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Translation into English

¿Grande o gran? ¿Primero o primer? Apocopations (by AL)

Many students of Spanish don't know very well when to use gran or grande (big, large), primero or primer (first). Grammatically it is said that gran is the apocopation of grande, its shortened version in this way of speaking.

The following adjectives can be apocopated:

- alguno y ninguno (some and none) become algún and ningún

- bueno y malo (good and bad) become buen and mal

- primero, tercero, y postrero (first, third, and last) become primer, tercer, poster

- santo (saint) becomes san

-  grande (big, large) becomes gran (great) [Translator’s Note: the meaning also changes, depending of the placement of this adjective. For example, el hombre grande es un gran hombre: the big man (large size) is a great man (noble or grand).]

We can take as a general rule that normally you can only apocopate when the adjective is in masculine, singular and before the noun. In fact, usually if it can be, then the adjective should be apocopated. Let us see some examples of how they are used and how they cannot be used:

- alguno y ninguno (some and none): hombre alguno or algún hombre, árbol ninguno or ningún árbol. As we are obliged to apocopate, we may not say ninguno árbol.

- bueno y malo (good and bad): un hombre bueno o un buen hombre (a good man); un sueño malo o un mal sueño (a bad dream).

- primero, tercero, y postrero (first, third, and last): el capítulo primero o el primer capítulo (the first chapter), el domingo tercero del mes o el tercer domingo del mes (the third Sunday of the month). There are words that form phrases with their apocopation which denote a concept in and of itself (primer plato – the first course – you can’t say plato primero; Tercer Reich, the Third Reich, not the Reich Tercero; …)

- santo (saint): santo is usually shortened to san with the names of specific saints. Thus, we don’t say Santo José but rather San José. There are some exceptions such as Santo Tomás or Santo Domingo. When santo (saintly) refers to an attribute, it is not apocopated: un varón santo or un santo varón (male saint).

- grande (big): un edificio grande o un gran edificio (a big building). Grande can also be apocopated in the feminine: una gran fiesta (a great party).

Buen, mal, gran, y san (good, bad, great, and saint) should immediately precede the noun: buen caballero, mal pago, gran fiesta, San Antonio, el apóstol San Pedro (a good gentleman, wrong payment, great party, San Antonio, the apostle San Pedro). One could not say: mal, inicuo, inexcusable proceder (bad, iniquitous, inexcusable conduct); gran opíparo banquete (great sumptuous banquet). Other adjectives susceptible to apocopation, however, do allow another adjective in between: algún desagradable contratiempo (some unpleasant mishap), el primer infausto acontecimiento (the first unfortunate occurrence). But when a conjunction follows the adjective, it cannot be shortened: el primero y más importante capítulo (the first and more important chapter).

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