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Noun and Adjective Order


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Old July 11, 2012, 11:51 PM
El Gato El Gato is offline
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Noun and Adjective Order

In Spanish do adjectives always follow nouns? Are there exceptions?
Would I call a blue whale "ballena azul" or "azul ballena"?
Also, I've seen some gender variations with animals. Is this universal? If the whale was a male would it be "balleno"?

While I'm at it what is the word order for verbs and adverbs?

I hope these questions are not too simple. I just started trying to learn about a week ago.
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Old July 12, 2012, 02:16 AM
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aleCcowaN aleCcowaN is offline
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A too much wide topic, indeed.

As a general rule, adjectives follow nouns. This is true some 90% of the times. This order is not 100% rigid as Spanish is very flexible in terms of word order as long as you don't scramble clauses.

About your examples, the problem is azul being both a noun and an adjective, so they are read in a noun-adjective order:

ballena azul (a whale that happens to be bluish)
azul ballena (a shade of blue that is somewhat associated with whales)

As you can see, ballena is only a noun, but it can be used as an adjective in certain conditions.

But you change the meaning by adding the article:

La ballena azul (same as ballena azul)
El azul ballena (same as azul ballena)
La azul ballena (almost the same as ballena azul)

Too much hidden in a "simple" case so let's look for other examples:

árboles grandes

this is the "normal" order, because an adjective following the noun is specifying and defining what type it is: big trees as opposed to small ones or mid-size ones.

grandes árboles

this is a less common order, because an adjective preceding the noun is qualifying the whole noun:

Los árboles grandes del parque (the big trees among all the trees in the park)
Los grandes árboles del parque (the trees in the park, that happen to be big as a general rule)

Too complicated? Don't dismay! Even for native speakers is enough to stick to a noun-adjective order and add any additional comment you need to be as specific as you want.
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Old July 12, 2012, 03:13 AM
Don José Don José is offline
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Some animals have always the same gender, other not.

Ballena, antílope, gacela, águila, rata...

Perro/perra, gato/gata, león/leona, cerdo/cerda...

Sometimes they take different names:

Gallo/gallina, caballo/yegua, toro/vaca...
Corrections always very welcome
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Old July 12, 2012, 04:11 AM
El Gato El Gato is offline
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Thank you for your responses.

It is still very complicated to me, but I imagine it will get easier with persistence.
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Old July 12, 2012, 10:29 AM
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wrholt wrholt is offline
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Adding some other observations:

As aleC says, most adjectives normally follow their nouns. Many of them can be placed before their nouns instead, but usually the movement adds an extra nuance. The most-likely nuance depends partly on the particular combination of noun and adjective and partly depends on the larger context.

The most common types of added nuance are:

1. The normal position (after the noun) is a more concrete meaning, while the marked position (before the noun) has a more figurative meaning. The particular figurative meaning is not always predictable. Common examples include:

"el chico pobre" = the poor (penniless) boy
"el pobre chico" = the poor (unfortunate) boy

"el hombre grande" = the large man
"el gran hombre" = the great/important/famous man

2. The normal position (after the noun) usually (though not always) serves to distinguish the particular instance of the noun from others of its class that do not have the characteristic. The marked position (before the noun) is more likely to merely describes an innate characteristic of the noun, rather than distinguish it from other instances. For example:

"la comida rica (de los que sirvió)" = the tasty/rich food/dish (from those that he/she served) [possibly a particular dish among several]
"la rica comida (del restaurante)" = the tasty/rich food/meals (of the restaurant) [all of the food that the restaurant prepares is tasty/rich]
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