Using Adjectives as Nouns in Spanish

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

This lesson displays the structure you need to know in order to turn a Spanish adjective into a noun. Examples of such adjectives include but are not limited to ''nuevo'' (new), ''rojo'' (red), ''joven'' (young), etc.

How Does This Happen?

An adjective is a word that describes a noun, whether this is a person, animal, or thing. For example, in 'a patient mother', 'a cute dog,' and 'a big house', 'patient', 'cute', and 'big' are adjectives describing different nouns. You may wonder how an adjective can become a noun! It is like a chameleon: it changes its color and the adjective changes its function.

Think about a 'great' person you know and 'great' is an adjective. Now, think about 'Alexander, The Great' and it turns out that 'great' is a noun. This historical character has 'great' as a noun since it is part of his name.

Now, to turn a Spanish adjective into a noun, there is a very simple formula you need.

Formula for Adjectives into Nouns

In Spanish, when an adjective becomes a noun it simply has an article in front. The article can be any of these:

  1. el: 'the' masculine, singular.
  2. la: 'the' feminine, singular.
  3. los: 'the' masculine, plural.
  4. las: 'the' feminine, plural.

In short, the formula you need is: article + Spanish adjective.

The noun (person, animal, or thing) you refer to is what determines the article choice and the respective adjective (which becomes a noun once it has an article in front) changes to masculine/feminine or singular/plural accordingly.

The English meaning of a Spanish adjective, once it becomes a noun, is 'the _ one', which means it replaces the noun that was mentioned before.

For example, let's take a look at this sentence:

  • Me gusta la lámpara azul. (I like the blue lamp)

Now, let's get rid of the noun lámpara and let's use the adjective azul as a noun:

  • Me gusta la azul. (I like the blue one)

Naturally, the word azul as a noun works out well to communicate because we previously know that lámpara is what the person refers to at first.

Here we have a few more examples with each article:

Adjective Function Meaning Adjective as Noun Meaning
El auto rojo es grande. The red car is big. El rojo es grande. The red one is big.
La casa grande es de mi amigo. The big house is my friend's. La grande es de mi amigo. The big one is my friend's.
Los sofás grandes son funcionales. The big sofas are functional. Los grandes son funcionales. The big ones are functional.
Las niñas atléticas son saludables. The athletic girls are healthy. Las atléticas son saludables. The athletic ones are healthy.

Just as in English, you would have to mention the noun you refer to once so that others know what you refer to when you use an adjective as a noun. Here are some examples that illustrate this:

  • Hay dos vestidos en el clóset y yo quiero el negro. (There are two dresses in the closet and I want the black one)
  • La mesa pequeña es bonita. Sin embargo, la pequeña no me sirve. (The small table is nice. However, the small one doesn't work for me)
  • Hay muchos tipos de chocolates rellenos en la caja pero yo prefiero los rellenos de nuez. (There are many types of assorted chocolates but I prefer the ones assorted with nuts)
  • Las medias blancas son apropiadas. El problema es que las blancas están sucias. (The white socks are appropriate. The problem is the white ones are dirty.)

There are three vases. I prefer the purple one.

Some descriptive adjectives (such as tall, short, fat, etc.) are often used in Spanish to specify a person. The formula is the same as above, so you would just add el, la, los, or las.

  • La guapa es mi esposa. (The pretty one is my wife)
  • El delgado es el empleado nuevo. (The thin one is the new employee)

Similarly, some descriptive adjectives are often used as nouns to simply refer to people of certain characteristics:

  • el joven or la joven (a young person)
  • el anciano or la anciana (an old person)
  • el pequeño or la pequeña (a little boy or girl)

The little (girl) plays in the park.

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