I wonder if I can use a color adjective before a noun, to emphasize it, for instance "un negro gato", or if it's only reserved to poetry?

Do you have some examples where this unusual word order is used, other than a poetry context?


2 Answers 2


There are differences in connotation and meaning depending on whether you use the adjective before or after the noun, and sometimes these differences can be very subtle.

There are several types of adjectives. Some of them need to go after the noun. Some of them could either go before or after, such as, as you mentioned, color -- and here, the meaning could change slightly, to point out an intrinsic characteristic of the noun for rhetoric figures/poetic value.

For color adjectives, given what they are expressing, there is no difference in meaning if they go before or after; the only thing that changes is the rhetorical or poetic value. It is not that this use is "reserved for poetry only," but that there's no change in the meaning, only a subtle appreciation in the quality, which adds that poetic value or feeling.

Note that adverbial adjectives always go before the noun. Adverbial adjectives can describe a temporary or circumstantial quality of the noun, without describing an intrinsic quality.

Una vieja amiga (circumstantial quality of the friend, that describes the relationhip with the speaker)

Una amiga vieja (an intrinsic quality of the specific person)

This usage is definitely not poetic. In this Lingolia page there is a table with some examples about how the adjective can change in meaning when it goes before or after the noun. Some examples taken from that source:

Mi antigua casa vs. Una casa antigua

Una única mujer vs. Una mujer única

Un verdadero problema vs. Una historia verdadera

While these adjectives might describe how the speaker feels or relates to the noun, it use is not poetic. They describe a different quality, and shall they go after the noun, the meaning would change completely.

Also, adjectives that indicate order in a series usually go before the noun.

Su primera novia era rubia.

El segundo capítulo del libro es muy largo

La *última** ciudad que visitamos era muy bonita

I can also recommend the U. of Nebraska resource Adjetivos: ¿antes o después del sustantivo? (in Spanish, but very brief and illustrative). This document, by the way, answers your question by stating that color adjectives are used before the noun only in poetic language.

  • Diego, please roll back my edits if they are not to your liking. // About your answer -- it was an interesting post! But rather a round-about way of answering a pretty specific question. To tell you the truth I think you should remove the first 90% and move it to a new, hopefully canonical Q-A! Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 4:35

http://udep.edu.pe/castellanoactual/el-orden-de-colocacion-de-los-adjetivos/ lo explica bastante bien.

Cuando sentimos que en la valoración se mezcla lo descriptivo, como hablantes tenderemos a la posposición, ya que los adjetivos que usamos en las descripciones aparecen frecuentemente pospuestos. Este orden sustantivo + adjetivo favorece al análisis de los distintos rasgos de contenido del sustantivo: chompa amarilla, mujer ojerosa, niña sonriente, etc.; es decir, este orden nos permite restringir el significado del sustantivo, pues marcamos la cualidad (amarilla, ojerosa y sonriente) a un determinado sustantivo (chompa, mujer y niña); así, cuando decimos Alcánzame mi chompa amarilla, no queremos que nos alcancen cualquier chompa, sino que estamos «especificando» cuál es la que queremos. En cambio, en el orden adjetivo + sustantivo se atribuye al sustantivo una cualidad completamente inherente: blanca nieve, verde prado, duro mármol, roja sangre, etc., o totalmente valorativa: amarga ilusión, encendida pasión, negro corazón, etc.

What this quote is saying is that when we do the unusual, and put the adjective first, we attribute an inherent quality of adjective-ness to the noun, for example:

  • blanca nieve: snow that is inherently, by definition, white, in its very nature

  • verde prado: green lawn -- a lawn that exists to be green

  • duro mármol: hard marble -- to see what's going in here, think about describing something as being marble hard

  • roja sangre: same as for the marble -- think of something that is blood red

What is especially interesting about this is that in English, to get a similar effect, the color or other definitive adjective gets its position switched too. Normally we talk about red blood -- but to change one's point of view, one switches the order, to blood red -- for example, the protagonist of a fairy tale might have blood red lips.

  • Mi consejo para esta contribución es hacer un edit. Primero quitar ese "Blockquote" con el que empieza la cita. Luego, posiblemente, separarla en párrafos y usar negrita para resaltar lo más importante. Así se lo pondrás más fácil a la gente para entender lo que quieres explicar y los usuarios responderán con upvotes para apoyar la validez de tu contribución. Creo que tus contribuciones en el stack están siendo muy buenas, pero si mejorases un poco la presentación, facilitarías que los usuarios entendiesen mejor lo que explicas.
    – Diego
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 14:47
  • 2
    no separo en párrafos porque no lo he escrito yo, está sacado del enlace, así que copio/referencio tal cual
    – Iria
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 14:49
  • I wanted to translate the key idea from the quote, and next thing I knew, I had gotten carried away and added some thoughts of my own. Iria, please undo any or all of my edits that don't fit with your conception. Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 8:28

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