Spanish Adjective
Language Resources

As we learn Spanish, we're told that the rule regarding adjective placement is that adjectives come after the noun, not before them like in English. See the examples below:

(adjective + noun)
(noun + adjective)
the blueshirt
la camisaazul
the deliciousmeal
la comidadeliciosa
the youngboy
el niñojoven
the talltree
el arbolalto

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, this "rule" certainly holds true for many adjectives, especially descriptive adjectives like the examples above. However, there are instances when the adjective comes before the noun. Rules are meant to be broken, after all.

So how do we know when to put the adjective after the noun and when to put it before? Keep reading for a run down...

Placement of adjectives after the noun (noun + adjective)

Adjectives used to describe qualities of a person or thing

  • la mujer simpática (the nice woman)
  • el niño rubio (the blonde boy)
  • la mochila roja (the red backpack)

When describing a person or thing's nationality, affiliation, membership, etc.

  • el restaurante chino (the Chinese restaurant)
  • la mujer americana (the American woman)
  • el político conservador (the conservative politician)
  • el monje budista (the Buddhist monk)

When using multiple adjectives to modify a noun

  • el libro largo y aburrido (the long, boring book)
  • la luna llena, blanca y brillante (the full, white and bright moon)

When the adjective is modified by a phrase or adverb

  • la casa muy cara (the very expensive house)
    • (noun + adverb modifying the adjective + adjective)
  • la mochila llena de libros (the backpack full of books)
    • noun + adjective + phrase modifying the adjective

Placement of adjectives before the noun (adjective + noun)

When emphasizing your appreciation (or lack thereof) of a quality, putting the adjective before the noun often gives it additional emphasis. Think of it almost almost like making an adjective a superlative.

  • un jugador bueno (a good player) vs un buen jugador (a great player)
  • una princesa bella (a pretty princess) vs una bella princesa (a beautiful princess)

Adjectives that emphasize, or "go with" the meaning of the noun

  • el frío hielo (the cold ice)
  • el horrible monstruo (the horrible monster)
  • la oscura noche (the dark night)

Nondescriptive adjectives, or adjectives that do not describe a person or object's qualities

  • muchos coches (many cars)
  • tres personas (three people)
  • este ordenador (this computer)

Adjectives that change meaning dependong on placement

Some adjectives change meanings depending on whether they come before or after the noun they modify. In these cases, putting the adjective after the noun generally indicates some sort of emotional meaning. See the following examples:

noun + adjective
adjective + noun
un amigoviejo
(an old friend; an elderly friend)
un viejoamigo
(an old friend, a longtime friend)
la mujer pobre
(the poor woman, the woman without money)
la pobre mujer
(the poor woman, the suffering woman)
un hombre grande
(a large man)
un granhombre
(a great man, a wonderful man)

Chat with us