Adjective Placement

Overview

In English, adjectives usually precede, or go before, the noun they describe. In Spanish, most of the time, it is the opposite. In general, adjectives follow the nouns they describe.

Me gustan las flores rojas.
I like red flowers.
 
Mi hermano es un hombre alto.
My brother is a tall man.
 
Prefiero el café negro.
I prefer black coffee.
 

There are several exceptions to this rule which are explained below.

Adjective Placement Exceptions

For the following instances, the adjective is placed in front of the noun it describes.

1. Descriptive adjectives that emphasize an essential quality of a noun

An essential quality of a noun is something that is implicitly obvious about a noun even without the adjective being present.

El valiente león protege su territorio.
The brave lion protects his territory.
 
La dulce miel es deliciosa en pan tostado.
Sweet honey is delicious on toast.
 
Las verdes hojas del árbol cantan en el viento.
The green leaves of the tree sing in the breeze.
 

2. Limiting adjectives that define a number or amount of a noun, even if it is not specific.

Los niños quieren ocho helados.
The children want eight ice creams.
 
Tengo menos dinero que mi hermana.
I have less money than my sister.
 
Hay pocas naranjas este verano.
There are few oranges this summer.
 
Tienes suficiente tiempo.
You have sufficient time.
 

Below you will find a list of common limiting adjectives. Remember that all numbers are limiting adjectives as well.

SpanishEnglish
alguno
 
some
bastante
 
enough
cuanto
 
as much
demasiado
 
too much
mucho
 
a lot
ninguno
 
no, none
poco
 
a little
suficiente
 
sufficient, enough
varios
 
various, some, a few

3. Possessive adjectives (mi, tu, su, etc.) or demonstrative adjectives (ese, este, aquel).

Mi hermana es alta.
My sister is tall.
 
Nuestro perro es muy amable.
Our dog is very friendly.
 
Este árbol tiene muchas manzanas.
This tree has a lot of apples.
 
Estas sillas son cómodas.
These chairs are comfortable.
 

4. Meaning-changing adjectives

Some adjectives can mean different things depending on their placement around the noun they modify.

  • When placed after the noun like normal, the adjective carries a fairly objective, descriptive meaning.
  • When placed before the noun, the adjective carries a more subjective, opinionated meaning.
Gabriel García Márquez es un gran autor.
Gabriel García Márquez is a great author.
 
Yo tengo una casa grande.
I have a big house.
 
Pablo es mi viejo amigo.
Pablo is my long-time friend.
 
Juanita es mi amiga vieja.
Juanita is my elderly friend.
 

Below you will find a list of common meaning-changing adjectives with their meanings when they are placed before and after the noun.

AdjectiveBefore the nounAfter the noun
alto
 
top/high-classtall
antiguo
 
old/former/ancientantique
bajo
 
of low qualityshort
bueno
 
simple/goodgood/gentle/generous
cierto
 
certaintrue/right
cualquier
 
any (of those available)any (type doesn't matter)
diferente
 
variousdifferent
distinto
 
variousdifferent
dulce
 
good/nicesweet
grande
 
greatbig
mismo
 
samehimself/herself
nuevo
 
another /newly acquirednew/newly made
pobre
 
unfortunatepoor
propio
 
his/her ownespecially for someone
puro
 
sheer/nothing butpure
raro
 
rarestrange
simple
 
meresimple/modest
solo
 
onelonely
triste
 
dreadfulsad
único
 
onlyunique
varios
 
severaldifferent
viejo
 
former/long-timeold/aged

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