determinativos) are normally are placed in front of the noun. These include adjectives which indicate quantity [e.g., mucho(s), poco(s), cuanto(s), todo(s), dos, etc.], articles (el, la, un, una, etc.), unstressed possessives (mi, tu, su, etc.), demonstratives (este, ese, aquel, etc.), and moral qualifiers (buen, mal, etc. if not preceded by adverbial modifiers such as muy) and particularly the comparative/ superlative forms such as mejor, peor):
Pocos mexicanos han leído mis libros.
Few Mexicans have read my books.
Estos regalos son para los mejores niños.
These gifts are for the best children.
Todas las chicas son alumnas muy buenas.
All the girls are very good students.
Descriptive adjectives (adjetivos calificativos). Adjectives which describe nouns —giving characteristics, for example color and size— normally are placed after the noun.
¿Puedes prestarme tu falda roja?
Can you loan me your red skirt?
El chico alto es mi sobrino.
The tall boy is my nephew.
Los estudiantes brillantes salieron bien en los exámenes.
The brilliant students did well on the tests. (The others didn't do so well.)
It's important to realize that the final (or last or post-) position in Spanish is generally the position reserved for the element which is the most stressed or most important or most distinctive; when an adjective occurs in the post-position it has the effect of distinguishing the noun involved from other such nouns. In the the last sentence given above the phrase estudiantes brillantes occurs, with brillantes in the post-position. This implies a contrast with other estudiantes which are not brillantes (and the sentence then implies that the not-so-brilliant students did not do so well on the test). In contrast, if we wish to indicate that ALL the students were brilliant (and hence all did well on the test), or if we want to characterize the entire group as being brilliant, we would place the adjective before the noun:
Los brillantes estudiantes salieron bien en los exámenes.
The brilliant students did well on the tests. [That is, (all) the students —all of whom were brilliant— did well.]
Note that when a given noun is unique or one-of-a-kind, the post-position in normally required for adjectives:
Mi esposa hermosa
My beautiful wife: I have more than one wife; I'm referring to the one who is beautiful.
Mi hermosa esposa
My beautiful wife: I only have one wife, and she is beautiful.
Several descriptive adjectives change their meaning depending on whether they are used before or after the noun:
before after antiguo former, ex- ancient, old gran, grande great big, large medio half (a) average nuevo new, different (brand) new pobre poor, unfortunate poor, penniless puro pure (just, merely, all) pure (clean, uncontaminated) viejo old, long-standing old (in age), elderly único only unique
mi antiguo maestro - my former teacher
mi maestro antiguo - my ancient teacher
un gran presidente - a great president
un president grande - a big president (large man)
media botella - half a bottle
una botella media - an average bottle
mi nueva casa - my new house [we just moved into an old house, but it's new or different for us]
mi casa nueva - my brand-new house
una pobre mujer - an poor (unfortunate) woman
una mujer pobre - a poor (penniless) woman
pura leche - mere (or just) milk [for example, not alcohol]
leche pura - pure ( or uncontaminated) milk
un viejo amigo - an old (long-standing) friend
un amigo viejo - an old (elderly) friend
el único ejemplo - the only example
un ejemplo único/span> - a unique example
Descriptive adjectives modify nouns by adding information about the "state/condition" of the noun, or about its "qualities".
Descriptive adjectives describing states generally follow the noun and are used with the verb estar.
limpio = 'clean'
roto = 'broken',
lleno/vacío = 'full/empty',
aburrido/interesado = 'bored / interested',
enfermo/sano = 'sick/healthy',
borracho = 'drunk',
cansado = 'tired',
casado = 'married',
muerto = 'dead'
Adjectives describing "qualities generally follow the noun.
rojo = 'red',
grande = 'big',
gordo/flaco = 'fat/skinny',
pobre/rico = 'poor/rich',
joven/viejo = 'young/old',
inteligente/estúpido = 'intelligent / stupid',
aburrido/interesante = 'boring/interesting'.
However, they may precede the noun if they are used very "subjectively" and/or the noun has other modifying phrases that follow it:
Es un libro muy interesante. = 'It is a very interesting book',
Es un interesante libro de historia. = 'It is an interesting book about history'.
Some adjectives belong to both preceding classes and can change meaning according to position:
antiguo presidente = "former president" vs. civilización antigua = "ancient civilization"
ciertas personas = "certain people" vs. una cosa cierta = "a sure thing"
diferentes soluciones = "various solutions vs. soluciones diferentes ="different solutions"
una gran ciudad = "a great city" vs. una ciudad grande = "a big city"
medio loco = "half-crazy" vs. un salario medio = "an average salary"
un nuevo carro = "new=different car" vs un carro nuevo = "brand new car"
el pobre indio ="unfortunate indian" vs. el indio pobre = "economically poor indian"
la propia casa = "(one's) own house" vs. la casa propia = "the house itself"
pura agua = "pure water=nothing but water" vs. agua pura = "pure=uncontaminated water"
un simple hombre = "just a man" vs. un hombre simple = "a simple man"
la única persona = "the only person" vs. una persona única = "a unique person"
These adjectives modify a noun by indicating its membership in a class or type.
They always follow the noun: estudiante norteamericano = '(North) American student', novela histórica = 'historical novel', música clásica = 'classical music', coche deportivo = 'sports car', título universitario = 'university degree'.
Note that English often uses a noun as an adjective to classify another noun; this is never possible in Spanish ['table wine' = vino de mesa, 'school year' = año escolar]. Spanish must use de-phrase or a specific adjective [escolar].