In Spanish, modifiers come after the example being modified. For example:

Dos copas de vino tinto.
Two glasses of red wine.

Cuando él era un hombre rico
When he was a rich man

Él siempre fue un estudiante muy bueno
He always was a very good student.

But here are two examples where the modifier comes before the item:

Pablo es bien vestido 
Pablo is a good dresser

Sí, está bastante lejos.
Yes, it is quite far.

Why is that? Is there a rule to know when to put the modifier before or after the item?

  • 2
    I think this will be a long complicated answer. You are mixing adjectives and adverbs. While someone finds the time to write you should do some reading about those two concepts.
    – DGaleano
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 19:35
  • 2
    @DGaleano in effect, you've answered it right there. Adverbial modifiers go in front of the adjectives or adverb they modify, adjectives and relative clauses that modify generally go after the nouns they apply to. I believe we already have a question or two on here on adjective placement (relatives must go after) Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


When it comes to adjectives, I think the general rules are those:

  • If the adjective can both be interpreted in a qualitative or quantitative way, it comes before when the meaning is qualitative and after when it's quantitative:

Es un gran delantero.


Es un delantero grande.

  • When the adjective meaning is only qualitative, I think you can put it before or after with no alteration in the meaning:

Es un mal padre.
Es un padre malo.


Un brillante científico.
Un científico brillante.

  • When the adjective qualifies a physical property of an object or is quantitative, I think it almost have to go after:

Echar sobre el aceite frío.
Hace falta un equipo potente para mover ese juego.

There are several cases when the adjective must be put before, like 'bien vestido' or 'bien parecido'.

In poetry and literature, is really common to alter this rule and put the adjective before: f.i. check this Antonio Machado poem.

When it comes to adverbs, it is much more complicated I'm afraid. I think you should set up another question to ask specifically for adverb rules (I did stick to adjectives since the majority of examples you provided in the questions where adjectives).

Disclaimer: I'm just an Spanish average guy, not a linguist, there possibly are specific rules on this subject I'm not aware of.

  • Regarding your example of "Es un mal padre" / "Es un padre malo", I've been told that placing the adjective before the noun can indicate a greater degree, like in English you might say "He's a really bad father". That may even by why a poem would be more likely to use that form.
    – Wake
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 0:57
  • In this case in particular, 'es un mal padre' is more commonly used than 'es un padre malo' and doesn't indicate a greater degree. Put the adjective before could maybe indicate a greater degree in some few cases, but not in this.
    – Sergeon
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 10:13
  • 1
    Good answer. I want to add....Being "un mal padre" definitely means being bad at parenthood. Being "un padre malo" could mean exactly the same but could also mean that he is a father and he is bad, mean, unkind, cruel or something similar.
    – DGaleano
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 13:51
  • @Sergeon, bien is an adverb in expressions like bien vestido, not an adjective.
    – Jdamian
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 8:04

This can be quite confusing for a non-native speaker to grasp, believe me, I am one. As it turns out, from what I've learned in my years of practicing the language, putting the adjective before the verb adds an endearing/abstract modification to the word.

How abstract, you say? Let's take a look at some examples:

Ella vive en la casa blanca

This is very straightforward, "the white house", the house that is white in color. So let's switch it around a bit and see what happens

Ella vive en la blanca casa.

In this case, there is a lot of emphasis on the adjective and the word "white" is open to interpretation now. In this case, we can begin to extrapolate and use the different meanings of "white" to describe this house.

Typically, when the word "white" is thrown around, we think of the color immediately (or the absence thereof). Sometimes though, the word is associated with "white" things like: angels, goodness, predominance, blankness, the list could go on in the same way we use the word "blue" to mean sad.

Consider there is a neighborhood of houses and all of them are exclusively made from bricks. Then, one day, a very rich and determined person decides to build his/her white marble house directly in the middle of this neighborhood. Now, to the immediate viewer of the neighborhood, this would just be "la casa blanca" since there isn't any kind of story attached and you are simply looking at the house at face value; it is white.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood looks at this house as if it were alien to them.

Everyone else has a home made of bricks while that white house over there sticks out like a sore thumb.

It may be a complete disgrace to the neighborhood, or it may be the most respected homes of the neighborhood. Regardless, putting the "blanca" in front of "casa" helps communicate this phenomenon.

Think of the difference between The White House, the presidential household, and the white house next to the green house.


El pobre niño quiere un peluche

That sentence is made to make you feel sorrow and pity for the boy. His financial situations are not a part of the sentence.

¡Ayudamos a este pobre perrito!

Let's feel sorry for the dog now. What a pitiful dog it is; you can see it's bones and it only has one tooth. This is such a poor quality puppy. Could things get any worse for this poor puppy?

Now, if we switch things around again and move "pobre" to the end, things get literal.

¡Ayudamos a este perrito pobre!

The puppy is poor, and by poor we mean "doesn't have any money". Let's give him some money. Let's help this puppy pay off his debts!

You can find an article concerning this phenomenon as well as more examples at the address below.


  • Very good examples. +1
    – DGaleano
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 13:35

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