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Using adjectives in Spanish: the definitive guide

Is using adjectives in Spanish still a little bit confusing for you? Let me help you with that!

A basic rule is that they agree in grammatical gender and number with the noun they modify, except for a few neutral adjectives.

You might be interested in reading my definitive guides about masculine and feminine, as well as the plural in Spanish.

Another rule is that, unlike in English, adjectives usually go after a noun, and not before.

But of course there are exceptions and nuances, too.

So keep reading to learn how to use adjectives in Spanish for once and all!

Using adjectives in Spanish

Grammatical gender in adjectives

Some adjectives have different forms for the masculine and the feminine. The masculine form is always the one you can find on a dictionary.

Adjectives ending with -o, -or and -n

If a masculine adjetive ends with -o, we form the feminine by changing the -o for an -a:

Mi novio es italiano → Mi novia es italiana

El vestido es largo → La falda es larga

When a masculine adjective ends with -or, we just add an -a:

Mi hijo es encantador → Mi hija es encantadora

Este trabajo es cansador → Esta profesión es cansadora

And if it ends with -n, we add an -a as well:

Gerard Piqué es catalán → Rosalía es catalana

El príncipe es muy parlanchín → La princesa es muy parlanchina

An exception: comparative adjectives

Comparative adjectives that end with -or are invariable in gender: mayor, menor, mejor, peor, superior, inferior, anterior, posterior.

Este es mi hermano mayor y esta es mi hermana menor.

Esa librería es mejor porque tiene más variedad.

The only exception is la madre superiora (mother superior) to refer to the head of a convent.

Adjectives ending with -a, -e, -i, -u, -ista or consonant (-l,-n, -r, -s, -z)

These adjectives have only one form for both masculine and feminine.

El senador es un hipócrita → La senadora es una hipócrita

Es un señor muy amable → Es una señora muy amable

La película es cursi → El guión es cursi (= cheesy, corny)

Mi papá es progresista → Mi mamá es progresista

El cielo azul → El mar azul

Un actor joven → Una actriz joven

El elefante gris → La paloma gris

But be careful! Adjectives ending with -a that designate colors are invariable: naranja, violeta, turquesa, rosa.

El pantalón naranja → La gorra naranja

An exception: nationality adjectives

Nationality adjectives ending with a consonant form the feminine by adding an -a:

español → española

alemán → alemana

francés → francesa

andaluz → andaluza

Grammatical number in adjectives

Adjectives form the plural following the same rules as nouns!

If an adjective ends with a vowel, to form the plural we add an -s:

encantadora → encantadoras

amable → amables

italiano → italianos

And when adjectives end with a consonant, we add -es:

azul → azules

cansador → cansadores

feliz → felices (remember that -z turns into -c in plural)

Adjectives in Spanish: agreement in gender and number

An adjective must have the same gender and number as the noun they refer to:

una camisa negra → unas camisas negras

un bolso marrón → unos bolsos marrones

The form of an adjective can indicate what noun we are talking about, even when that noun is omitted!

—Me gusta la camisa negra. ¿Y a ti?
—Yo prefiero la blanca. (= the white one)

When we talk about masculine and feminine nouns at the same time, the plural is always masculine:

¡Mira esa camisa y ese bolso! Me encantan, pero son muy caros.

La banda está formada por tres chicos y dos chicas. Todos son muy buenos.

Now let’s see how to use adjectives in Spanish after and before a noun!

Dos viejos amigos en una moto nueva - Using adjectives in Spanish
Dos viejos amigos paseando en una moto nueva. – Foto de cottonbro en Pexels

Position of adjectives in Spanish

Adjectives after a noun

Adjectives in Spanish usually go after the object they modify, especially those that express color, shape, state, type or origin:

Mi mamá ama las flores violetas.

Quiero comprar esa mesa cuadrada.

Hay una botella vacía en el refrigerador.

Ellos solamente tocan rock nacional. (tocar = to play)

Adjectives before a noun

When used before a noun, adjectives are used to emphasize a quality or just for formal speech and writing, specially for artistic purposes in literature:

Sus ojos verdes (neutral) / Sus verdes ojos (more formal or emphatic)

Una habitación oscura / Una oscura habitación

¡Qué día maravilloso! / ¡Qué maravilloso día!

This is especially common with adjectives such as: largo-corto, frío-caliente, pequeño-grande, fuerte-débil, lejano-cercano, ligero-pesado, rápido-lento, claro-oscuro, viejo-joven, bonito-feo, etc.

They are relative adjectives: something has a particular quality according to what else we compare it with.

A change of meaning

A change of position can also imply a change of meaning with certain adjectives:

un amigo viejo (old) – un viejo amigo (long-time)

un nuevo auto (different, unfamiliar) – un auto nuevo (brand new)

una profesora buena (kind) – una buena profesora (skillful)

un hombre pobre (having little money) – un pobre hombre (unfortunate)

un perro grande (big) – un gran perro (great)

diferentes ideas (several) – ideas diferentes (not the same)

Adjectives that express order

Adjectives that express order usually go before a noun. They include ordinal numbers, such as primero, segundo, tercero, cuarto, quinto, etc.:

Mi primera mascota fue un hámster.

Dame una segunda oportunidad.

And adjectives that express order but aren’t numbers, such as próximo, siguiente, último, futuro, nuevo, antiguo, etc.:

Nos vemos en la próxima semana.

Me encantó el último libro de Manel Loureiro.

But when we talk about the storeys of a building or the chapters of a book, these adjectives can also be used after the noun:

El departamento del cuarto piso / El departamento del piso cuarto

El sexto capítulo es terrible / El capítulo sexto es terrible

And they are always used after a noun to talk about kings, popes, etc.

Felipe VI (sexto)

Juan Pablo II (segundo)

Adjectives with special forms

The adjectives grande, bueno, malo, primero and tercero have a shortened form when they go before a noun in singular.

Grande is the only one that changes with both masculine and feminine words:

un edificio grande / un gran edificio

una casa grande / una gran casa

The others only change in maculine:

un estudiante bueno / un buen estudiante | una estudiante buena / una buena estudiante

un día malo / un mal día

el lugar primero / el primer lugar

el ejercicio tercero / el tercer ejercicio

And that’s all for today!

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