Firstly – what’s an adjective?
An adjective is a describing word. The word which describes a noun – a thing. So that includes all colours, size, opinion, origin etc.
DID YOU KNOW…
…that in English the order of adjectives is really clear, & although we might not be aware of the rule, if someone uses them out of order it sounds really weird!
The order we use in English is as follows:
Opinion; size; physical condition; shape; age; colour; origin; material; purpose.
So we can have an unusual, big, dirty, round, old, black, French, wooden coffee table.
Try saying them out of order – it just doesn’t sound right!
Guess what? Apart from nearly all adjectives going after the noun in Spanish, if you use several you can use them in any order you like!
Just remember that if you have two together, you need ‘and’ in between them, and a longer list will have commas in between them until you get to the last two.
He’s wearing dirty old jeans – Lleva vaqueros sucios y viejos
He’s wearing long, dirty, old jeans – Lleva vaqueros largos, sucios y viejos.
As I said though, nearly all adjectives go after the noun. So that obviously means that some go before the noun. Some of those must go before the noun, some can go before or after, & some change the meaning of the sentence depending upon where they are.
Adjectives which always go before the noun
This is the most useful group to try to remember. If it isn’t in this group, then it goes after the noun, or it doesn’t make a difference – so put it after the noun & you can’t go wrong!
cardinal numbers – uno, dos, tres etc.
ordinals – primer, segundo, tercer etc.
possessive adjectives – mi, tu, su etc.
Quantity words – bastante, suficiente, demasiado
best – mejor
worst – peor
Quality words – those which describe an inherent characteristic, although in other contexts will go after the noun
El frío hielo – it’s a characteristic of ice that it’s cold
Los pies fríos – it isn’t a characteristic of the feet
Adjectives which change the meaning with their position
These, when placed before the noun, give the sentence a subjective meaning, perhaps an opinion, but when placed after the noun, give a factual or objective meaning
This isn’t all of them, but they should help give you an idea.
El antiguo armario – the old fashioned cupboard
El armario antiguo – the antique cupboard
Mi vieja amiga – my long-standing friend
Mi amiga vieja – my elderly friend
Su nuevo coche – his new (to him) car
Su coche nuevo – his brand new straight from the factory car
Esa pobre familia – that poor family, in the sense that they’re going through a bad time, not necessarily financially.
Esa familia pobre – that poor family, in the sense that they are financially poor.
Un gran edificio – a great building
Un edificio grande – a big building
una media pizza – half a pizza
una pizza media – an average, or medium sized pizza
Adjectives which can go either side of the noun
without changing the meaning
A long heading – but only two adjectives!
Just remember that you need to change them for gender & number, & that when used before a singular masculine noun, the ‘o’ is dropped, to become buen & mal.