Position of adjectives in Spanish

In Spanish, adjectives can be placed either before or after the noun they modify.

1. Noun + adjective

Read and listen to these examples:

Tú vas a comprar un ordenador japonés.
You are going to buy a Japanese computer.

Tengo una camisa roja.
I have a red shirt.

Laura y Eva comieron platos picantes.
Laura and Eva ate spicy dishes.

Nosotros escuchamos canciones relajantes.
We listened to relaxing songs.

In the examples above, the adjective is placed after the noun. It describes a noun and attributes a quality to it that differentiates it. For example, the adjective japonés makes a distinction between "Japanese computers" and computers from other countries.

Noun + adjective is the most common order for adjectives in Spanish.

2. Adjective + noun

Now, read and listen to these examples:

La blanca nieve era preciosa en invierno.
The white snow was lovely in winter.

Había un charco de roja sangre en el suelo.
There was a puddle of red blood on the floor.

Nos encantó ese dulce pastel de chocolate.
We loved that sweet chocolate cake.

Los campos españoles producen verdes lechugas de calidad.
Spanish lands produce green lettuces of quality.

In the examples above, the adjective is placed before the noun. The adjective is not describing the noun in order to differentiate it, instead it is expressing that this quality is naturally associated with the noun it modifies. For example, la nieve, la sangre and las lechugas have characteristic colours, so the adjectives are emphasising them, but not differentiating them from other nouns.

Adjective + noun is rarely heard in spoken Spanish, but it can be seen in literary texts to emphasise characteristics.

3. Meaning depends on the order

However, there are other times when the meaning of the adjective changes, depending on its position  before or after the noun.

Read and listen to these examples:

Aquel hombre pobre no tiene dinero.
That poor man doesn't have money. (penniless)

Aquel pobre hombre era muy desgraciado.
That poor man was very unfortunate. (pitiable)

¿Sabías que Rubén tiene una moto nueva?
Did you know that Rubén has a new motorbike? (brand-new)

¿Sabías que Rubén tiene una nueva moto?
Did you know that Rubén has a new motorbike? (a replacement)

In the examples above, the adjectives nueva and pobre change their meaning depending on their position before or after the noun.

Have a look at this list of common meaning-changing adjectives:

Adjective Before the noun After the noun
alto top/high class/excessive tall
antiguo  old/former/ancient antique
bajo of low quality short
bueno  simple/good good/gentle/generous
grande great big
nuevo another/newly acquired new/newly-made
pobre unfortunate poor
raro rare strange
triste dreadful sad
viejo former/long-time old/aged
Remember that adjectives always agree in gender and number with the noun they modify, regardless of their position!
See also Bueno, malo, grande become buen, mal, gran before a noun (apócope).

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Nosotros escuchamos canciones relajantes.
We listened to relaxing songs.


Aquel hombre pobre no tiene dinero.
That poor man doesn't have money. (penniless)


Nos encantó ese dulce pastel de chocolate.
We loved that sweet chocolate cake.


Tú vas a comprar un ordenador japonés.
You are going to buy a Japanese computer.


Aquel pobre hombre era muy desgraciado.
That poor man was very unfortunate. (pitiable)


Había un charco de roja sangre en el suelo.
There was a puddle of red blood on the floor.


Tengo una camisa roja.
I have a red shirt.


¿Sabías que Rubén tiene una nueva moto?
Did you know that Rubén has a new motorbike? (a replacement)


La blanca nieve era preciosa en invierno.
The white snow was lovely in winter.


¿Sabías que Rubén tiene una moto nueva?
Did you know that Rubén has a new motorbike? (brand-new)


Laura y Eva comieron platos picantes.
Laura and Eva ate spicy dishes.


Los campos españoles producen verdes lechugas de calidad.
Spanish lands produce green lettuces of quality.


Q&A

Hans

Kwiziq community member

2 January 2019

1 reply

buen hombre or hombre bueno

Choose the right adjectival order for this sentence: "Megan wants to meet a good man."HINT: It refers to a man who is simply good.Megan quiere conocer a un hombre bueno.Megan quiere conocer a un buen hombre.

Looking at the lesson it seems to me that it should be un buen hombre, not hombre bueno

Silvia

Kwiziq language super star

2 January 2019

2/01/19

¡Hola Hans!

Thanks for spotting this mistake, we have just corrected it.

Un saludo,

Silvia

Clever stuff underway!