Today I would like to continue our discussion regarding the placement of adjectives with respect to the nouns they modify. (See November 18 article on predicate adjectives.) Unfortunately, no single rule describes whether to place the adjective before or after the noun, so let’s begin with a series of statements and add some examples. I refer to these as statements rather than rules because of the large number of exceptions and variations that exist in the Spanish language.
Following the noun
Generally, descriptive adjectives follow the nouns they modify. They clarify or specify the meaning of the noun.
una clase difícil a difficult class
una película aburrida a boring movie
un libro interesante an interesting book
Adjectives of nationality, religion, or political affiliation also follow their nouns.
un vino francés a French wine
una moneda japonesa a Japonese coin
un partido liberal a liberal party
una ceremonia musulmana a Muslim ceremony
Adjectives of color, shape, substance, and state operate in the same fashion, following the nouns they modify.
un vestido blanco a white dress
una mesa redonda a round table
un vidrio translucente a translucent glass
un carro parado a stopped car
Preceeding the noun
Adjectives of limitation or qualification preceed the nouns they modify.
cuatro baños four bathrooms
muchos bombones many candies
algunos días some days
The words “bueno” and “malo” also may appear before the nouns they modify. When they appear before a masculine singular noun, they become “buen” and “mal.”
un hombre bueno un buen hombre
una mujer buena una buena mujer
un día malo un mal día
Adjectives that appear before the nouns they modify normally describe a quality that is characteristic of the noun.
un pequeño pueblo a small town.
la blanca nieve the white snow
The words “mejor, peor, mayor, menor” usually preceed the noun, largely because they carry a value judgment.
el mejor alumno the best student
el peor día the worst day
el menor deseo the least desire
A bit of both
When “grande” follows the noun, it means big or large, and when it preceeds the noun, it means great. It becomes “gran” when it used before a singular noun.
un hombre grande a big man
un gran líder a great leader
una gran mujer a great woman
One can make numerous other distinctions regarding the placement of adjectives with respect to the nouns they modify. In my next article on this topic, I’ll address the relative positions of adjectives and adverbs and discuss how the position of adjectives affects their meaning.