As the name suggests, adjectives of nationality tell what country a person, food, product, etc. comes from. Like almost all Spanish adjectives, adjectives of nationality follow and complement the noun they modify. Observe:
las muchachas americanas
the American girls
It would not make sense in English to say “The girls Americans,” because English is a different system–our adjectives come before our nouns, and the adjectives have only one form regardless of gender or whether the noun is masculine or feminine. In the same way, it would not make sense in Spanish to say “Las americano muchachas.”
Here is a quick list to get you started on adjectives of nationality, followed by rules:
español Spanish (from Spain), Spaniard
panameño Panamanian (from Panama)
puertorriqueño Puerto Rican
Notice that adjectives of nationality may also be used as nouns:
la cubana the Cuban girl/woman
el italiano the Italian boy/man
los panameños the people of Panama
Notice, too, that Spanish adjectives of nationality are NOT capitalized. Capitalization rules vary from language to language (in German, for example, all nouns are capitalized!)–and so students must be aware of their own “mother tongue interference,” the tendency to expect their second language to use all the same rules as their native language!
Adjectives of Nationality ending in -o
Many adjectives of nationality end in -o and have the same four forms as other adjectives ending in -o: masculine and feminine forms in the singular and plural. Observe:
el autor mexicano los costumbres mexicanos
la cultura mexicana las familias mexicanas
Adjectives of Nationality ending in consonants
Other adjectives of nationality end in consonants. Unlike other adjectives that end in consonants, adjectives of nationality have four forms, not two:
el autor español los costumbres españoles
la cultura española las familias españolas
Adjectives of nationality that end in -s or -n are spelled with a written accent mark in the masculine singular:
el autor alemán los costumbres alemanes
la cultura alemana las familias alemanas
Americans in particular have a tendency to lump all Spanish speakers as “Spanish people.” This term is inaccurate (a person from Spain is a Spaniard), and it makes English speakers appear ignorant. Students must be aware that at least 18 countries on three continents list Spanish (called Castillian or castellano in many countries) as a primary language, and must be able to recognize that there are differences between Dominicans and Venezuelans, between Argentinians and Costa Ricans. In addition, many Spanish speakers find the term Hispanic offensive–while many prefer the term Latino (referring to Latin America), some are offended by any term other than a specific adjective of nationality. Many Latin Americans refer to themselves collectively as la raza (literally the race) as an expression of pride and solidiarity; the term is not often used by outsiders!
Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the adjective in parentheses. For extra credit, translate the exercise.
–Teresita, tú eres __________________ , ¿verdad? (dominicano)
–No, soy una mezcla. Mi papá es ____________________ y ____________________, y mami es pura ____________________. (puertorriqueño, cubano, hondureño)
–Mis abuelos también son ____________________. (hondureño)
–¿Sí? ¿Los padres de tu papá?
–Sí, y mi mamá es una mezcla como tú. Ella es __________________ y ____________________ por el lado de abuelito, y su mamá es ____________________. Mis abuelos se conocieron de vacaciones en Colombia. (alemán, argentino, venezolano)
–Qué familias tenemos–¡viva la raza!
Answers (by sentence):
puertorriqueño, cubano, hondureña
alemana, argentina, venezolana
–Teresita, you’re Dominican, right?
–No, I’m mixed. My father is Puerto Rican and Cuban, and mom is completely Honduran.
–My grandparents are Honduran, too.
–Oh yeah? Your dad’s parents?
–Yes, and my mom’s mixed like you. She is German and Argentinian on Grandpop’s side, and her mother is Venezuelan. My grandparents met on vacation in Columbia.
–What families we have–viva la raza! *
*I would leave this phrase in Spanish, because it really isn’t used in other languages. It would translate as, “Long live the race!” but the meaning is closer to, “Hooray for Latinos!” or “Latino power!”