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Adjective Agreement in Spanish Grammar

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  • 0:05 Descriptive Adjectives
  • 1:10 Gender
  • 3:24 Number
  • 7:04 Adjective Placement
  • 8:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Geary

Danielle teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She holds a Doctor of Education with research concentration in Study Abroad and Foreign Language Acquisition.

Do Spanish adjectives really have a plural form? Do Spanish speakers really say things like 'reds,' 'bigs,' and 'littles?' Find out in this lesson on adjective agreement and placement.

Descriptive Adjectives

Do Spanish adjectives really have a plural form? Do Spanish speakers really say things like 'reds,' 'bigs,' and 'littles?' Sure they do! But in their minds, it doesn't sound funny because all they're really doing is following a grammar rule that you are about to learn.

So, what is a descriptive adjective, anyway? It's a word that describes a noun - a person, place, or thing, of course. Descriptive adjectives are used to talk about the characteristics of both nouns and pronouns, and they include things like personality, appearance, color, size, etc.

In English, we don't change adjectives to 'agree' with the words they're describing. Nice is nice. 'Mateo is nice' is a fine sentence. We don't have to do anything to the word 'nice' for it to be grammatically correct. Spanish, however, is different. In Spanish, 'nice' has to agree in number and gender with the noun being modified, which means that adjectives have four forms: masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural.

Adjective Agreement: Gender

Let's talk about gender first. Adjectives that end in -o by dictionary definition will remain the same to describe a single masculine noun, but will change to an -a to describe a singular feminine noun. For example, let's say 'the boy is tall.' El chico means the boy. Alto means tall. Alto is masculine, so we don't have to change it: El chico es alto. Alto agrees with chico. Muy bien!

Now, let's say 'the girl is tall.' La chica is the girl. It's feminine singular, so we can't use alto. We have to change alto to alta to agree with chica. So, our sentence is: La chica es alta.

Now, what if the adjective doesn't end in -o? Well, then we don't have to change it to a feminine form! Difícil does not change to a feminine form. Inteligente does not change, either. Why? Difícil ends in -l and inteligente ends in -e. Since neither ends in -o, they're automatically both masculine and feminine - no change needed!

La clase es difícil means the class is difficult or hard.

Marisa es inteligente means Marissa is intelligent.

Of course, there's always a 'weirdo' rule: Adjectives that end in -or are different. The good thing is that there aren't many of them - yay! The original -or ending is the masculine singular form. For the feminine singular, however, you add an -a to the end. Let's use the word trabajador (or hard-working) as an example:

El chico es trabajador. = The boy is hard-working.

La chica es trabajadora. = The girl is hard-working.

Adjective Agreement: Number

Up to this point, all of our examples have been singular, but what about plural nouns? What do we do with them? Their adjectives have to agree, too. Well, we make them plural, which means we add either -s or -es to the end. Let's do a few together:

'The boys are tall.' How do we say the boys? Los chicos. What's the word for tall when we look it up in the dictionary? Alto. Who are we describing? Los chicos. Is los chicos masculine? Yes. Is it plural? Yes. So, we need the masculine plural form of alto. What is it? Altos. So our sentence is: Los chicos son altos. We have los. We have chicos. We have altos.

For all you science people out there, I want you to think of a chemical equation, and I want you to balance it. Los chicos and alto are not balanced. So we add an -s, and voilá! Los chicos son altos. A balanced equation, Spanish-style.

Another one! 'The girls are tall.' How do we say the girls? Las chicas. How do we say tall? Alto. Who are we describing? Las chicas. Is las chicas feminine? Yes, so we change the alto to alta. But, it still doesn't match, does it? Nope - because it's plural. So we add an -s. Las chicas son altas. Yay! Equilibrium.

So, what do we know now? Did you see how alto has four forms?

alto | altos

alta | altas

alto - masculine singular

alta - feminine singular

altos - masculine plural

altas - feminine plural

Let's do another -o adjective this way. What are the four forms of rojo (red)?

rojo | rojos

roja | rojas

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