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TIP #114 - This tip was sent on the week: 12th - 18th Nov, 2006

114 The Position of the Adjective in Spanish - Part I

This tip applies to the following programs:

• ESI Professional


The Position of the Adjective in Spanish


The behavior of adjectives due to their position in reference to the noun does not follow a fixed formula. This issue has nothing to do with “laws”, but with tendencies. Most of the adjectives in Spanish can be placed before or after the noun they modify. The previous formulas made for defining the order in which the adjectives are placed, even if very generic-wise, will suffer exceptions because there are too many context preferences that end up determining the adjective’s placement.


Romance languages like Spanish tend to place the adjectives following the noun, albeit allowing a notorious liberty regarding this placement. In other words, if compared to the order of the elements in English, the order in Spanish has more freedom, but insofar as to be random or wanton.


The nature of the meaning entailed in each adjective is an important factor for determining if the adjective can be placed before the noun, or if it is impossible. For this, there are relatively-firm rules that favor sequences such as:

buen vecino, buenas tardes, mala señal, mala elección, gran oportunidad, ¡feliz viaje!, mejor momento, perfectas condiciones (DESCRIPTIVE adjectives)


densa nube, sólidas bases, bonito nombre, estupendo negocio, excelente rendimiento junto a nube densa, bases sólidas, nombre bonito, negocio estupendo and rendimiento excelente (also DESCRIPTIVE adjectives)

But structures such as administrativo cargo”, “sindical líder”, “costarricense empresa”, “Nacional Museo”, “tropical bosque”, will decidedly be completely shunned (RELATIONAL Adjectives).

Other important contextual factors are at work here, mainly the resistance against a noun being preceded by more than one complement. Thus, to say something like:

una entusiasta y sentida ovación

is only possible at a literary level; but not even at that level are constructions such as the following admitted:

“un ilustrado con pinturas originales libro”

“las necesitadas de atención mascotas”

in which, as you can see, the adjective is complemented by a prepositional phrase.


(To be continued...)



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