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Spanish adjectives

There are several different types of adjectives to learn but there is no need to be over-awed by them because they are all relatively straighforward to grasp. It is well worth the effort because adjectives breathe life into language by enriching the descriptions of ordinary words (nouns and pronouns). They play a crucial role by describing more specifically a quality, type or role of a noun or pronoun.

In Spanish most adjectives change slightly for gender and number, although some don't (see 'making adjectives agree').

su hijo pequeño - his small son; su hija pequeña - his small daughter

unas hombres ricos - some rich men; unas mujeres ricas - some rich women

Also in Spanish, adjectives usually come after the noun

La mar azul - the blue sea; Un chico gordo - A fat boy

The main types of adjectives can be summarized as follows:-

Normal un hombre alto - a tall man; el coche rojo - the red car
Shortened un buen partido - a good match; algún situación - another situation
Demonstrative este libro - this book; esa chica - that girl
Possessive mi esposa - my wife; su casa - his house
Interrogative que calle - which road; cuanto cuesta - how much does it cost
Indefinite varios pueblos - several towns; mucha gente - many people
Exclamations que pena - what a pity; que sorpresa - what a surprise
Numbers cinco caballos - five horses; diez dias - ten days
Relative cuyos cuadros - whose works; cuya casa - whose house

Normal adjectives

(1) Making adjectives agree

Many Spanish adjectives in the masculine end in -o. These change to end in -a in the feminine, and -s is added to both in the plural.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
Small, little pequeño pequeña pequeños pequeñas

(2) Masculine and feminine are the same for adjectives ending in all the rest of the vowels. To form the plural, -s is added to -a and -e, and -es to -i and -u.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
strong, sturdy fuerte fuerte fuertes fuertes
crimson carmesi carmesi carmesies carmesies

(3) If the adjective ends in a consonant, then usually the masculine and feminine are again the same. The plural is formed by adding -es

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
brown marron marron marrones marrones
easy fácil fácil fáciles fáciles

(4) Placing of adjectives in Spanish

Most normal adjectives ie those that describe qualities or add information, are positioned AFTER the noun. There are exceptions to these rules which are described elsewhere. (ref 2)

Demonstrative adjectives

These are adjectives which specify exactly which person or thing is being described.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
this este este estos estas
that (close) ese esa esos esas
that (further) aquel aquella aquellos aquellas

Note that there are tow ways of saying 'that' in Spanish. If the object being described is close by, the ese, esa, etc, are used. If it is further away, the aquel, aquella, etc are used.

Possessive adjectives

These adjectives describe a possession relationship of something with a person.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
my mi mi mis mis
your tu tu tus tus
his, her, its, your su su sus sus
our nuestro nuestra nuestros nuestras
your vuestro vuestra vuestros vuestras
their su su sus sus

These adjectives do before the noun they are describing and agree with it and not the person who owns it.

In Spanish, there is a second set of possessive adjectives which is used when emphasis of owership is required. These adjectives come after the noun being described.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
mine mío mía míos mías
yours tuyo tuya tuyos tuyas
his, her, its, yours suyo suya suyos suyas
ours nuestro nuestra nuestros nuestras
yours vuestro vuestra vuestros vuestras
theirs suyo suya suyos suyas

Interrogative adjectives

These adjectives are used when asking questions.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
which or what qué qué qué qué
which cuál cuál cuáles cuáles
how much/many cuánto cuánta cuántos cuántas

Note their varying forms of agreement. Cuál is used when 'which' refers to a choice from a smaller group eg cuál camisa le gusta - which shirt do you like.

These adjectives are also used in indirect questions eg they know which are the best restaurants in the town - saben cuáles restaurantes son el mejor en el centro.

Invariable adjectives

These adjectives are completely invariable which means they are always the same for masculine, feminine and plural. They fall into a few categories:-

(1) Indefinite eg cada - each

(2) Colours, when they are described in the sense of - de color, or color de, which is often omitted eg arboles de color verde becomes arboles verde.

(3) All numbers, except 'uno' and the hundreds from 200 to 900 eg doscientos pesos, setecientos personas.

(3) Compound colours eg una camisa azul oscuro - dark blue shirt.

Adjectives in exclamations

The word que is also used in phrases such as... qué sorpresa - what a pity, and qué hombre servicial - what a helpful man.

Indefinite adjectives

There are quite a few common adjectives which are used in situations which are non-specific on quantity eg any - cualquier, cualquiera, cualesquiera

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
any (old) cualquiera cualquiera cualesquiera cualesquiera
all todo toda todos todas
both     ambos ambas
certain cierto cierta ciertos ciertas
each cada cada cada cada
few poco poca pocos pocas
many mucho mucha muchos muchas
no ninguno ninguna ningunos ningunas
other otro otra otros otras
same mismo misma mismos mismas
several     varios varias
some alguno alguna algunos algunas
so much / many tanto tanta tantos tantas
such tal tal tales tales
such (if more adj's) tan tan tan tan
the other     los demás las demás
too much / many demasiado demasiada demasiados demasiadas

Relative adjectives

The Spanish for the adjective of possession 'whose' varies with gender and number as follows:-

Miro estaba un artista cuyos cuadros son famoso en el mundo - Miro was an artist whose paintings are famous in the world.

El hombre cuya casa construiba en Espana - the man whose house was built in Spain.

Shortened adjectives

There are certain adjectives which are shortened whey they precede a masculine noun, and others which are shortened before any gender.

  Singular Plural
  Masc. Feminine Masc. Feminine
a, an, one un      
any (old) cualquier cualquier cualquier cualquier
a hundred     cien cien
bad mal      
big gran gran    
first primer      
good buen      
no, not any ningún ningún ningún ningún
saint san san    
some algún algún algún algún
third tercer tercer    

So this covers the major points connected with the spanish adjectives and their usage. It's quite staggering just how many times they are used in everyday speech and writing. See here for other interesting grammatical topics like spanish adjectives.