Bueno, malo, grande become buen, mal, gran before a noun (apócope)

Most adjectives usually come after a noun but the singular masculine adjectives bueno (good) and malo (bad) have special short forms - buen and mal - which can be used before the noun. Buen and mal can be used in front of masculine singular nouns, but they keep their longer forms "buena" and "mala" when used with feminine singular nouns. They have a slightly stronger meaning when used like this.

See and listen to these examples:

Mi padre es un hombre bueno.My dad is a good man.

Mi padre es un buen hombre.My dad is a good man.

Esta es una buena película.This is a good film.

Aquella fue una mala época.That was a bad era.

He tenido un día malo.I have had a bad day.

He tenido un mal día.I have had a bad day.

Similarly, grande (big), has a short-form gran which can also be used before the noun. Unlike buen and mal, gran can also be used with feminine nouns.

Gran has a more figurative meaning of great or fantastic when used like this.

Nueva York es una ciudad grande.New York is a big city.

Nueva York es una gran ciudad.New York is a great/fantastic city.

Silvia tiene un gran corazón.Silvia has a big/generous heart. 

Note: The general term for short forms like these is "apócope".


NB: The plural forms stay the same even if used before the noun. For example:

Tengo buenos recuerdos de mi infancia.I have good memories of my childhood.

Lucía y Raquel son chicas buenas.Lucía and Raquel are good girls.

En Oxford y Salamanca hay muy buenas universidades.Oxford and Salamanca have very good universities.

See also Position of adjectives in Spanish.

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Examples and resources

Mi padre es un buen hombre.My dad is a good man.
En Oxford y Salamanca hay muy buenas universidades.Oxford and Salamanca have very good universities.
Silvia tiene un gran corazón.Silvia has a big/generous heart. 
Esta es una buena película.This is a good film.
He tenido un día malo.I have had a bad day.
Nueva York es una ciudad grande.New York is a big city.
Aquella fue una mala época.That was a bad era.
He tenido un mal día.I have had a bad day.
Nueva York es una gran ciudad.New York is a great/fantastic city.
Tengo buenos recuerdos de mi infancia.I have good memories of my childhood.
Mi padre es un hombre bueno.My dad is a good man.
Lucía y Raquel son chicas buenas.Lucía and Raquel are good girls.
Clever stuff underway!