The principal function of an adjective is to modify or describe nouns in a sentence. Although an adjective’s conjugation depends on the gender (masculine-feminine) and number (singular-plural) of the noun, it will always serve the same function.
Position of Spanish adjectives depends on the type of adjective and the context in the sentence, and though adjectives may come either before or after the nouns they modify, most frequently, adjectives will follow the noun.
Now that we know what the function of adjectives is, it is time to take a look at how to place them in a sentence.
When the adjective is right after the noun, it generally lets us know new information related to the noun. This gives the adjective higher relevance. For example:
- Acabo de leer una novela muy interesante.
- Vive en una casa modernísima.
In this case, the adjective phrases “muy interesante” and “modernísima” are new information that the speaker gives to the listener.
In the other case, when the adjective is right before the noun, it is not new information related to the noun; rather, it indicates a close relationship. For example:
- ¿Estás ya en la nueva casa o todavía no te has mudado?
In this sentence, the speaker uses the adjective “nueva” right before the noun “casa” because he or she already knows that the listener has a new house and will move soon. It is also very common that the speaker skips the new information and goes directly to say another thing based on information that he or she believes is obvious in the context.
Adjetivo de Especificacion
When someone is speaking generally about the noun and wants to add a new element when the adjective is after it, the new element is called adjetivo de especificacion or specification adjective.
This adjective helps us to specify what noun it is from a sort of different kinds, for example, una mesa redonda, in which “redonda” is the specification adjective. In this case, the specification adjective clarifies that out of the many shapes of tables, we are talking about one that is rounded.
Another kind of adjective very commonly used in Spanish is the explicative one, or adjetivo explicativo. This kind of adjective has no restriction at all and that is what makes it different from the specification one.
While the specification adjective helps us to identify what kind of noun we are talking about, the explicative one is not focused on the name of the noun but it is on its properties. An example is la simpatica actriz, in which the adjective is focused on the actress’ personality instead of what kind of actress she is.
What's the Difference?
Specification adjectives specify which noun you’re talking about, while explicative adjectives add information about the noun.
It is important to know that explicative adjectives are always placed before the noun, while specification adjectives are always placed after the noun they describe.
Other kinds of adjectives include demonstrative, possessive, indefinite, and adjectives regarding numbers and quantities. These adjectives are always placed right before the noun they modify, but each one of them indicates a different thing. For example:
- Demonstrative adjectives indicate if the noun is close or far from the speaker or the listener.
- Possessive adjectives indicate who the noun they are describing belongs to. Some examples are mi, tu, su, and nuestro.
- Indefinite adjectives change their form and agree with the noun and pronoun in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural). For instance: No hay ningun banco en esta calle.
- Quantity adjectives describe how many or how much quantity of something (in this case the noun) there is/are.
- Number adjectives can be “cardinales” like uno, dos, tres, and so on, in which case they indicate quantity, or they can also be “ordinales” like primero, segundo, tercero and so on, in which case they indicate order.
Getting to understand how adjectives in Spanish are placed is not really as big a challenge as it seems. It may look difficult because of the different kinds of adjectives and situations in which they are used, but as a language teacher, my best advice for you is to practice creating sentences as many times you can, and also talk and listen to native Spanish speakers.
By practicing with native speakers, you’ll learn to identify how they use adjectives and clarify some of the doubts preventing you from dominating this specific topic. Remember what Thomas Fuller once said: “Action is the proper fruit of knowledge.”