Nouns are classified in two groups, the "O" group and the "A" group. Usually this is obvious because the "O" nouns end in the letter "o" and the "A" nouns end in the letter "a". We see some exceptions, but this is usually true.
Adjectives also fall into certain classifications or categories. However, adjectives do not lead, but rather they follow. The noun has a category which is assigned to it, and this category never changes. The adjectives change their form to match the noun that they describe. We divide the adjectives into different categories in order to see the different patterns that they follow when they match the noun.
One of the first things that you need to understand about adjectives is the fact that they follow a different word order in Spanish than they do in English. Let me show you the following examples:
- the new book
- el libro nuevo
You may remember that the word "libro" means "book" in Spanish. Since we know the word "el" is "the", we can conclude that the word "nuevo" means "new". Now take a good look at the word order. Notice that in Spanish we aren't really saying, "the new book" but rather, "the book new". This is a very important idea for us to understand. There are some exceptions, which we will discuss later, but in general, ADJECTIVES FOLLOW THE NOUNS THAT THEY DESCRIBE.
This is true about most adjectives. To be specific, these adjectives describe the noun in some way. They tell WHAT KIND of noun we are talking about. We want to know if it is "big" or "small". Is it "black" or "white". There is another group of adjectives that do a different job in the sentence. These adjectives don't actually DESCRIBE the noun. They tell us HOW MANY of the items we are talking about. Now, we don't necessarily mean an exact number. We could say "many" or "few" or "so many" etc. This group also includes some adjectives which point out WHICH ONE we are talking about. Notice the following example:
- many books
- muchos libros
I hope that you noticed that in the case of "many", the adjective comes BEFORE the noun that it goes with. Did you catch the fact that the word "many" ends in "-os", just like "libros"? That is because the adjective must MATCH the noun that it is used with. This is what we mean by MATCHING. The ending on the adjective is going to be the same as the ending on the noun. Look at the next example:
- many magazines
- muchas revistas
In this case we have used an "A" category noun (plural) and the adjective has to follow the pattern which is set by the noun, which in this case means that it must end in "-as", just like "revistas". This is the basic pattern that we have to follow, whether the adjective comes before the noun, or after. Most adjectives will end in the letter "o" in their basic form (the form which is listed in the dictionary), but when they are used with "A" category nouns, the "o" will change to "a" to match the noun. Also, when they are used with plural nouns, we will add an "s" to the end of the adjective, in order to make it match the plural form. Just remember that for most adjectives, the majority that end in the letter "o", you must make the end of the word match the ending of the noun that it is used with. That means that we will have four possible forms for most adjectives, depending on the noun that it is used with and the singular or plural form. Look at the following chart for the adjective "new".
match "O" match "A" singular nuevo nueva plural nuevos nuevas
Did you notice how once again we can fit our forms that we have to learn into a neat little box chart? We are going to find, as we move along with new things, that this box chart is a very useful way for us to see the whole picture and get a clear idea of how things work in Spanish.
Now let's take a look at another group of adjectives. These work a little bit differently. These adjectives end in the letter "e" in the basic form (remember, this means the form that is found in the dictionary). Let's look at the following examples:
- the interesting book
el libro interesante
- the interesting magazine
la revista interesante
I hope that you noticed that the word "interesting" didn't change its form. It stays "e" when it is used with an "O" noun, and also when it is used with an "A" noun. It's important for you to remember that ADJECTIVES THAT END IN "e" DO NOT CHANGE THEIR FORMS WHEN USED WITH "A" NOUNS. They only have one singular form. We call adjectives that don't change from "o" to "a", INVARIABLE, because they don't vary from one form to another according to the noun that they are used with. Adjectives that end in the letter "e" are in this group. They don't change their form, no matter what noun they are used with.
Now notice that we have said that they don't change their form from "o" to "a", however they do change when they are used with a plural noun. Take a look at the following examples:
- the interesting books
los libros interesantes
- the interesting magazines
las revistas interesantes
If we wanted to make a chart to describe the "E" adjectives, it might look like this:
match "O" match "A" singular interesante interesante plural interesantes interesantes
OR, we could just make a simple chart like the following one:
match all nouns singular interesante plural interesantes
You can see from the chart that with adjectives that end in the letter "e" there are only going to be two forms. The singular has one form, and the plural has one form. They will end in "e" and "es". No other changes are necessary. Just leave the "e" alone, and add "s" for plural.
These adjectives end in a consonant (remember, that means any letter other than A, E, I, O or U). Actually, to make this as simple as possible, you are going to find that most of the time these adjectives end in the letter "l". There are a few that end in "s" however that we must take a look at. Other than that, you can just about forget about the other consonants. Let's take a look at some examples:
- the difficult job
el trabajo difícil
- the difficult assignment/the difficult task
la tarea difícil
You can see that the adjective, which ends in the letter "l" doesn't change to match "A" nouns or "O" nouns. It always stays "l". It is an INVARIABLE adjective, just like the adjectives that end in the letter "e". Now the next question is, what are we going to do in the plural form? Let's see some more examples:
- the difficult jobs
los trabajos difíciles
- the difficult assignments
las tareas difíciles
You should have noticed that we used the exact same form in both cases. However, when the adjective ends in a consonant, such as "difícil", instead of a simple "s", we must add "es" for the plural form. This would be true also if the adjective ends in the letter "s". Look at the following example:
- the gray dog
el perro gris
- the gray dogs
los perros grises
We would have exactly the same forms if we used "gris" with a noun that is in the "A" category. There would only be two forms. Following the pattern that we used previously, we would be able to create a chart for adjectives that end in a consonant that would look like this:
matches any noun singular difícil, gris plural difíciles, grises
The only thing that you have to remember when an adjective ends in a consonant, in this group, is that you must add "es" when it is used with a plural noun. You don't have to be concerned with matching the "A" or "O" category of the noun, like you do if the adjective ends in "o".
There are a few adjectives which end in consonants which do have to change when they are used with "A" category nouns. First, it is a relatively small group of words. Second, these words usually describe people, not things, and the matching is according to the sex of the person. You should remember that males always count as "O" nouns and females count as "A" nouns. One of the most common groups in this category are the words which refer to the nationality of the person. Look at the examples which follow:
- the Spanish boy
el muchacho español
- the Spanish girl
la muchacha española
There are a couple of things which you should notice here. First, we just add the letter "a" on the end of the adjective which refers to the nationality. Second, the nationalities are NOT capitalized in Spanish as they are in English. The names of the countries will be capitalized, but not the nationalities. Examples:
Spain - España
Spanish - español, española
Now if we have more than one Spanish boy or girl we would have the following forms:
the Spanish boys - los muchachos españoles
the Spanish girls - las muchachas españolas
For the male (masculine) form we add "es" to the final "l" of "español", and in the female (feminine) form we just add the letter "s" to the final vowel "a", to make the plural forms. Once again, we could make a chart to show the different possibilities.
male form "O" female form "A" singular español española plural españoles españolas
GROUP 1.O, OS, A, AS
GROUP 2.E, ES
GROUP 3.L, LES
GROUP 4.L, LES, LA, LAS
Remember that in group 3, the consonant will almost always be either "l" or "s". In group 4, you might find other consonants, such as "n", "r", or "s", as well as "l".