Adjectives broken down
In this post, I will provide a basic Spanish adjectives list and an explanation of the word ‘some’ in Spanish, which is not necessarily used as steadily as its English counterpart, but definitely important to know. I will also be explaining how Spanish adjectives generally work so that you use them correctly. You will also learn a few cultural pointers that are important to understand for adjectives regarding race/color.
First off, let me explain what an adjective is in case you need a grammar refresher. An adjective is a word that describes a person, place or thing, and a person, place or thing, of course, is a noun. So, for example:
A girl is a person and the word ‘pretty’ describes the girl. You can replace that word with tall, short, smart, you name it, basically the idea is that an adjective describes a noun.
Here are some more examples:
big animal (Big is the adjective.)
red shoe (Red is the adjective.)
By Axiom71 – Own work, CC BY 3.0
tiny slipper (Tiny is the adjective.)
grouchy man (Grouchy is the adjective.)
There are lots of words out there that you could use to describe a person, place or thing. Those words are called adjectives. Simple enough?
Now let’s think about adjectives in Spanish.
In Spanish, the adjective generally comes after the noun rather than before. Do not worry too much about when it comes before the noun, because this is something that you will learn naturally over time. The most important thing to take note of in the early stages of learning Spanish is that generally the adjective comes after the noun. So, let’s look at those above examples again:
big animal animal grande
red shoe zapato rojo
tiny slipper zapatilla chiquitita
grouchy man hombre malhumorado
pretty girl niña bonita
Now, let’s take this up another notch. Not only do Spanish adjectives generally come AFTER the noun, they must agree in number with the noun. What does that mean? It means that if I am talking about more than one noun, in other words, plural, then I have to add an s to the end of the adjective…okay, you might need an example for that:
big animals animales grandes
red shoes zapatos rojos
tiny slippers zapatillas chiquititas
grouchy men hombres malhumorados
pretty girls niñas bonitas
So, as you can see, the adjective in Spanish becomes plural just like the noun that it is describing.
Spanish adjectives are either masculine or feminine!
Now, there is something else important to understand about Spanish adjectives. Spanish adjectives are either masculine or feminine just like nouns, but whether they are masculine or feminine depends on the noun they are describing. So let’s look at the above examples again.
Nouns that end in consonants such as ‘animal’ are considered to be masculine. The word ‘grande’ is actually gender neutral as it ends in -e, so it can actually modify a masculine or feminine noun without changing, unless of course the noun is plural then you add an s. However, what if I wanted to describe the animal as cute? Then I would say ‘animal bonito’ or how about very cute animal, that’s ‘animal muy bonito.’ I must use the -o rather than ‘bonita’ because ‘animal’ is considered masculine.
However, if I am describing a pretty girl, I say ‘niña bonita,’ so the word changes from ‘bonito’ to ‘bonita.’ Now, in the second example we have ‘zapato’ which is also a masculine noun because it ends in -o. Notice that the word ‘rojo’ which means ‘red’ ends in an -o. Let’s say instead that the slippers are red, and we know that a slipper is ‘zapatilla.’ So now we must say ‘zapatilla roja’ for red slipper. Notice that instead of ‘rojo,’ you say ‘roja.’
What if we had a group of grouchy women instead of grouchy men? Then we would say ‘mujeres malhumoradas.” Notices that the word changed from ‘malhumorados’ to ‘malhumoradas.’ The -s is at the end because we are referring to a plural noun, meaning, we are talking about more than one woman. ‘Grouchy woman’ would be ‘mujer malhumorada.’
What if we were talking about a cute little boy instead of a pretty little girl?
Then we would say niño bonito instead of niña bonita.
Here is a list of Spanish adjectives:
By Au Morandarte from London, Middlesex, England – Tall and Short
Good looking/beautiful Guapo/guapa
Young Joven (gender neutral)
(note: It is not polite in Spanish to refer to people as ‘viejo’ o ‘vieja’ in literal reference to age, and please do not use this word to ask how old someone is. The correct way to ask someone’s age is ‘cuantos años tiene usted?’ or ‘que edad tiene usted?,’ or in the case where you are asking a younger child, you could say ‘cuantos años tienes tú?’ or ‘que edad tienes tú?’ In both cases, the tú and usted on the end of the question can be left off because as I explained in the verb lessons, the verb is already conjugated to that person you are speaking to, so it is not necessary to add the subject pronoun.)
Ugly Feo/fea (Note: This word can also be viewed as very impolite and as a non-native speaker, definitely proceed with caution. This word is used more to describe ugly situations and circumstances.)
Happy Feliz (gender neutral)
(note: contento/a is used very commonly in Spanish to express that someone is happy, especially children or babies when they are calmed down, not crying or hyperactive.)
Joyful Alegre (gender neutral)
Sad Triste (gender neutral)
Nice/kind Amable (gender neutral)
Mean/cruel Cruel (gender neutral), malo, mala
Good Bueno, buena
(note: this is one adjective that sometimes goes before the noun and when it does, you take off the -o or -a, you will learn this naturally by context as you continue to study Spanish)
Bad Malo, mala (the same for this one, and actually when bad becomes an adverb [a word that describes a verb], it becomes ‘mal.’ So, for example, you did this very badly. Lo hiciste muy mal
Slow lento/lenta or despacio
Brown Cafe or marrón
A little word about ethnicities. In English in the United States, African American people are sometimes referred to as ‘black people.’ To describe someone’s color or ethnicity in Spanish, you want to avoid using ‘negro’ or ‘negra’ when referring to an African American person. Although these words are sometimes used, they are best avoided. A better term would be ‘moreno’ or ‘morena.’
The words ‘blanco’ and ‘blanca’ may refer to a Caucasian person, but they can also refer to anyone of white skin regardless of whether the person is considered a Caucasian from North America or a Mexican or any other nationality. A person described as ‘blanco’ or ‘blanca’ simply has white skin, it is not necessarily a reflection on the person’s ethnic make-up.
So, this is important to understand so that you don’t assume you are necessarily getting the same point across by describing someone as ‘blanco’ or ‘blanca.’ A number of Mexicans have described my children as white, and my children are actually mixed race. They are referring to the color of my children’s skin, not their ethnicity.
I am mixed with black and white, so in Spanish this is expressed the long way of describing that one has a parent who is black and another parent who is white. If the Spanish speakers you are speaking to understand that you are from the United States, then you could describe your black parent as moreno or morena and the white parent as ‘blanco’ or ‘blanca.’ Since you are from the states, the person would understand the context of the word ‘white.’
A, an and some fun!
Now, let’s look at the Spanish word for ‘a’ and ‘an.’ as in:
In Spanish, this word must agree in gender and number, just like as in the case with adjectives, so:
a dog un perro
an apple una manzana
some dogs unos perros
some apples una manzanas
Let’s look at some more examples
a white goat una cabra blanca
a handsome boy un niño bonito
some white goats unas cabras blancas
some handsome boys unos niños bonitos