When describing someone or something in Spanish, the adjective *almost always* comes after the noun. The important phrase to remember here is almost always - as with many rules in Spanish, there are a few exceptions. This article will discuss those few anomalies and identify adjectives that can be placed before the noun they modify.
When describing the qualities of someone or something we admire, the adjective oftentimes comes before the noun it modifies. When translating into English, you can think of it as adding "really" before an adjective.
Es un buen profesor. → He is a (really) good professor.
Es un bonito día. → It's a (very) beautiful day.
Es una gran mujer. → She is an amazing woman.
To add a poetic undertone or an extra sense of emotion, adjectives can be put before the noun they modify. This style is mostly found in literature, however you may also hear it when someone is trying convey their emotions towards someone or something.
La blanca nieve → The white snow.
Una mala noticia. → Terrible news.
Los dulces sueños. → The sweet dreams.
La hermosa vista. → The beautiful view.
There are several adjectives that, when placed either before or after the noun, change the meaning. You will notice that with adjectives placed before the noun, the adjective becomes more subjective. When placed after the noun it becomes more objective. Here are some of the most common meaning-changing adjectives.
Mi vieja amiga. → My old friend. (that I have known for a long time)
Mi amiga vieja. → My elderly friend. (age)
Una gran idea. → A great idea.
Una idea grande. → A big idea. (large size)
La nueva casa. → The newly purchased/acquired house.
La casa nueva. → The newly built house.
Ese pobre hombre. → This poor/pitiful man. (emotion)
Ese hombre pobre. → This poor man. (money)
Un solo perro. → Only one dog.
Un perro solo. → A lonely dog.
El único niño. → The only child.
El niño único. → The unique child.
Possessive adjectives and determiners always come before the noun.
Hay muchos carros. → There are many cars.
Este libro es muy interesante. → This book is really interesting
Aquel día hacía mucho frío. → That day was really cold.
Dos personas están caminando en el parque. → Two people are walking in the park.
Now that you have a better idea of some of the exceptions to adjective placement in Spanish, you will be able to notice it more when listening to native speakers. As you become more fluent, you will also begin to play with adjective placement to add emphasis to your descriptions!