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I was in the process of creating a memrise course and wanted to include the phrase "was suspenseful." One of the first things I thought of was a movie, but the only instances of it I could find (and they were few at that) were written as follows:

La película fue suspenso.

Shouldn't they have been written like this?

La película fue suspensa

I am guessing that Spanish speakers have other ways of conveying that a movie was suspenseful. What's the best and/or most common way of conveying this?

Also, when Spanish speakers use the word "suspenso," typically what are some of the more common words that word is used with. It clearly doesn't appear to be "película."

After doing a review of this word as it is translated by a couple of online dictionaries (namely Word Reference and Tureng), I recognized that "suspenseful" is not one of the translations listed, but Reverso gives 20 examples of it translated in such a way (in addition to the few I found with "La película fue suspenso.") Below is the link to the Reverso examples:

suspenso

Admittedly, some of the examples among this listing of 20 are "de suspenso" constructions, but not all.

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    La película estuvo llena de suspenso is a more idiomatic wording. Suspenso(a) as an adjective has a meaning more close to suspended. Suspenso as a noun also refers to the movie genre. In that case you would say La película era(es) de suspenso. – Rafael Jun 10 '16 at 21:16
  • Gracias for your contribution, Rafael. As an adjective, then, it should decline for gender, correct? – Lisa Beck Jun 10 '16 at 21:22
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    Yes. But beware: I think most Spanish speakers would prefer suspendida or cancelada rather than suspensa. The last one is very formal, and even sounds old-fashioned in some countries – Rafael Jun 10 '16 at 21:39
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    Please note that suspenso as a noun is used only in the American Spanish. In Spain we use the word suspense, as noted here. We would say la película tuvo mucho suspense. – Charlie Jun 10 '16 at 22:05
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    "Suspensa" is a participio trunco meaning suspended. "Suspendida" is the regular participle. Used as an adjective, both mean "suspended". Used as a noun, "suspenso" means "suspense". Many participios truncos work as a noun: parto, convento, cuento, punto, and pretty much any noun that follows the same pattern. Most participios truncos can't be used in passive sentences, but if they are, they don't work as adjectives, but as participles. In saying "La película fue suspensa", you're saying it was suspended (participle), not suspenseful (adjective). – Yay Jun 11 '16 at 0:06
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Tl;dr: no, it's not correct.

There isn't a perfect one-word translation for "suspenseful". You can use "emocionante" or "intrigante", although those are closer to "exciting" or "thrilling". The translation for "suspenseful" most searching engines offer is "de suspenso"1:

I cover my eyes during the most suspenseful parts of a movie = Durante los momentos de [más] suspenso, me tapo los ojos. – SpanishDict

This is going to be the single least suspenseful meeting of my day. = Esta será mi reunión de menos suspenso de este día – Reverso

An alternative is "con suspenso". "To be suspenseful" can be translated as "tener suspenso", which is probably the most common alternative, or "estar lleno/a de suspenso", which is more emphatic:

It was more suspenseful than I thought. = Tenía más suspenso de lo que pensé – Reverso

The movie was so suspenseful that it had me on the edge of my seat = La película estaba tan llena de suspenso [que] me tenía en ascuas. – SpanishDict

In any case, "suspenso" is a noun, not an adjective. Etymologically, "suspenso" is an adjective inasmuch as it is the participle of "suspender", along with "suspendido". As many other double participles, there was a time "suspenso" was used in passive contructions:

"Y al poco tiempo, por el mes de Agosto, año de 1587, vino por Presidente y Visitador general de esta Real Audiencia el Dr. Manuel de Barros San Millán, el cual le visitó y a los demás que lo habían sido, y en el discurso de su vistía fue suspenso y enviado a España."

Rodríguez Docampo, Diego (1650). Descripción y relación del estado eclesiástico del Obispado de San Francisco de Quito

Nowadays, most double participles have lost that property: the irregular one works as an adjective (which means it can't be used in compound verb tenses or passive constructions) and the regular one works as both an adjective and a participle. Two notable exceptions are "frito" and "impreso", which can be used as participles even though a regular participle exists (freído, imprimido).

Another characteristic of irregular participles is that they may also work as nouns. Some examples are "respuesta" (participle form of "responder"), "tinta" (participle form of "teñir"), "llanto" (participle form of "llorar"), or "producto" (participle form of "producir"). All of these work exclusively as nouns today, although that may not have always been the case:

"[El lenguaje] se halla en la propriedad [sic] de la luz o resplandor o lumbre, que es llamado el Verbo eterno, porque siempre depende el resplandor de la luz que le despide, y siempre está producto."

Pineda, Juan de (1589). Diálogos familiares de la agricultura cristiana

"Suspenso" shares both properties mentioned above: it is an adjective meaning suspended, both in the sense of "cancelled" and "hung"/"hanging"; and it is a noun meaning "suspense". If you say "La película fue suspenso", you're saying "the movie was suspense", which doesn't make any sense. If you say "La película fue suspensa", you're saying it was suspended, although most people would say "la película fue suspendida" in that case because irregular participles aren't used in passive constructions if there is a regular one available (see blocking).

The best way to say "the movie was suspenseful" is:

La película estuvo llena de suspenso.

Finally, "de suspenso" describes the thriller genre, so saying "película de suspenso" wouldn't mean a suspenseful movie but just a thriller. When describing a movie, novel, or any work that could potentially belong in the thriller genre, "lleno/a de suspenso" resolves the ambiguity.


1: "Suspenso" is commonly used throughout Latin America, while "suspense" (pronounced /sus.pen.se/) is preferred in Spain in the sense of "suspense". An exception is the expression "en suspenso" (pending, temporarily cancelled), used on both sides of the pond. The form "en suspense" is incorrect. [DPD]

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  • Wow. What a thorough answer, Yay. Your answer is definitely something worth reading and saving for future study/reference. I really appreciate it. Not to take away from all those who took the time to add to this thread (¡GRACIAS!), but you and @guifa are definitely two of StackExchange's best contributors. – Lisa Beck Jun 13 '16 at 22:49
  • @Lisabeck I'm glad it's been helpful! – Yay Jun 13 '16 at 22:56
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Here in Spain we talk about "películas de suspense", "películas de terror", "películas de acción"... So I believe what you want to say is "La película fue de suspense".

And if you are not talking about the genre (is that corret?) of the movie you can say "La película tuvo mucho suspense".

"It was a suspenseful action movie" could be "Fue una película de acción llena de suspense".

"La película fue suspenso" makes me think that you are talking about a bad movie since "suspenso" is what you get when you don't pass an exam so be careful.

Also "La película fue suspensa" makes me think that you are trying to say "La película fue suspendida", meaning that the movie was not screened for some reason.

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    You are correct, JotaGe. I was not talking about a movie's genre, but how to describe a suspenseful movie in general. Enjoyed your comments/answer. In fact everyone's comment in this thread has added a little something to further understanding of this. Gracias a todos. – Lisa Beck Jun 13 '16 at 22:37

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