Spanish Adjective Placement
There are different types of Spanish adjectives, but the majority are descriptive. Unlike English, where adjectives typically precede the nouns they describe, in Spanish adjectives usually follow the nouns. Consider the following examples.
She likes yellow flowers.
A ella le gustan las flores amarillas.
My sister is a short women.
Mi hermana es una mujer baja.
He prefers fresh fruit.
Él prefiere fruta fresca.
Adjective Placement ExceptionsWhile adjectives usually precede the nouns they describe, in some instances an adjective is placed before the noun it describes.
1. Descriptive adjectives that emphasize an inherent quality
When an adjective emphasizes or speaks to an inherent or implicitly obvious quality, it is placed before the noun it describes.
The white snow.
La blanca nieve.
Sweet honey is tasty.
La dulce miel es sabrosa.
The brave lioness protects her cubs.
La valiente leona protege a sus cachorros.
2. Limiting adjectives that define amount or number.
When an adjective is used to define the number or amount of something, even if the number is not specified, then the adjective precedes the noun it describes.
The children want only a few books.
Los niños quieren unos pocos libros.
He has enough time to finish the job.
Tiene suficiente tiempo para terminar el trabajo.
They want ten ice creams.
Ellos quieren diez helados.
The following is a list of the most common limiting adjectives in the Spanish language (other than all numbers which are limiting adjectives as well.)
various, a few
3. Possessive adjectives (mi, tu, su, etc.) and demonstrative adjectives (ese, este, aquél).
Both possessive and demonstrative adjectives are placed directly before the noun they describe.
That tree is very tall.
Aquél árbol es muy alto.
My brother is nice.
Mi hermano es simpático.
Our cat bites.
Nuestro gato muerde.
4. Meaning-changing adjectives.
Some adjectives have different meanings depending on if they're placed before or after the noun they describe. When meaning-changing adjectives are placed after they noun they describe, they take on an objective, descriptive meaning. When they're placed before the noun, they have a more subjective, opinionated meaning. Read and listen to the following examples, then repeat each out loud.
Veronica is a long-time friend.
Veronica es una vieja amiga.
Veronica is an elderly friend.
Veronica es una amiga vieja.
The bible is a great book.
La biblia es un gran libro.
The bible is a big book.
La biblia es un libro grande.
The following is a list of some of the most common meaning-changing adjectives in the Spanish language. Each adjective has a different meaning depending on if it is placed before or after the noun it describes.
before: top, high-class
before: simple, good
after: good, gentle, generous
after: true, right
before: low quality
before: any (of those available)
after: any (type doesn't matter)
after: himself, herself
before: another, newly acquired
after: new, newlymade
before: good, nice
before: his own, her own
after: especially for someone
after: simple, modest
before: sheer, nothing but
before: former, long-time
after: old, elderly