Spanish adjectives

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The Spanish language uses adjectives in a similar way to English and most other Indo-European languages. Spanish adjectives usually go after the noun they modify, and they agree with what they refer to in terms of both number (singular/plural) and gender (masculine/feminine).

Spanish adjectives are very similar to nouns, and often interchangeable with them. A bare adjective can take an article and be used in the same place as a noun (where English would require nominalization using the pronoun one(s)). For example:

El rojo va aquí/acá, ¿no? = "The red one goes here, does it not?"
Tenemos que tirar las estropeadas = "We have to throw away the broken ones."

Agreement[edit]

Adjectives in Spanish can mostly be divided into two large groups: those that can be found in the dictionary ending in o, and the others. The former typically agree for number and gender; the latter typically agree just for number. Here are some examples:

frío means "cold". This is the dictionary form, and it corresponds to the masculine singular form. When it agrees with a feminine noun, it becomes fría. When it agrees with a plural noun, it becomes fríos. When it agrees with a noun that is both feminine and plural, it becomes frías. Here is a list of a few common adjectives in their four forms:

  • frío = "cold"; → frío, fría, fríos, frías
  • pequeño = "small"; → pequeño, pequeña, pequeños, pequeñas
  • rojo = "red"; → rojo, roja, rojos, rojas

Identifying adjectives diagram

                             Do Adjectives End in "o"?
                             /                        \
                            /                          \
                          Yes                          No
                         /   \                        /  \                 
                        /     \                      /    \
                  Masculine? Feminine?           Singular? \
                 (No Change)("o" becomes "a")    (No Change)\
                       \       /                             \
                        \     /                             Plural
                         Plural                             /     \
                        (Add "s")                          /       \
                                                      End in Vowel? \
                                                       (Add "s")     End in Consonant?
                                                                         (Add "es")

Here are a few common adjectives that agree only in number:

  • caliente = "hot" → caliente, caliente, calientes, calientes
  • formal = "formal" → formal, formal, formales, formales
  • verde = "green" → verde, verde, verdes, verdes

The division into these two groups is a generalisation however. There are many examples such as the adjective español itself which does not end in o but adds an a for the feminine and has four forms (español, española, españoles, españolas). There are also adjectives that do not agree at all (generally words borrowed from other languages, such as the French beige (also Hispanicised to beis)).

Adjectives that change meaning[edit]

Some adjectives change meanings depending on their position: either before or after the noun.

Before noun Word After noun
former antiguo ancient
certain (particular) cierto certain (sure)
darn dichoso lucky, happy
great, impressive grande (gran) large (physically)
half- medio middle, average
same mismo (the thing) itself
another, different nuevo brand new
unfortunate pobre poor
own propio proper
sheer puro pure
only único unique
former, long-standing viejo old, aged

Descriptive and attributive uses[edit]

Comparative and superlative constructions[edit]

Comparatives are normally expressed with the adverbs más ("more") and menos ("less") followed by the adjective; the object of comparison is introduced with the particle que ("than"). For example, X es más grande que Y ("X is bigger/greater than Y"). Superlatives (in the cross-linguistic, semantic sense) are also expressed with the adverbs más and menos, but this time with a definite article preceding the noun: la persona más interesante ("the most interesting person"); the object of comparison is introduced with the preposition de ("of"). An exception from these rules is found in the adjectives bueno ("good") and malo ("bad"), which have the special comparative and superlative forms mejor ("better") and peor ("worse"), taking a plural in -es. These precede the nouns they modify: el peor libro ("the worst book").

The superlative[edit]

Instead of putting muy, "very" before an adjective, one can use a special form called the superlative to intensify an idea. This consists of the suffix -ísimo. This form derives from the Latin superlative, but no longer means "the most ...", which is expressed in the ways explained above. Nevertheless, the name is retained for historical reasons.

Regular forms
  • muy rápidorapidísimo
  • muy guapasguapísimas
  • muy ricariquísima
  • muy lentolentísimo
  • muy durodurísimo
Irregular forms
  • muy antiguoantiquísimo
  • muy inferiorínfimo
  • muy jovenjovencísimo
  • muy superiorsupremo
  • muy buenoóptimo (buenísimo is more common, and there is the unusual bonísimo)
  • muy malopésimo (malísimo is more common)
  • muy grandemáximo * (grandísimo is more common)
  • muy pequeñomínimo * (pequeñísimo is more common)

(*) These two forms keep the original meaning of the superlative: not "very" but "the most".

Forms that are irregular in high literary style, and regular normally
  • muy amigoamicísimo / amiguísimo
  • muy ásperoaspérrimo / asperísimo
  • muy benévolobenevolentísimo / not used
  • muy célebrecelebérrimo / not used
  • muy cruelcrudelísimo / cruelísimo
  • muy fácilfacílimo / facilísimo
  • muy fielfidelísimo / fielísimo
  • muy fríofrigidísimo / friísimo
  • muy íntegrointegérrimo / integrísimo
  • muy librelibérrimo / librísimo (familiar)
  • muy magníficomagnificentísimo / not used
  • muy míseromisérrimo / not used
  • muy muníficomunificentísimo / not used
  • muy pobrepaupérrimo / pobrísimo
  • muy sabiosapientísimo / not used
  • muy sagradosacratísimo / not used
Forms no longer considered superlative
  • muy agrio ("very bitter") → acérrimo ("strong, zealous, fanatic")

Applying -ísimo to nouns is not frequent, but there is the famous case of Generalísimo.

As in English and other languages influenced by it, a teenspeak superlative can be formed by the prefix super-, or sometimes hiper-, ultra-, re- or requete-. They can also be written as adverbs separate from the word.

  • Superlargo or súper largo = "super-long", "way long"

External links[edit]