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Hi all,

In my courses, the teachers said that the adjectiv should be after the noun but I often see adjectives before the noun. What it the normal rule for this?


  • Posted Jun 8, 2008
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You are definitely on the right track there, Carl. This is an area of difficulty for us English speakers, because it is intuitive to native Spanish speakers, but not to us. You seem to have a fairly good grasp of the concept already, and with practice it will surely improve. I still find myself making mistakes with this, or not being completely certain, in some situations.

Heidita wrote:
all the grammar rules are known by lazarus and James!

I wouldn't put lazarus and myself together in that category, because he surely knows more than I, but in addition to the good explanations he has given, I'll add my own paltry contribution.

In general, an adjective that follows a noun describes the noun as compared to other similar nouns, as in la casa roja (there are many houses, but I'm talking about the red one). An adjective that precedes a noun generally describes a known or accepted attribute about that noun, as in "La hermosa ciudad de Madrid (it is generally known to be beautiful).

The list of adjectives whose meaning changes with position includes antiguo (former vs. ancient), cierto (some vs. sure), nuevo (another vs. new), mismo (the same vs. self), diferentes (various vs. different), medio (half vs. average), and pura (completely vs. pure).

  • I don't think your contribution deserves the adjective paltry preceding or following it in any language:-) - Janice Sep 9, 2009 flag
1 Vote

There are some general rules, but they can not be applied to every single adjective.

' The adjective is used after the noun to differenciate it from other ones.
' The adjective is used before the noun to highlight some of its features.

Look at these examples:
Los niños simpáticos recibieron premios.
Los simpáticos niños recibieron premios.

In the first sentence, we are differenciating between nice kinds and not so nice kids, so what we meant is that only the nice ones got some presents. In the second one, all the children got presents, and we are also adding a comment: they were nice kids.

Other things to consider:
' Colors, shapes, nationalities, states and types are used only after the noun.
' Adjectives used to determine the position in a sequence are used before the noun: primero, segundo, siguiente, nuevo. (there are a few exceptions here too).

  • I noticed a minor spelling difference required in English: diferenciar=differentiate (a "t" where the "c" falls in the Spanish.) An interesting change, I think! What might the original Latin have been? ..the French..the Italian...I will have to go look. - Janice Sep 9, 2009 flag
  • Very clear explanation! You provide an "aha" moment to something one might have intuitively understood, yet questioned. - Janice Sep 9, 2009 flag
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An adjective before a noun can also alter the meaning.

un hombre grande - a big man (in size)

un gran hombre - a great man (in stature)

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A man told me i had a "bonita sonrisa" the other day and i couldn't figure out why bonita was first. Any ideas'

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"Bueno", "malo" and "grande" can appear both before and after the noun, but if they appear before the noun, they must be shortened to "buen", "mal" and "gran".

Now, there are few adjectives that have different meanings, and these meanings are interpreted depending on whether they appear before or after the noun:

Un amigo viejo = an old friend (friend who is old)
Un viejo amigo = an old friend (we've been friend for a long time)

Un pobre hombre = a pityful/miserable man (poor man!)
Un hombre pobre = a poor man

Un simple consejo = just an advice (simply an advice)
Un conserjo simple = a simple advice, an advice that it is simple to understand

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So from what I understand, the adjective located after the noun is more descriptive of and actual fact.. and before the noun is more of an impression

Los niños simpáticos recibieron premios.

Los niños "qué estan" simpáticos recibieron premios. (the ones that are in fact simpaticos)

Los simpáticos niños recibieron premios.

"Creo que estos" niños estan simpaticos... y ellos recibieron premios.. (My impression is that they are all simpaticos).

Am I right?

Thank you all for your responses... grin

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Los niños que SON simpáticos recibieron premios.

Yes, you are right.

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Hi Carl, welcome to the forum!

You will get an answer soon for this, all the grammar rules are known by lazarus and James! Just be patient.

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I told you Charles....nothing to add.

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A beautiful smile, in absolute terms, without any need for comparisons

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Good explanation, lazarus!
My grammarbook says three things, and I particularly have a question about the third one.

  1. Adjectives are often after the noun
  2. Adjectives is put before the noun, when something significant about the subject is pointed out
  3. Bueno, malo, grande and pequeño are always before the noun
    • but with Eddys example underneath I understand that's not true? You get diff meanings with putting 'grande' before and after, is it also possible with the 3 other mentioned adj'
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Great, I'm getting it! Gracias grin

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