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TIP #115 - This tip was sent on the week: 19th - 26th Nov, 2006

115 The Position of the Adjective in Spanish - Part II

This tip applies to the following programs:

• ESI Professional


On the other hand, note the following cases:

(1) Las sobresalientes notas son aquellas que sobrepasan de 9.5.

(2) Un revolucionario hallazgo siempre debería publicarse.

Both sentences sound awkward because the adjectives placed beforehand can only designate entities that actually exist, plus specific objects or individuals (not when speaking in a general manner, that is). And diverse factors occur in these two sentences, such as verb tense and the adverb siempre, which force you to interpret the subjects preceded by the adjectives as generic. This is what makes them agrammatical.


Noun phrases (indeterminate article + noun + adjective) differ in their interpretation in accordance with the modifying adjective that precedes or follows them. Observe:

a. Sé que un diario prestigioso me va a fotografiar.

b. Sé que un prestigioso diario me va a fotografiar.

A sentence such as (a) does not necessarily presuppose the existence of the “newspaper” – it could be that it is only conceived wishfully, hopefully or as a hunch -. Meanwhile, phrase (b) can only have one single interpretation: that the “newspaper” actually exists and is known to the speaker.


For this same reason, the sequences of Adjective + Noun are not possible when found within the range of modal verbs such as tener que or deber, or of attitude verbs such as creer. For example:

a. “Tiene que haber un interesante programa en algún canal”.

b. “Creo que hay muy codiciadas casas en esa zona.”

In order for them to work, they must say:

a. Tiene que haber un programa interesante en algún canal.

b. Creo que hay casas muy codiciadas en esa zona.

In a context such as newspaper headlines, both pre and post adjectives work equally fine (Enardecida multitud…/Multitud enardecida...; Famoso comediante…/Comediante famoso…; etcétera). This is probably due to the fact that the news media can play with the possibility of the reader being already in the know of the headline it summarizes.


It is only appropriate to advise that these contrasts in meaning and these acceptability variations occur only with descriptive adjectives, in a strict sense. With adjectives of other less-descriptive types, their placement before or after the modified noun does not entail any change in interpretation. For example:

Volveré el próximo mes. – Volveré el mes próximo.

In any case, the value of the placement of the adjective depends more on the intent of the speaker than on objective criteria.


(To be continued...)



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