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How do Spanish adjectives agree with nouns?

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Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine, singular or plural, and the adjectives that describe the nouns must agree with them (i.e., must change their endings). There are also different agreement rules depending on the type of adjective. This is different from English adjectives, which remain the same regardless of the nouns they describe. If you are curious about learning how adjectives agree in Spanish, read on!

 

Adjective agreement in Spanish: What does this mean?

Let’s start by answering the question: what is an adjective? It’s a word used to describe a noun. For example: el caballo blanco [the white horse], manzana deliciosa [delicious apple]. There are two things you need to know about Spanish adjectives: a) how they agree with the noun they describe and b) where they are placed in the phrase. In this post we will discuss the first point.

Adjectives in Spanish agree in gender and number (see “Unpacking the grammar” for a review of these terms) with the nouns they describe. This means that when you want to form a phrase that contains a noun and an adjective that describes it, you need to ask yourself:

  • Is the noun masculine or feminine?

  • Is the noun singular or plural?

So, if the noun that goes with the adjective is masculine singular, the adjective must also be masculine and singular. For example, in (1) below, the noun gato [cat] is masculine singular and the adjective that accompanies the noun (loco [crazy]) is also masculine and singular, as indicated by the ending –o. The same applies to (2): casas [houses] is a feminine plural noun and the adjective rojas [red] is feminine (–a) and plural (–s). 

(1)  El gato loco
    The crazy cat

(2)  Las casas rojas
    The red houses

Forms of agreement

Adjectives that end in –o

Most Spanish adjectives end in –o in the masculine singular. For these adjectives, these are the rules we need to follow:

  • In order to form the feminine singular form, we must replace the ending –o with –a.

  • In order to form the masculine and the feminine plural forms, we add an –s to the singular form.

Screen Shot 2021-07-26 at 12.32.39 PM

This little rule covers the majority of the cases but if you are a more advanced learner or curious for more details, let’s move on!

Adjectives that end in a vowel (other than –o)

We've just talked about adjectives that end in –o, now let's take a look at some Spanish adjectives that end in a vowel other than –o.  For instance, we can find adjectives ending in:

  • –a (lila lilac, purple), 

    • including the ending –ista (optimista optimistic)

  • –e (interesante interesting),

  • –i (cursi cheesy), and

  • –u (zulú zulu)

If we have an adjective ending in a vowel other than –o, this is the easiest case because:

  • These adjectives have the same masculine singular and feminine singular form, for example: el perro inteligente [the intelligent dog], la experiencia interesante [the interesting experience], el pantalón lila [the purple pants], and la puerta lila [the purple door].

  • The plural is formed by adding –s to the singular forms.

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*If an adjective ends in –i or –u and this vowel is stressed, then both plural forms are accepted (hindús-hindúes). 

Adjectives that end in a consonant (other than a stressed vowel + n/–or)

Some other adjectives end in a consonant (difícil [difficult], azul [blue]). As a general rule, these adjectives work almost the same as the adjectives ending in a vowel (other than –o):

  • They have the same singular masculine and feminine form.

  • The plural is formed by adding –es.

Screen Shot 2021-07-26 at 12.30.00 PM

There are two important aspects for adjectives ending in a consonant that require special mention: 

  1. Adjectives that end in –z (feliz [happy], capaz [capable]) change to –c (felices [happy], capaces [capable]) in the plural form.

  2. Nationality adjectives that end in a consonant form the feminine by adding an –a to the masculine form: español - española (Spanish), alemán - alemana (German).

Adjectives that end in a stressed vowel + n/–or:

Although these adjectives end in a consonant and thus we would expect them to work as mentioned in the previous section, this is not the case. For adjectives that end in –or or in a stressed vowel + n (catalán [Catalan], cabezón [large-headed]), the masculine follows the rules for adjectives that end in a consonant, while the feminine follows the rules for adjectives that end in –a. That is: 

  • The feminine singular is formed by adding –a.

  • The masculine plural form is created by adding –es to the singular form.

  • The feminine plural form is created by adding –as to the singular form.

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As you may have noticed, the adjectives cabezón or chiqutín in the examples above change spelling when they are in the plural: cabezón →  cabezones, chiquitín →  chiquitines. This is a general rule for “stressed vowel + n” adjectives: they drop the accent mark when they are used in the plural.

Summary 

To sum everything up, adjectives in Spanish must agree in gender and number with the nouns they describe. There are different adjective agreement rules depending on the adjective (i.e., adjectives that end in –o/–a behave one way; adjectives that end in vowels other than –o or in consonants behave another way). Take a look at the table below, to see all of the different adjective agreement rules at a glance!
Check out this article for more on adjective agreement.

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That’s it! It may sound overwhelming but remember that in the majority of cases you only need to add an -s to the singular form! As always, “practice makes perfect” and if you want to put into practice the rules you just learned, feel free to check out these activities we created on adjective agreement, they also come with a key. Enjoy!

Unpacking the grammar

  • Gender represents categories in which nouns are split based on endings. In Spanish, there are two: masculine and feminine.

El chico (m.)                     The boy
La chica (f.)                      The girl

  • Number represents the quantity the noun refers to, meaning if it is singular or plural.

El chico  (s.), los chicos (pl.)              The boy, the boys
La chica (s.), las chicas (pl.)              The girl, the girls

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