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Do Spanish adjectives appear before or after the noun?

By: Irati de Nicolás Saiz Tue Feb 13 2024

Spanish adjectives appear AFTER the noun in general (el artículo interesante). This differs from English, where adjectives generally appear before the noun (the interesting article). Nevertheless, things can be a bit tricky — in this post, you’ll see that some Spanish adjectives can appear before or after the noun, while others only appear before the noun, and others change meaning depending on where they are placed. Let’s dive into it!

Table of Contents

    What is the general case?

    As mentioned, the general case is that Spanish adjectives usually appear after the noun. Take a look at the example below — the adjective rápido(fast) appears after the noun:

    Noun + Adjective

    el perrito rápido

    the fast doggy

    Here are some more examples of types of adjectives that usually go after the noun:



    el libro rojo

    the red book


    el libro rectangular

    the rectangular book


    el libro cerrado

    the closed book


    el libro inglés

    the English book

    This little rule applies to the majority of the cases, but let’s cover the rest!

    Only before the noun

    Some Spanish adjectives can only appear before the noun (such as mero(mere), supuesto / presunto(alleged). As illustrated in the following example, when these adjectives appear after the noun, the sentence is not grammatically correct.

    la supuesta ladrona

    la ladrona supuesta

    the alleged thief

    Also, there are certain non-descriptive adjectives that always go before the noun: Spanish demonstratives, Spanish possessive adjectives, indefinite adjectives, adjectives of quantity (mucho(many), poco(little)), and adjectives that indicate number (uno(one), dos(two)...), or order (primero(first), segundo(second), próximo(next)...).

    Adjective Type


    este libro

    this book


    mi libro

    my book


    algún libro

    some books


    muchos libros

    many books


    siete libros

    seven books


    Juan es mi primer hijo.

    Juan is my first son.


    Adjectives that indicate order go after the noun when we talk about kings or popes:

    Juan Pablo segundo

    John Paul II

    However, order adjectives go before or after the noun when we talk about the floor of a building (in example one) or a book chapter (in example two):

    • Vivo en el primer piso / vivo en el piso primero.
      I live on the first floor.
    • el último capítulo / el capítulo último
      the last chapter

    As you may have observed in example one, some of these adjectives change form depending on their position (primer piso/piso primero). Keep reading to find out when Spanish adjectives change form!

    Before or after the noun

    In some instances, adjectives can go either before or after the noun, depending on the effect you want to create in conversation or in writing. Let’s explore three situations when adjectives can go either before or after the noun.

    To differentiate

    Sometimes, the placement of an adjective is used to differentiate the noun in context. There are some Spanish adjectives that can appear before or after the noun, for example: bonito(beautiful), blanco(white), and largo(long). Why is this so?

    First, when we place these adjectives after the noun, we create a differentiation effect in the context of the conversation, as in example one below. Take a look at the following situation:

    ¿Qué libro leíste?

    Which book did you read?

    • Leí el libro largo.

    • Leí el largo libro.

      I read the long book.

    In example one, we distinguish “the long book” from other books (I had several books, but I ended up reading the long one). To contrast, in example two, when the adjective is placed before In example one, we distinguish “the long book” from other books (I had several books, but I ended up reading the long one). To contrast, in example two, when the adjective is placed before the noun, we don’t get this reading of differentiation. Instead, we are emphasizing the quality of the book (it’s a long book). Keep reading to find out more!

    Some other times, Spanish adjectives can be placed before the noun. We place adjectives before the noun in two specific contexts — for emphasis and for style. Let’s dig deeper!

    To emphasize quality

    Some adjectives are placed before the noun in order to emphasize a quality of the noun for descriptive or explanatory purposes as in example one.

    • Me envió una pequeña postal.

      He sent me a small postcard.

    • Dame unas cajas pequeñas.

      Give me some small boxes.

    In example one, we use the adjective before the noun, because we want to highlight the quality of the postcard, in this case, its size. On the other hand, in example two, we place the adjective after the noun because we want to differentiate that object from others as discussed in the previous section: Which boxes? The small boxes, not the big ones.

    Common adjectives that can go before the noun and create this difference in emphasis are: largo/corto(long/short), rápido/lento(fast/slow), fuerte(strong), bonito(beautiful), among others. These are called relative adjectives, because they have a relative meaning. For example, something is longer or shorter depending on the object we are comparing it to.

    For stylistic choice

    Some other times, the use of adjectives before the noun is a stylistic choice, and it depends on the speaker’s intention. For example, in everyday language, relative adjectives are often placed after the noun, while in a formal context they are used before the noun as discussed in the previous section. In addition, adjectives that are not relative adjectives (color, shape, etc.) can be used before the noun in poetic contexts.

    Shape Adjective
    Relative Adjective

    Everyday Language

    El ordenador cuadrado
    …estaba sobre una mesa pequeña.

    Formal Context

    El ordenador cuadrado
    …estaba sobre una pequeña mesa.

    Poetic Context

    El cuadrado ordenador
    …se encontraba sobre una pequeña mesa.


    The square computer…

    …was on the small table

    Change in meaning

    Finally, sometimes there will be a change in meaning, depending on the position of the adjective. In the examples below, the adjective antiguo(old, former) appears before the noun in example one and after the noun in example two. In the first example the meaning we get is “former,” while in the second it means “old”—it is an old building.

    • la antigua casa de mi abuela

      my grandma’s former house

    • la casa antigua de mi abuela

      my grandma’s old house

    Here you can find a list of more adjectives that can appear before or after the noun.

    Where to place Spanish adjectives in questions?

    The same adjective rules that apply to Spanish statements also apply to Spanish interrogatives. Let’s see some examples:

    • ¿Dónde pusiste el libro azul?

      Where did you put the blue book?

    • ¿Quién crees que sea la supuesta ladrona?

      Who do you think is the alleged thief?

    To know more about word order in Spanish questions, check out How to build questions in Spanish?

    When do Spanish adjectives change form?

    Some adjectives change form when they come before a noun. There are two groups: a) those that change form only before singular masculine nouns and b) those that change form before both masculine and feminine nouns. We’ll review both groups next!

    Adjectives that change only in masculine

    Some adjectives change only in the masculine form. The following adjectives lose their final –o when they are used before a singular masculine noun:












    some, any



    el hombre bueno → el buen hombre
    the good man
    el camino malo → el mal camino
    the bad path
    el piso primero → el primer piso
    the first floor

    They do not change at all with a feminine noun:

    la mujer buena → la buena mujer
    the good woman
    una experiencia mala → una mala experiencia
    a bad experience
    por vez primera → por primera vez
    for the first time

    Adjectives that change in both masculine and feminine

    Other adjectives change in both the masculine and feminine forms. The adjective grande(big) changes before a masculine or a feminine noun:


    Masculine →

    un apartamento grande

    a big apartment

    un gran apartamento

    Feminine →

    una mesa grande

    a big table

    una gran mesa

    The adjective grande does not change form before a noun when:

    • Used with más(more/most)

      la más grande ocasión
      the biggest occasion
    • Used with any other adjective

      la bonita y grande casa
      the beautiful and big house


    Spanish adjectives generally appear after the noun, although as we have discussed, there are some exceptions. Let’s summarize them:

    • Some adjectives can only appear before the noun: mero(mere), supuesta(alleged); as well as demonstrative adjectives, possessive adjectives, indefinite adjectives, and quantity adjectives.

      • Order adjectives usually go before the noun, except if we refer to chapters in a book or floors in a building — these can go before or after the noun.

    • Some adjectives can appear before or after the noun. When these adjectives are placed after the noun, they create a differentiation effect. When these adjectives are placed before the noun, they emphasize the quality of the noun. Other times, the position relative to the noun depends on stylistic choices, including the formality of the context, or poetic use of language.

    • Some adjectives change meaning depending on the position of the adjectives, such as viejo(old, former) or antiguo(old, former).

    • Some adjectives change form when they are placed before the noun, such as bueno → buen(good) or grande → gran(big)

    Don’t forget that Spanish adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they accompany.

    Find more adjectives that change meaning depending on their position and examples that illustrate this point. Or, if you want to practice more, we have created some exercises with an answer key. Enjoy!

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