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."
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
Some adjectives change meanings depending on their position: either before or after the noun.
|Before noun||Word||After noun|
|certain (particular)||cierto||certain (sure)|
|great, impressive||grande (gran)||large (physically)|
|same||mismo||(the thing) itself|
|another, different||nuevo||brand new|
|former, long-standing||viejo||old, aged|
Descriptive and attributive uses
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Comparative and superlative constructions
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").
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 rápido → rapidísimo
- muy guapas → guapísimas
- muy rica → riquísima
- muy lento → lentísimo
- muy duro → durísimo
- Irregular forms
- muy antiguo → antiquísimo
- muy inferior → ínfimo
- muy joven → jovencísimo
- muy superior → supremo
- muy bueno → óptimo (buenísimo is more common, and there is the unusual bonísimo)
- muy malo → pésimo (malísimo is more common)
- muy grande → máximo * (grandísimo is more common)
- muy pequeño → mínimo * (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 amigo → amicísimo / amiguísimo
- muy áspero → aspérrimo / asperísimo
- muy benévolo → benevolentísimo / not used
- muy célebre → celebérrimo / not used
- muy cruel → crudelísimo / cruelísimo
- muy fácil → facílimo / facilísimo
- muy fiel → fidelísimo / fielísimo
- muy frío → frigidísimo / friísimo
- muy íntegro → integérrimo / integrísimo
- muy libre → libérrimo / librísimo (familiar)
- muy magnífico → magnificentísimo / not used
- muy mísero → misérrimo / not used
- muy munífico → munificentísimo / not used
- muy pobre → paupérrimo / pobrísimo
- muy sabio → sapientísimo / not used
- muy sagrado → sacratísimo / 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"
|For a list of words relating to Spanish adjectives, see the Spanish adjectives category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|