[Copied from a past ask]
Most of the time adjectives come second. But there are special cases where it can go first.
…And certain adjectives that go first that change the meaning a bit.
Certain times, adjectives have to go in front of nouns. For instance, possessives have different forms for either… where mi or tu go in front but mío/a or tuyo/a go in back. And when they’re in back they’re more emphatic there.
Other times it’s the demonstratives - More on Demonstratives
Another one to know is cualquier vs. cualquiera - More on Cualquier(a)
There are also ordinal numbers which I’ll cover later on in this post but - Ordinal Numbers in Depth
Along with ordinal numbers, ones that go first include “first”, “last”, “second-to-last”… etc.
There is also bueno/a which turns to buen in front… malo/a which turns to mal in front… grande which turns to gran in front… and the cases of mejor and peor which are “better” and “worse”.
Those get covered more down the line.
Others like ”many”, “fewer”, “more”, “less”… always go in front but the good news with those is that you’ve probably been using them that way for so long it’s second nature.
So here we go. Adjective placement in Spanish:
In MOST cases, Spanish adjectives come AFTER the noun.
This is fairly basic.
La flor anaranjada / naranja. - The orange flower.
La casa blanca. - The white house. [La Casa Blanca = the White House]
La luna llena. - The full moon
La mujer casada. - The married woman.
El chico bajo. - The short boy.
La blusa ajustada. - The tight/tight-fitting blouse.
There are two main reasons that an adjective will come before the noun. The first one is the most common, the second one is just something you have to get used to and be mindful of when using Spanish.
1. Emphasis - Some adjectives are placed in front of the nouns to indicate emphasis. This is very common for emphatic writing or speaking. Doing this has the sense of putting “really” in the sentence; what you’re doing is showcasing the adjective. It would be the equivalent of older English that says “the moon so bright”; la clara luna. You’re placing an emphasis on the adjective.
- The Good. It’s very good when used sparingly. It’s often used in writing that’s particularly geared towards action, fantasy or sci-fi. For a native speaker of Spanish these are the things that draw them in. Syntax in English is a bit more fluid than Spanish, but when an adjective is placed in front of the noun, you’ve basically put a big sign on the adjective saying THIS IS IMPORTANT for some reason.
- The Bad. If someone did this to you a lot in English, it would sound like a used car salesman trying to make a sale. That is how emphatic it sounds in Spanish. If used in quick succession for no real purpose, it’s distracting. Keep in mind that the average native speaker of Spanish puts their adjectives BEHIND the noun 70-90% of the time. What you’re doing is incredibly distracting. You’re making a reader halt what they’re doing to pay attention. And if you keep doing that, it makes it tedious and very start-and-stop.
- The Ugly. If used correctly, it’s rather nice. If you use it too much you’ve just indicated to the Spanish-speaking audience that you are either very insistent on everything or that you don’t know the language. Worse, you might indicate that you’re pushing English word order onto Spanish.
Es un chico bueno. - He’s a good kid.
Es un buen chico. - He’s a very good boy. [either said of children in a doting way or “good boy” for dogs]
Es una blusa rosada. - It’s a pink blouse.
Es una rosada blusa. - It’s a really pink blouse. [this implies “hot pink” or “wow I have never seen something that pink before and it might be hurting my eyes”]
Es una ciudad grande. - It’s a big city.
Es la gran ciudad. - It’s the big city. [implies a capital city or one that’s very vibrant and full of people; may imply a cultural (or physical) Mecca for something.]
Es la luz de la luna blanca. - It’s the light of the white moon.
Es la luz de la blanca luna. - It’s the light of the pure white moon. [this sounds very literary as if you’re making the moon’s whiteness into a symbol and many people will read it to emphasize a kind of “purity” or “serenity”.]
El sol abrumador nos marchita. - The hot sun makes us wilt.
El abrumador sol nos marchita. - The sweltering sun makes us wilt. [This sounds very literary; as if the sun is a symbol for “authority” or someone with lots of power who’s oppressive.]
Es un arte bello. - It’s a beautiful art(form).
Son las bellas artes. - They’re the fine arts. [las bellas artes always means “fine arts”; which typically implies a lot of culture or significance]
Es la nieve blanca. - It’s white snow.
Es la blanca nieve. - It’s pure white snow. [This is why Snow White in Spanish is Blancanieves- because the whole symbolism of her name rested on the audience seeing her as pale, pure, noble and beautiful.]
*The most common adjectives to see in front of nouns are mal, buen, gran, mejor “best” and peor “worst”. When it’s in front of a masculine article malo turns to mal, bueno to buen, and grande to gran. Also very common is santo/a meaning “holy”. The final one that’s very common are the ordinal numbers which extends to entonces ”then [adjectival]”, último/a “last” etc.
**Also don’t forget the demonstratives of “this”, “that”, “these”, “those”, as well as the possessive adjectives like “my”, “your”, “his”, “our” etc. These also go in front.
Es un buen amigo. - He’s a really good friend.
Es de mal agüero. - It’s a bad omen. | Es de buen agüero. - It’s a good omen.
Es la Santa Sede. - It’s the Holy See. [A “See” in this sense means “seat”; the Vatican.]
Es la Santa Iglesia Católica. - It’s the Holy Catholic Church.
La gran meca del cine es Hollywood. - The great movie Mecca is Hollywood.
Es el gran y poderoso heroe. - It’s the great and mighty hero.
Es la última vez que te lo digo. - This is the last time I tell you.
El enero es el primer mes. - January is the first month.
Trabajamos en el noveno piso / la novena planta. - We work on the 9th floor/story.
Es el mejor jugador del equipo. - He’s the best player on the team.
Esta es la tercera vez. - This is the third time.
La peor decisión es la indecisión. - The worst decision is indecision.
2. Changes Meaning
The adjectives that change meaning are very few and more idiomatic. But they are also very common, so you’ll probably need to know them or at least have them in mind.
- único/a - In front, único/a means “only”.
In back único/a means “one of a kind”, “unique” or when talking about siblings means “an only child”.
- propio/a - In front, propio means “one’s own” as in “property”.
In back, propio/a means “appropriate” or “fits the occasion”.
- gran / grande - In front, gran means “great”.
In back, grande means “large” as in size.
- solo/a - In front, solo/a emphasizes “just one”.
In back, solo/a typically means “alone” or “lonely”.
- nuevo/a - In front, nuevo/a means “recent” or something that “just came out”.
In the back, nuevo/ameans “newly made”.
- antiguo/a - In front, antiguo/a means “ancient”, “outdated”, “obsolete” or “old-timey”.
In back, antiguo/a gets the meaning of “antique”.
- viejo/a - In front, viejo/a means “long-time”.
In back, viejo/a means “old” as in age.
- mismo/a - In front, mismo/a means “same”.
In the back, mismo means “self” as in “myself”, “himself”, “ourselves” etc.
- pobre - In front, pobre means “pitiful” or “miserable”.
In the back, pobre refers to “poor” as in “no money”.
- triste - In front, triste means “disastrous” or “disgraceful”.
In the back, triste means “sad” as in the emotion.
- lejano/a - In front, lejano/a means “far-off” or “faraway”.
In back, lejano/a means “distant” as in a relative or a physical location.
*****These aren’t all of them, but they’re some of the most common ones.
Es una chica única. - She’s a unique child.
Es hija única. - She’s an only child.
Es la única manera. - It’s the only way.
Es la única persona. - She’s the only person.
Es mi vestido propio. - It’s my appropriate dress.
Es mi propio vestido. - It’s my own dress.
Es una gran mujer. - She’s a great wife.
Es una mujer grande. - She’s a big woman.
Es la gran ciudad. - It’s the great city.
Es una ciudad grande. - It’s a big city.
Es un solo chico. - It’s just one boy.
Es un chico solo. - It’s a lonely boy.
Es mi nuevo libro. - It’s my brand-new book.
Es nuestro libro nuevo. - It’s our newly made book. [Often used for books to mean “the latest edition”]
Ella sabe mucho sobre antigua Grecia. - She knows a lot about Ancient Greece.
Ella sabe mucho sobre los relojes antiguos. - She knows a lot about antique clocks.
Son viejos amigos de ella. - They’re long-time friends of hers.
Los amigos de ella son viejos. - The friends of hers are elderly.
Es la misma persona. - It’s the same person.
Ella misma no sabe por qué. - She herself doesn’t know why.
La pobre mujer no tiene nada. - The pitiful woman has nothing.
El hombre pobre no tiene nada. - The poor man has nothing.
Es un triste principio de la Navidad. - It’s a terrible start to Christmas.
Muchas personas tristes lloran. - Many sad people cry.
Había una vez en la lejana tierra de… - Once upon a time in the faraway land of…
Es un primo lejano. - He’s a distant cousin.