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Primero mi pregunta en español:
Cuando se utiliza con el significado de la palabra inglesa "such", ¿hay alguna cosa que dicte si se debería usar "tal" o si se debería usar "tan"?

Details in English:

I have noticed that both "tal" and "tan" are sometimes translated as "such" and that WordReference, and presumably other dictionaries, list "such" as one of the translations for both.

So that you don't have to take my word for it, I've inserted an image below:

Source: WordReference entry for tal and tan

To paint a more precise picture of what I am getting at, here are some example sentences (mainly from Reverso):

Examples with "tal":

Sin embargo, tal comportamiento no puede ayudar a la situación.
(However, such behavior may not help the situation.)

Nunca antes los científicos habían sido puesto ante tal presión y demanda.
(Never had scientists been put under such pressure and demand.)

No pensé que permitieran tal crueldad.
(I didn't think you'd permit such cruelty.)

And now examples with "tan":

Mi gato tiene tan verdes sus ojos.
(My cat has such green eyes.)

Las palabras parecen tan vacías para expresar un sentimiento tan fuerte.
(Words seem so empty to express such a strong feeling.)

First of all, I know example sentences at Reverso aren't always flawless, so if you see any that need correction, feel free to point that out.

My bigger question is this:

Used to mean "such," are "tal" and "tan" interchangeable?


Detalles en español:

He visto que tanto "tal" como "tan" a veces se traducen como "such" y que WordReference, y presumiblemente otros diccionarios, enumera "such" como una de las traducciones para ambas.

Para que no tengan que fiarse de mi palabra, he insertado una imagen. (Véase la imagen arriba.)

Para dar una idea más precisa de lo que quiero decir, aquí están algunas oraciones de ejemplo (la mayoría de ellas de Reverso). (Véase las oraciones arriba.)

Antes que nada, sé que las oraciones de ejemplo de Reverso no siempre son impecables, así que si ven que algunas necesitan corrección, siéntanse libres de señalarlas.

Mi pregunta más grande, sin embargo, es ésta:

Cuando se utilizan con el significado de "such", ¿son "tal" y "tan" intercambiables?


Thanks in advance for any insight you may have on this topic.
(Gracias de antemano por cualquier idea que puedan tener en este tema.)

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They are not interchangable. Tal is an adjective, tan an adverb. Adjectives modify nouns or other adjectives, while adverbs are a larger class of words that either similarly modify verbs or other adverbs, or they modify the relation of one phrase to the sentence.

Looking at the examples, the last two for talking more clearly marked the difference than the first. Clearly tal is acting like a phrasal adverb, like other such words such as "yet", "but" etc.

Tan is always acting in the normal word-modifying way.

  • I'm going to give you the green checkmark b/c your answer made me realize a fundamental difference between these two words. dockeryZ's answer was really quite good & amplifies beyond part of speech designation how each is used in practice. But, w/this particular question, that proverbial "light of understanding" didn't kick off until you pointed out that one is an adj. & the other an adv. dockeryZ's answer helped me understand why it appeared to be an adj, when, in fact, it was not. Wish I could give you both the green checkmark. – Lisa Beck Dec 18 '16 at 22:49
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Such vs As/So

In your examples, "tan" is being used as a convenient translation for the "such" in the source sentence.

"Tan" is followed by an adjective (so rich)

  • tan guapo

  • tan lindo

  • tan rico

  • tan verde

"Tal" is followed by a noun clause (such a disaster)

  • tal escuela

  • tal belleza

  • tal edificio grande

  • tal desastre

The literal (and ungrammatical) translation for one of your example sentences would be this.

Mi gato tiene tan verdes sus ojos.

My cat has eyes so green.

To say "such green eyes"

Mi gato tiene tales ojos verdes.

But that is not a proper way to say that, you're better off using the "tan" version.

"Tal" can also be used to serve as a reference to something you're describing. For instance, if you were to translate "That is an expensive car. I would like to have such a car."

Ese es un coche caro. Me gustaría tener tal coche.

So that "such green eyes" example I used above would mean that you are referring to the eyes as such.

  • 1
    An alternative for tal when followed by a noun is semejante. Your car example doesn't sound too natural to me; I'd probably say Ese es un coche caro. Me gustaría tener semejante coche instead. I can't put my finger on why I'd prefer one over the other or what difference it makes though. – Yay Oct 15 '16 at 10:48
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Tal is an adjective, used to describe a noun.

Tan is an adverb, usually used to describe an adjective (but it could describe an adverb, too).

Used to mean "such," "tal" and "tan" are not interchangeable. What we have here is a situation where two completely different words in Spanish map to one word in English. This can happen. Languages aren't always one to one.

To help you see what's going on, let's compare what happens when you go from singular to plural.

Example 1 (tal/tales describes caso/casos):

En tal caso, es recomendable esperar tres días. (such a case)

En tales casos, es recomendable esperar tres días. (such cases)

Example 2 (tan modifies difícil/difíciles)

En un caso tan difícil, es recomendable consultar a un abogado. (such a difficult case, i.e. a case that is so difficult)

En casos tan difíciles, es recomendable consultar a un abogado. (such difficult cases, i.e. cases that are so difficult)

The associated questions would be:

For Example 1: In which case?

For Example 2: How difficult is the case?


You requested comments about the examples taken from Reverso. I will give brief corrections, but if you'd like a fuller explanation of one of these corrections, I will suggest you write a new question.

Comment 1:

Sin embargo, tal comportamiento no puede ayudar a la situación.

First, "a" doesn't work here. More idiomatic: ayudar en esta situación.

Second, "may not help" is incorrect. "No puede ayudar" actually means "can't help." (Note, "may not help" is equivalent to "might not help.")

Comment 2:

Never had scientists been put under such pressure and demand.

In this case, I'll hazard a guess that the author started with the English and then tried to translate it to Spanish. I will start fresh, but first, I will remove the part at the end ("and demand"), because the combination "pressure and demand" makes for a weird sentence in English. (Scientists are under pressure but in demand.) Now, the revised sentence, and its translation:

Never had scientists been put under such pressure.

Los científicos nunca habían sentido tal presión.

Comment 3:

My cat has such green eyes.

This is a little weird, since generally speaking a cat's eyes are either green or their not. For pedagogical purposes, I think it would be better to work with some quality that could be quantified and compared.

My cat has such long whiskers.

Following the approach taken by Reverso, this would be

Mi gato tiene tan largos sus bigotes.

This is understandable but not idiomatic. It should be

Mi gato tiene los bigotes tan largos.

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