Lesson 3: Nouns and Adjectives
Articles are the most common type of adjective.
El is the masculine singular definite article (the), la is the
feminine singular definite article. Both mean "the." Un is the
masculine singular indefinite article; una is the feminine singular
indefinite article ("a" or "an"). Masculine nouns of course
take and require a masculine article; feminine nouns require a feminine
- Words beginning with stressed a, such as agua, alma,
or hambre, use the article el even though they are feminine. They
- Do not confuse the article el with the masculine third person
singular subject pronoun él (he). The pronunciation of these two
words is identical; the accent exists only to distinguish between them.
- The plural definite articles are los (masculine) and las
(feminine). The plural indefinite articles are unos and unas,
usually translated as "some."
- Articles, numbers, demonstratives (this, that), and some other
non-descriptive adjectives, like mucho (much, many) and otro
(another) are found before the noun they modify.
- La casa. (The house.)
- Siete muchachos. (Seven boys.)
- Este lugar. (This place.)
- The usual position for most other adjectives is after the nouns
- La hija bonita. (The pretty daughter.)
- El libro nuevo. (The new book.)
- However, any adjective may be used before the noun, but its force is
weakened if it would usually follow the noun. This is a stylistic rather than
The difference between la nieve
blanca and la blanca nieve (the white snow) has no English
equivalent. La blanca nieve implies that the fact that snow is white is
unremarkable. If the snow is yellow, the adjective must follow the noun, since
the yellow color is unusual (la nieve amarilla).
- Predicate adjectives are separated from nouns altogether, but still agree
- La puerta está abierta. (The door is open.)
- Mi padre es viejo. (My father is old.)
- Adjectives, including articles, must agree in gender (masculine or
feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the nouns they modify. Since
English does not have adjective genders and plurals, and noun genders only for
sexed animals, these concerns often seem a needless complication to those
learning Spanish. However, agreement can be a vital structural element of
sentences. Without the information conveyed by gender and number, some
sentences become near-nonsense.
- Son católicas. (They are Catholic.) The female ending
(-as) of the adjective católicas tells you that two or
more females are referred to.
- The following piece of a sentence from this lesson's reading assignment
illustrates the importance of agreement to comprehension. Las oscilaciones
entre puntos de vista opuestos...: that opuestos is masculine
plural tells you that it is modifying puntos (also masculine plural),
and not oscilaciones (feminine plural) or vista (feminine
- Only the masculine singular form of adjectives will be found in a
dictionary. Therefore, you must convert plural and feminine adjectives to
the masculine singular form. Buena should be looked up under
bueno (good), japonesa under japonés (Japanese),
cordobeses under cordobés (Cordovan, today used for a type
of shoe color, "from Córdoba").
- Agreement in number. An adjective
referring to a plural noun, pronoun, or anything plural (even if not present in
the sentence explicitly) must be plural. An adjective which is plural cannot
modify a singular noun, even if it is adjacent to it.
- The formation of plurals of
nouns and adjectives in Spanish is simple: those ending in a vowel add
-s, those ending in a consonant add -es. Remove these endings to
look up the word in a dictionary, which will have only the singular form.
- Words ending in -z change to a c before adding the -es
plural ending, in accordance with the spelling tables given in Lesson 2:
vez, pl. veces; nariz, pl. narices. If you find a
noun or adjective ending in -ces, delete the es and change the
now-final c back to z to look it up. A final c is found
only on a few foreign words, like coñac.
- There are a very few nouns with identical forms for the singular and
plural. These include the weekdays lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves,
viernes (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday), and words whose
singular ends in -is (crisis, análisis).
- Not all words ending in -s are plural. In addition to those just
given, there are mes (month), pl. meses, francés (French),
pl. franceses, and others. An -s ending on a verb or adverb has
no plural implication: hablas, entonces, pues.
- It is common for a noun singular to have a written accent
(nación), but for the written accent to disappear in the plural
(naciones). This has no effect on the meaning.
Note that the stressed syllable is the same (-cion-) for both
singular and plural but an accent mark is required to show this in the
singular, since the plural is a syllable longer.
Link to rules
for accents in Lesson 2.
- Agreement in gender. All Spanish
nouns are either masculine or feminine. Adjectives, including articles, are as
- While there are no neuter nouns, there is a neuter article
and some neuter pronouns, used to form abstractions. These are discus
- The masculine is always the default form: thus un
pianista may mean "a male pianist" or "a pianist"
without distinction of gender, while una pianista means only "a
- The masculine plural is used both for all-male and for mixed groups.
While las madres means "the mothers," los padres means
either "the fathers" or "the parents." Los reyes
means either "the king and queen," or (less often) "the
kings." Los españoles means "all Spaniards," male
and female, or "male Spaniards," but las españolas
means "female Spaniards." Note that there is no unambiguous way to
refer to any male groups in Spanish, only female groups.
- Adjectives must always agree in gender with the noun they modify - no
exceptions! The noun is the "boss" and the adjective follows its
- una crisis nueva (a new crisis)
- una moto vieja (an old motorcycle - moto is feminine because
it's short for motocicleta)
- la moto grande (the large motorcycle)
- el hijo bueno (the good son)
- una hija buena (a good daughter)
Because of this agreement, the gender or number of an adjective, or both
together, will identify the noun being modified, by matching it in gender
and/or number. Similarly (the same principle in reverse), if you are sure which
noun an adjective modifies, then the gender of the adjective will tell you the
gender of the noun.
- Genders are also a challenging element for students. They seem a needless
complication. For simple sentences, this can be true. Yet Spanish cannot
function without them; gender is fundamental to the meaning of many complex
sentences. For perspective, consider trying to explain to foreigners learning
English why bough, rough, though, and through are all pronounced differently.
- Even if one's interest is only reading Spanish, still one cannot escape
learning noun genders. While most dictionaries will supply the gender of a
noun, it is impractical to look up every word.
- Is there a "sense" or "system" to Spanish noun
- Generations of students studying Spanish have tried to come up with a
system to make sense of and predict Spanish genders. If there were such a
system, explaining why pared ("wall") is feminine and
reloj ("clock" or "watch") is masculine, it would
make the genders of nouns easier to learn. Unfortunately, there is no
explanation for most noun genders, and they must be memorized as the arbitrary
facts that they are. If one knows Lati
n or another Romance language, genders are usually, though not always, the same
as in these languages.
- Almost all nouns ending in -o are masculine:
- el libro (the book)
- el piano (the piano)
- el toro (the bull)
- bueno (good)
- hermoso (beautiful)
- la mano (the hand)
- la radio (the radio, short for radiodifusión)
- la moto (the motorcycle, short for motocicleta)
- Most nouns ending in -a are feminine:
- la bicicleta (the bicycle)
- la vaca (the cow)
- la biología (biology)
- bonita (pretty)
- There are many more exceptions to the -a = feminine than to
the -o = masculine:
- Learned words, often of Greek origin:
- el artista (the artist) (la artista, the female artist)
- el clima (the climate)
- el cometa (the comet)
- el cura (the priest)
- el esteta (the aesthete)
- el planeta (the planet)
- Names of professions and adherents of ideologies:
- el pianista, la pianista (the male pianist, the female pianist)
- el comunista, la comunista
- el demócrata, la demócrata
- el idealista, la idealista
- el separatista, la separatista
- el día (the day). Thus the expression is Buenos
días, in which both noun and adjective are masculine plural.
- Nouns ending in -o change their ending to -a when referring to a female
person or animal:
- el hijo - la hija (the son - the daughter)
- el hermano - la hermana (the brother - the sister)
- el tío - la tía (the aunt - the uncle)
- el esposo - la esposa (the husband - the wife)
- el amigo - la amiga (the male friend, the female friend)
- el perro - la perra (the male dog - the bitch)
- el toro - la vaca (the bull - the cow)
- el gallo - la gallina (the rooster - the chicken)
- el cabrón - la cabra (the billy goat - the nanny goat)
- el hombre - la mujer (the man - the woman)
- Nouns denoting occupations that end in a consonant add -a to
form the feminine:
- profesor - profesora (male professor - female professor)
- historiador - historiadora (male historian - female historian)
- With a noun not ending in -o or -a, its gender cannot
be determined from the ending. There are a few exceptions. For example, nouns
ending in -ción, such as constitución, are always
- The gender of such nouns can often be determined from the gender of a
modifying article or adjective:
- el aceite ("the oil" - aceite must be masculine
because the masculine definite article modifies it)
- la crisis ("the crisis" - crisis must be feminine
because the feminine definite article modifies it)
- Adjectives whose masculine singular ends in -o are the simplest.
Change the -o to -a for feminine, and add -s for plurals:
- rojo ("red," masculine singular)
- Exception: cardenal
numbers other than uno and compounds of uno, like
veintiuno (twenty-one). Cuatro ("four"), ocho
("eight"), and compounds of them
(veinticuatro,"twenty-four") use the same form for masculine
- Adjectives whose masculine singular ends in -e do not change for the
feminine, and add -s for the plural:
- suave ("smooth," masculine and feminine singular)
- suaves (masculine and feminine plural)
- Adjectives whose singular ends in a consonant add -es for the
- mejor ("better," masculine and feminine singular)
- mejores (masculine and feminine plural)
- Adjectives of nationality that end in a consonant behave differently. They
add -a to form the feminine, -os for the masculine plural, and
-as for the feminine plural:
- francés - francesa ("French man," "French
- español - española ("Spanish man,"
- alemán - alemana ("German man," "German
- Demonstrative adjectives (this, that) have masculine singular forms which
do not end in o: este ("this"), ese
("that," when near), andaquel ("that," when far).
Their feminines are esta, esa, and aquella respectively, and the
plurals are built on the feminine singular, not the masculine. This can cause
confusion: the femenine aquella, masculine plural aquellos, and
feminine plural aquellas suggest that the masculine singular
"should" beaquello, but it is aquel.
More on demonstrative adjectives.
- Some adjectives have a shortened male form when they come immediately
before a masculine singular noun.This does not affect feminine or plural forms.
The location does not affect the meaning.
- primer(o) - primera ("first" - the form primero is
used when it does not immediately precede a noun)
- El primer hombre ("the first man")
- El día primero ("the first day")
- La primera mujer ("the first woman")
- tercer(o) - tercera ("third")
- buen(o) - buena ("good")
- un(o) - una (the number "one," also the indefinite
- The word gran(de) is unique: the shortened form gran is used
immediately preceding either a masculine or feminine singular noun, and
grande after the noun or in isolation.
- The meaning of gran, before the noun, is different from that of
grande. Gran never refers to size, but to greatness.
- Un gran país ("a great country")
- Un país grande ("a large country")
- A = preposition meaning "to."
- The contraction of a with the masculine singular definite article
el, producing al, is mandatory. (A does not combine with
the pronoun él, "he.") It does not combine with the
masculine plural or the female definite articles.
- A before a direct object is not translated. (Discussed later.)
- De = preposition meaning "of" or "from."
- The contraction of de with the masculine singular definite article
el, producing del, is mandatory. (De does not combine with
the pronoun é, "he.") It does not combine with the
masculine plural or the female definite articles.
- En = preposition meaning "in."
- Es = third person singular of the verb ser ("to
be"). It means "he, she," "you," or "it is."
- Hay = a unique verb meaning both "there is" and
- Son = third person plural of the verb ser ("to
be"). It means "you" or "they are."
- Su = posessive adjective which can mean "his,"
"her," "its," or "their." (D
Lectura 1: Una
introducción a España
Note the locations of nouns and adjectives. Adjectives usually follow
nouns, except that articles, numbers, and some other nondescriptive adjectives
MUST precede the nouns they modify. Other adjectives, when placed before the
noun, have a weaker force.
Your translation must always make sense. If a sentence seems meaningless,
some small error or errors have been made.
A translation of the exercise
is provided. If you send it to me via e-mail I will return it with comments and
a grade (not counted, but for your information).
España es un país europeo. La capital de España es
Madrid. Otras ciudades importantes son Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao y Sevilla.
Barcelona es la capital industrial y literaria de España. Valencia es
la capital del antiguo reino de Valencia. Bilbao es el centro del
En España hay fuertes tensiones regionales. Unos catalanes y vascos
España es una monarquía. El monarca es el rey Juan Carlos I.
Los católicos españoles son monárquicos. El Primer
Ministro es un derechista, José María
Aznar. En España hay actualmente mucho
desempleo y descontento. El clima político es inestable.
España es un país preocupado con su historia. Hay muchos
episodios gloriosos, y otros tristes, en la historia
de España. También, España es un país de una
histórica polarización. Las oscilaciones entre puntos de vista
opuestos son causas de unas glorias literarias y artísticas, pero
también la destrucción de la cultura española, una serie
de guerras civiles y emigración. Sin embargo,
hay esperanza de una resolución pacífica de los conflictos
actuales. En 1992 hay conmemoraciones del quinto centenario del viaje de
Colón al Nuevo Mundo
Notes on Lectura 1, Una introducción a España
País means "region" as well as
its more formal or standard meaning of "country."
Separatistas is masculine plural, and
agrees with vascos (masculine plural) and catalanes
(undifferentiated plural, but is the default masculine unless otherwise
Derechista is an example of a word which
might not be in the dictionary. Given that its root is derecha (right in
the sense of "right-hand side"), can you guess its meaning? (For the
answer, see the Trans
An adverb: "currently," "at the
present moment." The suffix -mente, which is applied to feminine
adjectives, corresponds to the English suffix -ly. The root adjective
actual is an amigo falso or false friend, which has an unexpected
meaning: "current," "present" (in the temporal sense of
Note how the noun episodios, although not
repeated, is implied by the two adjectives otros and tristes.
More precisely, the -os ending of the adjectiveotros implies a
masculine plural noun; tristes only requires a plural noun (i.e., it
could be of either gender).
Note the masculine plural-os ending on opuestos. The ending tells you that opuestos
modifies puntos, and not the adjacent word vista.
Sin embargo is an idiom:
Colón: the Spanish form of Columbus.
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