- Recognize the correct position, gender and number of adjectives
Concordancia de adjetivos (Adjective agreement)
You learned in previous lessons that nouns and articles in Spanish must agree in both gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural):
This same agreement must occur in Spanish when adjectives are used to describe nouns. If the noun you are using is masculine singular, the adjective must be masculine singular as well. It’s important to note that while the gender of nouns is an inherent property, adjectives do not have this inherent characteristic. The gender of an adjective will change according to the noun that it describes.
If an adjective ends in -o for the masculine singular form, it generally will have four forms, agreeing in both gender and number with its noun as seen below.
If the noun is masculine and singular, the adjective that describes the noun will also be masculine and singular:
If the noun is feminine and singular, the adjective that describes the noun will also be feminine and singular:
If the noun is masculine and plural, the adjective that describes the noun will also be masculine and plural:
If the noun is feminine and plural, the adjective that describes the noun will also be feminine and plural:
If a masculine singular adjective ends in a consonant or a vowel other than -o (most commonly -e), such as importante, it does not change for gender but it will change for number:
- el documento importante (the important document)
- la clase importante (the important class)
- los documentos importantes (the important documents)
- las clases importantes (the important classes)
There is a common subset of two-form adjectives ending in “-ista”, which do not change for the gender of their nouns but do change for number:
- Roberto es optimista y Carmela es optimista también. (Roberto is optimistic and Carmela is optimistic also.)
- Ellos son optimistas y ellas son optimistas también. (They (masculine) are optimistic and they (feminine) are optimistic also.)
Pluralization of adjectives
The plurals of adjectives are formed in the same way that you learned in previous lessons for nouns. Add an -s if the word ends in a vowel; add an -es if the word ends in a consonant:
- el marcador verde (the green marker)
- los marcadores verdes (the green markers)
- la bandera blanca (the white flag)
- las banderas blancas (the white flags)
- la luz débil (the weak light)
- las luces débiles (the weak lights)
Position of adjectives
Adjectives are usually placed after the noun they are describing, or after the verb ser.
- Mi mamá cocina comida rica. (My mom cooks delicious food.)
- Los médicos son inteligentes. (The doctors are intelligent.)
- Hay muchos libros en la oficina. (There are many books in the office.)
- Hay siete días en una semana. (There are seven days in one week.)
The adjectives mejor (better, best), peor (worse, worst), menor (younger, less, least) usually come before the noun (we’ll get to the comparatives and superlatives in a later lesson!)
Note: There are a few exceptions to this placement that you will learn in future lessons. Also, some adjectives mean something slightly different when used before a noun instead of after. Here are just a few examples:
- Alto (top or high / tall): Pagamos un alto precio (We pay a high price). Es un hombre alto (He is a tall man).
- Único (only / unique): Compramos la única marca (We buy the only brand). Tengo una mochila única (I have a unique backpack).
- Gran (great) or grande (big, large): Ella es una gran líder (She’s a great leader). Ella lidera un país grande (She leads a large country).
Another note: The word grande doesn’t just change meaning when used before a noun, it’s also shortened to gran. Other words do not change meaning and only get shortened before a masculine singular noun, including: bueno (buen), malo (mal), alguno (algún) and ninguno (ningún). For example:
- No tenemos ningún libro (We don’t have a book). Notice the singular masculine noun “libro”. Whereas with a feminine noun: No tenemos ninguna falda (We don’t have a skirt), still uses the feminine version of the adjective “ninguna”.
- Tenemos un buen tiempo (We have a good time). Notice the singular masculine noun “tiempo”. Whereas with a feminine noun: Compramos una buena casa (We bought a good house), still uses the feminine version of the adjective “buena”.
One more note: When you look up an unfamiliar adjective in the dictionary, only the masculine singular form will be shown. You must make the change yourself according to the gender and/or number of the noun you are using if it is not a masculine singular noun.