22 Vocabulario: descripciones

Descriptive adjectives

When we describe people, places or things (nouns), we use descriptive words such as “tall” or “slow” (adjectives) to do so. For example, we could say “Mary is tall” or “the car is slow”. The previous sentences use the verb “to be” to make the connection between the noun and the adjective. We could also use the noun and adjective immediately together in phrases such as “’the tall girl” and “the slow car”. In Spanish, the equivalent adjectives need to agree with the noun they describe in gender (masculine / feminine) and in number (singular / plural). Let’s look at these examples:

Mary es alta. Mary is tall.
La chica alta es mi amiga. The tall girl is my friend.
El carro es lento. The car is slow.
No me gusta el carro lento. I don’t like the slow car.

The adjective “alta” ends in an “a” because in both cases it describes a female: Mary and “la chica”. The adjective “lento” ends in an “o” because it describes “carro”, and nouns ending in “o” are masculine. We say that the adjectives in these cases agree in gender with the noun they describe.

Adjectives must also agree with the noun in number. Let’s pluralize the sentence “Mary es alta” by adding her tall sister, and let’s say that I don’t like slow cars in general:

Mary y su hermana son altas. Mary and her sister are tall.
No me gustan los carros lentos. I don’t like slow cars.

In the case of Mary and her sister, the adjective “alta” is pluralized by adding “s” because there are two girls. As is done in English, the noun “carro” is pluralized by adding “s”, but so is the adjective “lento”. Both adjectives “altas” and “lentos” agree in number because they are pluralized to match the plural nouns.

OJO: Did you notice that the adjectives “alta” and “lento” follow the nouns “chica” and “carro”?

La chica alta es mi amiga. The tall girl is my friend.
No me gusta el carro lento. I don’t like the slow car.

The adjective-noun word order that we’re used to English (for example, the “White House”) needs to be reversed in Spanish so that we say the equivalent of “house white” (casa blanca).

Let’s look at four points to keep in mind when adjectives describe nouns:

1. Adjectives that end in “o” will change so that they agree in gender (o-a) and number (os-as) with the noun they describe.

Javier es un niño simpático. Javier is a nice boy.
Julia es una niña simpática. Julia is a nice girl.
Javier y Julia son niños simpáticos. Javier and Julia are nice kids.
Julia y Ana son niñas simpáticas. Julia and Ana are nice girls.

OJO: when there are both males and females in a group, the masculine form is used.

2. Adjectives that end in “e” and “-ista”, or a consonant, do not agree in gender, only in number—just add “s” to the vowels “e / a” and “es” to the consonant.

La solución simple The simple solution
Las soluciones simples The simple solutions
Un estudiante idealista An idealistic student (m)
Unos estudiantes idealistas Some idealistic students
La clase fácil. The easy class
Las clases fáciles The easy classes

3. While descriptive adjectives do follow the noun they modify, adjectives expressing quantity precede the noun (muchos / poca / tres in the following examples):

Hay muchos libros en la mesa. There are a lot of books on the table.
Muy poca gente trabaja aquí. Very few people work here.
Juan estudia con tres amigos. Juan studies with three friends.

4. The adjectives “bueno / malo / grande” can all appear either before or after the noun they describe. Before a masculine singular noun, the “o” drops off from “bueno / malo” and “grande” shortens to “gran”:

Giovani es un estudiante bueno. Giovani is a good student.
Giovani es un buen estudiante. Giovani is a good student.
Luís es mi amigo grande. Luís is my big friend.

OJO: notice the change in meaning when “gran” appears before the noun:

Luís es un gran amigo. Luís is a great friend.

Adjetivos descriptivos (descriptive adjectives)

adjetivo adjective adjetivo adjective
aburrido/a boring interesante interesting
alegre happy, lively joven young
alto/a tall justo/a fair
bajo/a short lento/a slow
barato/a cheap lindo/a cute
bonito/a pretty loco/a crazy
bueno/a good malo/a bad
caro/a expensive moreno/a dark complexion
complicado/a complicated mucho/a a lot, much, many
débil weak nuevo/a new
delgado/a thin pelirrojo/a red-headed
difícil difficult, hard pequeño/a small
divertido/a fun pobre poor
dulce sweet poco/a few
duro/a hard rápido/a quick, fast
fácil easy rico/a rich
feliz happy rubio/a blond
feo/a ugly simpático/a nice, kind
fuerte strong simple simple
gordo/a fat tonto/a silly, foolish
grande big, large trabajador/a hard-working
guapo/a handsome / beautiful tranquilo/a calm, peaceful
injusto/a unfair triste sad
inteligente intelligent viejo/a old

OJO: brown-haired or brunette is commonly expressed by with “tiene pelo café” (s/he has brown hair) and dark-haired with “tiene pelo negro” (s/he has dark hair).


Nationalities used as adjectives follow similar rules of agreement in gender and number as seen with descriptive adjectives. A few extra notes to keep in mind:

  • Add “a” to make the nationality feminine if it ends in a consonant.
  • The written accent for the masculine singular form is not used for the feminine or plural forms.
  • Unlike in English, nationalities are not capitalized.
Mi amigo es inglés. My friend is English.
Mi amiga es inglesa. My friend is English.
Mis amigos son ingleses. My friends are English.

OJO: Nationalities can also be used with definite articles to function as nouns:

Los brasileños hablan portugués. Brazilians speak Portuguese.
El francés es un idioma lindo. French is a pretty language.

Países y nacionalidades (countries and nationalities)

País nacionalidad en inglés
Alemania alemán / alemana German
la Argentina argentino/a Argentine
Australia australiano/a Australian
Bolivia boliviano/a Bolivian
Brasil brasileño/a Brazilian
Canadá canadiense Canadian
Chile chileno/a Chilean
la China chino/a Chinese
Colombia colombiano/a Colombian
Costa Rica costarricense Costa Rican
Cuba cubano/a Cuban
Dinamarca danés / danesa Danish
el Ecuador ecuatoriano/a Ecuadoran
Egipto egipcio/a Egyptian
El Salvador salvadoreño/a Salvadoran
España español/a Spanish
los Estados Unidos estadounidense North American (or from the U.S.)
Francia francés / francesa French
Guatemala guatemalteco/a Guatemalan
Honduras hondureño/a Honduran
la India indio/a Indian
Inglaterra inglés / inglesa English
Irlanda irlandés / irlandesa Irish
Italia italiano/a Italian
Irak iraquí Iraqi
Japón japonés / japonesa Japanese
Kenia keniano/a Kenyan
México mexicano/a Mexican
Nicaragua nicaragüense Nicaraguan
Panamá panameño/a Panamanian
el Paraguay paraguayo/a Paraguayan
el Perú peruano/a Peruvian
Portugal portugués/a Portuguese
Puerto Rico puertorriqueño/a Puerto Rican
la República Dominicana dominicano/a Dominican
Rusia ruso/a Russian
Rumanía rumano/a Rumanian
Suiza suizo/a Swiss
el Uruguay uruguayo/a Uruguayan
Venezuela venezolano/a Venezuelan

OJO: the definite articles “el-la-los-las” are used with certain countries as noted in the chart above; however, their omission is common as well.

¿Cómo se dice…?:

Now you try out some phrases: use the descriptive adjective vocabulary and the nationalities from the charts above to express the following. You may have to review family vocabulary, the verb SER, and regular -ar ending verbs.

Some vocabulary you might need: asiste a = attends; conmigo = with me; universidad = college

  1. My uncle is Russian.
  2. My sisters are blond and my brother is red-headed.
  3. His grandmother is very short.
  4. Her sister attends college.
  5. His aunt and uncle are visiting tomorrow.
  6. Does your grandmother cook well? (talking to fiend)
  7. What does your daughter need?
  8. Where are your parents traveling to?
  9. Who is your brother dancing with?
  10. My cousins Susan and Sarah don’t speak Spanish.


  1. Mi tío es ruso.
  2. Mis hermanas son rubias y mi hermano es pelirrojo.
  3. Su abuela (la abuela de él) es muy baja.
  4. Su hermana asiste a la universidad.
  5. Sus tíos visitan mañana.
  6. ¿Cocina bien tu abuela?
  7. ¿Qué necesita tu hija?
  8. ¿Adónde viajan tus padres?
  9. ¿Con quién baila tu hermano?
  10. Mis primas Susan y Sarah no hablan español.

Grammar Details:

#1 from above: Mi tío es ruso.
Nationalities in Spanish are not capitalized, so “ruso” is with small “r”.

#3 from above: Su abuela (la abuela de él) es baja.
If the context is clear, it’s fine to use “su”; if not, the “la abuela de él” avoids any ambiguity.

#5 from above: Sus tíos visitan mañana.
The plural form “tíos” can mean both aunt and uncle. You could also say “Los tíos de él” to express “his aunt and uncle” and then there is no ambiguity caused by the use of “su” (which could also mean “her” and “your”).

#8 and # 9 from above: ¿Adónde viajan tus padres? / ¿Con quién baila tu hermano?
Prepositions such as “to” and “with” cannot end a question in Spanish—they appear before the question word.

#10 from above: Mis primas Susan y Sarah no hablan español.
The feminine “primas” must be used referring to two females.



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First Year Spanish 1 Copyright © 2019 by Paul Eckhardt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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