Spanish adjectives are a doozy for native English speakers – where we say “the brown dog”, they say “the dog brown”. So from the very beginning, we have to work extra hard to flip around those words before we say them. It’s stressful and it takes a lot of effort, but we get the hang of it.
Then, once we find ourselves getting a little bit more comfortable with Spanish adjectives, we see sentences where the adjective is…before the noun? What? Wait, I thought the noun came first! Whose side are you on!?
As it turns out, sometimes the noun comes first, sometimes the adjective. And you have to learn the difference, because sometimes, depending on the order you choose, you may not be saying what you’re trying to say!
So what’s the difference? When it comes to Spanish adjectives and nouns, which goes where?
There are two reasons to put an adjective before its noun in Spanish: when the adjective is common sense (and therefore reinforcing the noun), and when the adjective changes meaning.
Let me explain.
The white snow. El blanco nieve.
Well, yeah it’s white snow. Obviously. I mean, unless it’s yellow snow, but that’s besides the point. Snow is white. We know this.
The black night. La negra noche.
Clearly, nighttime is black. The sun’s gone. We know this, too.
As you can see, Spanish adjectives sometimes have a different relationship with their noun counterparts than we originally thought. Sometimes, when we find adjectives before their nouns that are just kind of…obvious, the writer really wanted to embellish that quality for some reason – whether it be poetic, dramatic, or any number of reasons. It really depends on context.
This may also be the case with la increíble mujer who rescued a starving orphan from a burning house and raised him as her own! How incredible, right? That’s an amazing woman! In this case, we put the adjective, increíble, before the noun, mujer, to really embellish it. In this way, we give the statement a litte oomph.
Okay, back on track. When else do we see the adjective before the noun in Spanish?
Well, in other cases, depending on when we see the adjective, the meaning of the adjective changes subtly. For example, sometimes we talk about el pobre hombre who had his brand new laptop stolen from his locked car. In this case, we really feel for the guy. That’s not a fun position to be in.
Otherwise, we could refer to him as el hombre pobre, who doesn’t have a brand new laptop or a car, because he doesn’t have the money. Certain adjectives carry this shift in meaning, and can really change the implied emotion of whatever you’re reading or writing.
So, we sometimes see an adjective before a noun in Spanish when the meaning of the adjective itself is changing. This is similar to what we do in English, but the English language doesn’t come with any changes in grammar.
Fortunately for you, if you get all down, you’re set to go. The base rule for Spanish adjectives is that you stick the adjective after the noun. The aforementioned rules are the only exceptions. Any other kind of adjectives or descriptions or anything of that nature just goes after the noun.