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How do Spanish adjectives agree with nouns?

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Spanish adjectives agree with nouns in gender and number. Nouns in Spanish are either masculine or feminine (in gender) or singular or plural (in number), and the adjectives that describe these nouns must change their endings to agree with the gender and number of the noun. There are also different agreement rules depending on the type of adjective. This is different from English adjectives, which remain the same regardless of the nouns they describe. If you are curious about learning how adjectives agree with nouns in Spanish, read on! 

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.

What is an adjective, and what is adjective agreement?

An adjective is a word used to describe a noun. Adjective agreement, then, is the process in which an adjective matches the gender and number of the noun it describes. For example: el caballo blanco (the white horse), la manzanadeliciosa (the delicious apple). There are two things you need to know about Spanish adjectives: a) how they agree with the noun they describe and b) and where Spanish adjectives are placed in the phrase. In this post we will discuss the first point. Adjectives in Spanish agree in gender and number with the nouns they describe. This means that when you want to form a phrase that contains a noun and an adjective that describes it, you need to ask yourself:
  • Is the noun masculine or feminine?
  • Is the noun singular or plural?
So, if the noun that goes with the adjective is masculine singular, the adjective must also be masculine and singular. For example, in (1) below, the noun gato (cat) is masculine singular and the adjective that accompanies the noun (loco, crazy) is also masculine and singular, as indicated by the ending –o. The same applies to (2): casas (houses) is a feminine plural noun and the adjective rojas (red) is feminine (–a) and plural (–s).

(1)  El gato loco      The crazy cat

(2)  Las casas rojas The red houses

To know how to identify the gender of nouns in Spanish, take a look at our post for a refresher. For now, let’s continue with exploring adjective agreement in more detail.

What are the forms of agreement?

The forms of agreement depend on the ending of the adjective, whether they end in -o, a different vowel, or a consonant, let’s go over these endings next:

Adjectives that end in ‘–o’

The majority of Spanish adjectives end in –o in the masculine singular form. For these adjectives, these are the rules we need to follow:

  • In order to form the feminine singular form, we must replace the ending o with a.
  • In order to form the masculine and the feminine plural forms, we add an –s to the singular form.
MasculineFeminine
SingularPluralSingularPlural
-o-os-a-as
el niño simpático
the nice boy
los niños simpáticos
the nice boys
la niña simpática
the nice girl
las niñas simpáticas
the nice girls

This little rule covers the majority of the cases, but if you are curious for more details, let’s move on!

Adjectives that end in a vowel other than ‘-o’

Some Spanish adjectives end in a vowel other than –o.  For instance, we can find adjectives ending in:
  • a (lila lilac, purple), 
    • including the ending –ista (optimista optimistic)
  • e (interesante interesting),
  • i (cursi cheesy), and
  • u (zulú Zulu)
If we have an adjective ending in a vowel other than –o, this is the easiest case because:
  • These adjectives have the same masculine singular and feminine singular form, for example: el perro inteligente (the intelligent dog), la experiencia interesante (the interesting experience), el pantalón lila (the purple pants), and la puerta lila (the purple door).
  • The plural is formed by adding –s to the singular forms.
MasculineFeminine
 SingularPluralSingularPlural
 -–s-–s
–a el niño belga
the Belgian boy
los niños belgas
the Belgian boys
la niña belga
the Belgian girl
las niñas belgas
the Belgian girls
–eel libro interesante
the interesting book
los libros interesantes
the interesting books
la novela interesante
the interesting novel
las novelas cursis
the cheesy novels
–iel poema cursi
the cheesy poem
los poemas cursis
the cheesy poems
la novela cursi
the cheesy novel
las novelas cursis
the cheesy novels
–uel estudiante hindú
the Indian student
los estudiantes hindús*
the Indian students
la comida hindú
the Indian food
las comidas hindús
the Indian foods
*If an adjective ends in –i or –u and this vowel is stressed, then both plural forms are accepted in Spanish (hindúshindúes).   Check out our post on plural noun forms in Spanish to learn more.

Adjectives that end in a consonant (other than a stressed vowel + n /–or)

Some other adjectives end in a consonant (difícil, difficult; azul, blue). As a general rule, these adjectives work almost the same as the adjectives ending in a vowel (other than –o):

  • They have the same singular masculine and feminine form.
  • The plural is formed by adding –es.
MasculineFeminine
SingularPluralSingularPlural
--es--es
el mar azul
the blue sea
los mares azules
the blue seas
la pregunta difícil
the difficult question
las preguntas difíciles
the difficult question

There are two important aspects for adjectives ending in a consonant that require special mention:

  1. Adjectives that end in –z (feliz, happy; capaz, capable) change to –c (felices, happy; capaces, capable) in the plural form.
  2. Nationality adjectives that end in a consonant form the feminine by adding an –a to the masculine form:
    españolespañola (Spanish), alemánalemana (German).

Adjectives that end in a stressed vowel + ‘n’ / ‘–or’

Adjectives that end in a stressed vowel + n /-or do not work like the adjectives mentioned in the previous section, even though they end in a consonant. For adjectives that end in –or or in a stressed vowel + n (catalán, Catalan; cabezón, large-headed), the masculine follows the rules for adjectives that end in a consonant, while the feminine follows the rules for adjectives that end in –a. That is:

  • The feminine singular is formed by adding –a.
  • The masculine plural form is created by adding –es to the singular form.
  • The feminine plural form is created by adding –s to the singular form.
MasculineFeminine
 SingularPluralSingularPlural
 --es-a-as
or adjectives el equipo ganador
the winning team
los equipos ganadores
the winning teams
la pareja ganadora
the winning couple
la pareja ganadoras
the winning couples
–stressed vowel + n adjectivesel hombre cabezón
the large-headed man
los hombres cabezones
the large-headed men
la mujer cabezona
the large-headed woman
las mujeres cabezonas
the large-headed women
el niño chiquitín
the little boy
los niños chiquitines
the little boys
la niña chiquitina
the little girl
las niñas chiquitinas
the little girls

As you may have noticed, the adjectives cabezón or chiqutín in the examples above change spelling when they are in the plural: cabezón →  cabezones, chiquitín →  chiquitines. This is a general rule for “stressed vowel + n” adjectives: they drop the accent mark when they are used in the plural.

Summary

To sum everything up, adjectives in Spanish must agree in gender and number with the nouns they describe. There are different adjective agreement rules depending on the adjective (i.e., adjectives that end in –o /–a behave one way; adjectives that end in vowels other than –o or in consonants behave another way). Take a look at the table below to see all of the different adjective agreement rules at a glance!

MasculineFeminine
 SingularPluralSingularPlural
 -o-os-a-as
–o, –a adjectives el niño simpático
the nice boy
los niños simpáticos
the nice boys
la niña simpática
the nice girl
las niñas simpáticas
the nice girls
Adjectives that end in vowel (other than –o)--s--s
el libro interesante
the interesting book
los libros interesantes
the interesting books
la novela interesante
the interesting novel
las novelas interesantes
the interesting novels
Adjectives that end in consonant--es--es
el mar azul
the blue sea
los mares azules
the blue seas
la pregunta difícil
the difficult question
las preguntas difíciles
the difficult questions
–or adjectives--es-a-as
el equipo ganador
the winning team
los equipos ganadores
the winning teams
la pareja ganadora
the winning couple
las parejas ganadoras
the winning couples
–stressed vowel + n adjectives
el hombre cabezón
the large-headed man
los hombres
cabezones

the large-headed men
la mujer cabezona
the large-headed woman
las mujeres cabezonas
the large-headed women
That’s it! It may sound overwhelming, but remember that in the majority of cases you only need to change the -o to -a to make the adjective feminine, and add an –s to make the adjective plural! As always, “practice makes perfect” and if you want to put into practice the rules you just learned, feel free to check out these activities we created on adjective agreement, they also come with a key. Enjoy!
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

Gender represents categories in which nouns are split based on endings. In Spanish, there are two:
masculine and feminine.

el chico (m.) the boy
la chica (f.) the girl

Number represents the quantity the noun refers to, meaning if it is singular or plural.

el chico (s.), los chicos (pl.) the boy, the boys
la chica (s.), las chicas (pl.) the girl, the girls

Meet The Author:
Author-De Nicolas Foto
Irati de Nicolás Saiz
Irati is a linguist and an experienced University Spanish teacher with a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics.

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Activities:

Adjectives Activity

Activities:

Adjectives Activity

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