Word Order for Adjectives in Spanish

Adjective placement is a common source of mistakes for beginning Spanish speakers. In English, adjectives typically come before the nouns they modify (a blue ball; the famous actress; a difficult topic). In Spanish, some adjectives can come before the noun, but the majority come after.

Adjectives that come after the noun
This is the typical word order. It is especially used in the following situations:

1. Colors
Examples:
Un vestido negro [a black dress]
El coche rojo [the red car]

2. Adjectives of classification; this includes nationalities, religions, and group membership.
Examples:
El escritor peruano [the Peruvian writer]
La iglesia protestante [the protestant church]
La comida italiana [Italian food]

3. Adjectives being modified by an adverb or adverbial phrase.
Examples:
La mochila llena de libros [the backpack full of books]
La película muy aburrida [the very boring movie]
Unos zapatos bastante buenos [some pretty good shoes]

Adjectives that come before the noun

1. Non-descriptive adjectives; many of these are grammatically adjectives, though they are sometimes referred to as "determiners," "possessive pronouns," etc.
Examples:
Muchas casas [many houses]
Tu abuela [your grandmother]
Siete mesas [seven tables]

2. Meaning-changing adjectives; these adjectives can be used both before or after the noun, When used before the noun, they convey a meaning that is more subjective.
Examples:
mi vieja amiga[my old (long-time) friend] is based on the speaker's perception of their relationship mi amiga vieja [my old (elderly) friend] is based on the fact of the friend's age un gran hombre [a great man] is based on someone's evaluation of the man's character un hombre grande [a big man] is based on the man's objective size

3. Adjectives of appreciation; this is a special case where you can show an increased emphasis by placing an adjective before the noun they modify.
Example:
Es un profesor bueno [he's a good teacher]
Es un buen professor [he's an extremely good teacher]

4. Adjectives reinforcing the meaning of the noun; often these convey an increased drama, emotionality, or poeticism.
Examples:
La Hermosa vista [the beautiful view]
La blanca nieve [the white snow]
La interminable tortura [the unending torture]

To summarize, typical descriptive adjectives almost always go before the nouns they modify, unless they are intended to convey a more subjective or poetic quality. As a beginner, you will usually place descriptive adjectives after the nouns they modify, but don't be alarmed if you see them placed before. Notice these cases so that you can begin to build an understanding of when it is appropriate to place adjectives before their nouns!

Related Links:
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