What is the difference among these three phrases in terms of usage?

  • Una persona buena
  • Una buena persona
  • Es buena persona

For example, why is the adjective switched with the noun in persona buena?

  • Welcome to Spanish Language! This is an interesting question, but maybe you'd want to share with us what you have already researched about it. What do you think is the difference? This way we will be able to help you better. Have fun! – Charlie Nov 2 '16 at 7:19

From La posición del adjetivo:

Normally, in Spanish the adjective is placed after the noun.

la mesa negra

En ciertas ocasiones, sin embargo, puede preceder al sustantivo. Se suele hacer para enfatizar las cualidades del sustantivo. Generalmente, cuando se sitúa el adjetivo delante del sustantivo se suele estar expresando una apreciación subjetiva.

la bonita flor

So Una persona buena and Una buena persona are more or less equivalent, only that the latter tends to express something more subjective (even though in this case both are).

Es buena persona is equivalent and it is just adding a very to the set of words so that it is already a proper sentence.

This is also described in adjetivos antepuestos y pospuestos (I am not translating this one, though):

Así, pues decimos que el adjetivo elige la colocación pospuesta o antepuesta más por razones semánticas que por razones sintácticas. Si bien la posposición es más frecuente en nuestra lengua, la anteposición –excepto cuando provoca cambio de significado– origina matices especiales unidos a la afectividad: “estupendo trabajo”, “maravillosa tarde”; a la visión impresionista de una realidad particular: “sombrías nubes”, “acongojados atardeceres”; o a necesidades rítmicas, estéticas, literarias en general, cuyos ejemplos los encontramos en los textos literarios: “La candente mañana de febrero…” (Borges), “Volverán las oscuras golondrinas…” (Bécquer), “… y al encendido fuego que me quemo…” (Garcilaso de la Vega).

In many cases the adjective can be placed before or after the noun. After the noun is preferred, and it is the most natural way to place an adjective and, in most cases, there is no difference or a very subtle difference.

Los valientes soldados fueron a la guerra. The brave soldiers went to war.

Los soldados valientes fueron a la guerra. The brave soldiers went to war.

In both cases, it could just mean “The soldiers went to war; and the soldiers were brave.” But the second one can also mean “(Only) the soldiers who were brave, went to war.”


In the case of «buen(o/a/s)» there is also a semantic shift.

When used before a noun, it means good (as in skillful), nice. Used after the noun, it implies goodness, kindness.

Él es un buen carpintero. He is a skillful carpenter

Él es un carpintero bueno. He is a kind-hearted carpenter.

Or

Él es una buena persona. He is a nice person. v.g. has good ongoing qualities.

Él es una persona buena. Hi is a kind person. v.g. is a law abiding citizen and charitable fellow.

Or

Éste es un buen vino. This is a good wine (a tasty wine, a high-quality wine).

Éste es un vino bueno. This is a wine that doesn't hit the smaller wines and donate money to charities.

Now, dropping the article between es and buena, there is a subtle difference in intention.

Él es una buena persona. He is a nice person.

Él es buena persona. He is nice.

However you don't normaly say:

*Él es persona buena.


The difference between buen and bueno is only placement. Before a (masculine singular) noun in a noun phrase, you use buen; any other position is bueno.

El carpintero es bueno. The carpenter is skillful.

El vino está bueno. The wine is good.

But

Esta persona es buena. This person is kind-hearted.


Other adjectives that can shift meaning when used before or after the noun:

mal(o):

un mal carpintero - a terrible carpenter

un carpintero malo - a wicked carpenter

  • Could you give examples of when you would use "buena persona" and when "persona buena"? The translation tells me very little, the difference between "kind" and "nice" seems extremely subtle. – michau Nov 2 '16 at 20:03
  • 2
    In «una buena persona» is a nice person in the sense that it has good ongoing qualities, a good fellow, someone nice to be with. In «una persona buena» is a person with kindness and goodness: a good citizen, a charitable fellow. – Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Nov 2 '16 at 20:28
  • Great, thanks! And can Esta persona es buena only refer to the latter meaning? In the case of El carpintero es bueno, I can understand that the meaning "skilled" is much more likely than "kind-hearted". But when speaking of a person, both meanings seem quite likely. – michau Nov 2 '16 at 21:05

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