Last month we talked about the gender of nouns and how the articles ‘a’ and ‘the’ and adjectives (describing words) change their endings to match the gender of the nouns.

Now we’ve got those basic principles established we can start looking a bit more closely at adjectives and how they change. This is really very simple. Last lesson we looked at the word for ‘small’, that is ‘pequeño’ and we saw how it changes in four ways – ‘pequeño’, ‘pequeña’, ‘pequeños’, ‘pequeñas’, equivalent to masculine and feminine singular, masculine and feminine plural. The root form which you will find in a dictionary is the masculine singular ‘pequeño’.

All adjectives that end in ‘o’ in their masculine singular form change in exactly the same way. There are thousand of them. Here are a few that we can use to describe people:
alto – tall
bajo – short
gordo – fat
delgado – thin
tímido – shy
simpático – nice
guapo – handsome
feo – ugly
viejo – old

In each case they will have the four changes I have mentioned, so for example:
El hombre guapo – the handsome man
Los hombres guapos – the handsome men
La mujer guapa – the pretty woman
Las mujeres guapas – the pretty women.

Notice that in the case of the word ‘guapo’ we have a different translation in English for male and female: male – handsome (or as my daughters would say – cute), and female – pretty. For most of the other words however the translations would be the same – ‘nice man’, ‘nice woman’ etc.

Exactly the same principle works for adjectives that describe things (remember, things are the same as people in Spanish, with either masculine or feminine gender). For example, we could have the word ‘long’ which is ‘largo’ used to describe an object.

Un palo largo – a long stick
Una cortina larga – a long curtain

In each of these cases, the basic adjective ends in the letter ‘o’. However, adjectives can end in almost any letter – so what do we do with all the others? Let’s look at a few random examples:
azul – blue
grande – big
joven – young
feliz – happy

Adjectives such as those above that do not end in ‘o’ can only change from singular to plural. They cannot make any change to differentiate them between masculine and feminine. Therefore we have:
El libro azul – the blue book
La mesa azul – the blue table
El zapato grande – the big shoe
La camisa grande – the big shirt
El hombre joven – the young man
La mujer joven – the young woman
El niño feliz – the happy boy
La niña feliz – the happy girl

In the plural, these adjectives add ‘s’ or ‘es’ in exactly the same way as nouns do. Here are the same phrases again in the plural:
Los libros azules – the blue books
Las mesas azules – the blue tables
Los zapatos grandes – the big shoes
Las camisas grandes – the big shirts
Los hombres jóvenes – the young men
Las mujeres jóvenes – the young women
Los niños felices – the happy boys.
Las niñas felices – the happy girls.

We can notice two different things here. Firstly look at the adjectives in both sets of phrases and you will see that in each case there are only two possible forms – singular and plural. Secondly, if you compare the two languages in all of these examples, you will see that every single word changes in Spanish (article, noun, adjective), whereas in English we only change one word – the noun – which changes into a plural word.

When we are speaking Spanish in real situations, it is very difficult to get these right, but in the words of Corporal Jones, “Whatever you do – don’t panic!” The Spanish are used to foreigners getting these endings mixed up. For our Anglo-Saxon brains it’s just too much to remember changing all those fiddly endings all the time. Our learning goes in stages, understanding first before we can speak correctly, so your only task at this stage is simply to pay attention to these differences – understand what is going on and notice it as you listen to the Spanish around you, on the radio and television, on “Youtube”, or anywhere else you get the chance to hear it.

Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are now available as e-books at where you can also obtain Jane’s brand new “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.