Nouns in Spanish Grammar

What is a noun in Spanish grammar?

Nouns (los sustantivos) are words that refer to things: el libro, beings: la mujer, and abstract concepts: el amor. Nouns usually appear together with an article or a determiner and they can be replaced by a pronoun. Learn more about the different types of nouns in Spanish grammar with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples.

Noun agreement in Spanish grammar

Gender

In Spanish, nouns have a gender; they can be masculine or feminine. We can often see a noun’s gender in its ending, although this is not a fixed rule. Nouns almost always appear together with an article that agrees with the noun in gender and number.

Examples:
un helado → masculinean ice cream
una galleta → femininea biscuit

Number

Spanish nouns can be singular or plural. In linguistics, this is known as number.

Examples:
un heladosingularone ice cream
dos heladospluraltwo ice creams

Check out our pages on gender and plural forms to learn which nouns have a fixed gender, how feminine nouns are formed and the rules for forming plural nouns according to their endings.

Types of nouns in Spanish grammar

Spanish nouns can be categorised according to the type of thing they refer to.

Common and proper nouns

  • Common nouns refer to people (hermano, abogado), animals (gato, tiburón) and things (cuaderno, felicidad). These nouns are written with a lower case letter.
    Example:
    La hermana de mi compañera de piso se va de vacaciones con su gato en tren.My flatmates’s sister is going on holiday with her cat on the train.
  • Proper nouns refer to specific items and entities. They can be names of people (Jaime), places (Chile), holidays (Navidad), institutions (las Naciones Unidas) etc. Like in English, these nouns are written with a capital letter.
    Example:
    Marisa se va de vacaciones en Navidad a Australia.Marisa is going on holiday to Australia at Christmas.

Common nouns can be countable or uncountable as well as individual or collective. They can also be combined to make compound nouns.

Countable and uncountable nouns

    • Countable nouns have singular and plural forms. They refer to things that can be measured and counted.
      Example:
      —¿Quieres una galleta con el café?Do you want a biscuit with your coffee?
      —Pues sí, una o dos, gracias.Go on then, one or two, thanks.
    • Uncountable nouns usually only have a singular form and refer to substances or materials that cannot be divided into units.
      Example:
      ¿Te apetece leche con el café?Would you like some milk in your coffee?

Read more about countable and uncountable nouns to learn more about their usage.

Individual and collective nouns

  • Individual nouns refer to things that can be counted. They have singular and plural forms.
    Example:
    Todas las personas del público aplaudieron durante minutos.All the people in the audience applauded for several minutes.
  • Collective nouns refer to groups of things. They are only used in the singular.
    Example:
    Todas las personas del público aplaudieron durante minutos.All the people in the audience applauded for several minutes.

Compound nouns

Compound nouns are nouns that are made up of two or more words that take on a new meaning when used together: sacapuntas, parabrisas, portaminas, abrelatas, anteojos, cascanueces, cazafantasmas, ciempiés, cortafuegos, parasol, pisapapeles, posavasos, etc. sharpener, windscreen, mechanical pencil, tin opener, telescope, nut cracker, ghost hunter, centipede, firebreak, parasol, paperweight, coaster Although many of these nouns end in -s, they are singular.

Example:
Un cortafuegos es un camino ancho sin vegetación que impide que un incendio se propague en un campo o monte.A firebreak is a wide path without vegetation that prevents fire from spreading in a field or on a mountain.

Noun phrases

Noun phrases (sintagmas nominales) play different roles in a sentence:

  • The subject (sujeto) of a sentence is always a noun phrase. A subject is never introduced by a preposition; it generally comes at the beginning of the sentence although not always.
Examples:
El arroz con leche está bueno. → subject + verb + attribute The rice pudding is good.
A mí me gusta el arroz con leche. → indirect object + verb + subject I like the rice pudding.
  • An attribute (atributo) is the name given to the object of verbs like ser, estar and parecer. It can be an adjective or a noun. If it is a noun it can be introduced by a preposition.
Examples:
Marta es abogada.Marta is a lawyer.
Marta es de Cádiz.Marta is from Cádiz.
  • The direct object (el complemento directo) is necessary for a verb to convey meaning and make sense.
Example:
Marta come un helado de chocolate y pistacho.Marta is eating a chocolate and pistachio ice cream.
  • Objects preceded by a preposition (complemento de régimen) are also noun phrases.
Example:
Marta no confía en la predicción del tiempo.Marta doesn’t trust the weather forecast.

Words that act as nouns

Other types of words can also act as nouns. When this happens, these words are preceded by an article as if they were typical nouns.

  • The infinitive acts as a noun when it is the subject of a sentence. In this case, we often omit the article.
    Examples:
    El llegar puntual es una virtud. → Llegar puntual es una virtud.Arriving on time is a virtue.
  • When an adjective describes a noun, we can omit the noun and allow the adjective to serve its purpose. Adjectives acting as nouns are always preceded by an article.
    Example:
    El eléctrico es el futuro. → el coche eléctricoElectric cars are the future. → Electric is the future.
  • Adverbs can also serve as nouns when they act as a subject preceded by an article.
    Example:
    El mal es el tema central de la tesis.Evil is the central theme of the thesis.