Turning Adjectives Into Nouns

Nearly All Adjectives Can Function as Other Part of Speech

Red strawberries.
Había muchas fresas. Compré las más frescas. (There were many strawberries. I bought the freshest ones.). Paul Stein/Creative Commons.

In Spanish, almost any descriptive adjective (and a few others) can be used to function as a noun by preceding it with a definite article such as el or las.

Typically, adjectives made into nouns are the equivalent of the English "____ one" or "____ person" as in the following examples:

  • azul (blue), el azul, la azul (the blue one)
  • pobre (poor), los pobres (the poor people)
  • nuevo (new), el nuevo, la nueva (the new one)
  • mexicano (Mexican), el mexicano, la mexicana (the Mexican)

The gender and number will depend on what's being referred to:

  • ¿Qué casa prefieres? —La blanca. ("Which house do you prefer?" "The white one.")
  • Había muchas fresas. Compré las más frescas. (There were many strawberries. I bought the freshest ones.)
  • Había muchos plátanos. Compré los más frescos. (There were many bananas. I bought the freshest ones.)

Sometimes, nouns made from adjectives take on meanings of their own, at least in certain contexts. The definitions below aren't the only ones possible:

  • roto (torn), el roto (the tear)
  • mal (bad), el mal (evil, wrongful act, sickness)
  • perdido (lost), el perdido, la perdida (the reprobate, the lost soul)
  • decolorante (causing something to lose its color), el decolorante (bleach)
  • semejante (similar), los semejantes (fellow human beings)

The adjective-turned-noun is in the neuter gender when the adjective is turned into an abstract noun or when the adjective-turned-noun is not referring to a specific person or thing.

The singular neuter definite article is lo; in plural, the neuter is the same form as the masculine, with a definite article of los. Such neuter nouns are translated in a variety of ways, depending on the context:

  • Fuera lo viejo, venga lo nuevo. (Out with the old, in with the new.)
  • Lo importante es que tenemos la oportunidad. (The important thing is that we have the opportunity.)
  • Los interesantes son los intangibles. (What are interesting are the intangibles. Here, the English seemed less awkward when the first phrase was translated as an adjective.)
  • Te regalo lo tuyo. (I am giving you what's yours.)

Sample Sentences

Los ricos no piden permiso. (The rich don't ask for permission. The sentence is the name of a former Argentine television show.)

Uno de los cánceres más comunes en los hombres es el cáncer de próstata. Los agresivos pueden requerir cirugías.< (One of the most common cancers in men is prostate cancer. The aggressive ones can require surgery.)

Dos tercios de los analfabetos del mundo son mujeres. (Two-thirds of the world's illiterate are women.)

Los baratos cuestan 6 euros. (The cheap ones cost 6 euros.)

No todas las bellas pueden ser modelos. (Not all beautiful women can be models. Depending on the context, this also could refer to girls. If bellos had been used, it could have referred to men only or to both men and women.)

Los sacerdotes católicos romanos no son los únicos que pueden hacer exorcismos. (Roman Catholic priests aren't the only ones who can do exorcisms.)

Los fritos fueron el artículo comprado con mayor frecuencia. (The fried ones were the article most often purchased.)

Los enfermos andaban por las calles. (The sick people walked through the streets.)

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Turning Adjectives Into Nouns." ThoughtCo, May. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/turning-adjectives-into-nouns-3079258. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, May 9). Turning Adjectives Into Nouns. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/turning-adjectives-into-nouns-3079258 Erichsen, Gerald. "Turning Adjectives Into Nouns." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/turning-adjectives-into-nouns-3079258 (accessed January 19, 2018).