What is the difference between tan and tanto? And in what situations should you use each of these Spanish words?
In this post, you’ll learn how and when to use tan and tanto. You’ll see how you can use tan and tanto to make comparisons and draw conclusions. And you’ll also see the answer to a common question related to this topic: When should you use muy instead of tan, and mucho instead of tanto?
Tan vs tanto
I’ll start by talking about the direct comparison between tan and tanto.
In short, tan is an adverb and it is used with adjectives; tanto is an adjective and it is used with nouns.
Here are a few simple examples with tan (note these sentences are incomplete):
English: …as fast…
Español: …tan rápido…
English: …as big…
Español: …tan grande…
Here are a few simple examples with tanto:
English: …as much of a hurry…
Español: …tanta prisa…
English: …as many years…
Español: …tantos años…
Hopefully, you’ll have also noticed that tanto behaves like most other Spanish adjectives, and agrees in gender and in number of the noun it modifies.
In the next section, you’ll see how tan and tanto is used for making comparisons of equality.
Comparisons of equality with tan and tanto
In English you can make a comparison of equality with the following phrase:
… as … as …
It could be ‘…as good as …’, ‘…as interesting as…’, or ‘…as tall as…’.
Since tan goes with adjectives and tanto goes with nouns, the equivalent structure to the above in Spanish is:
… tan + (adjetivo) + como …
… tanto/a/os/as + (sustantivo) + como …
Here are some comparisons using tan (with adjectives):
English: Elena is as patient as Juan.
Español: Elena es tan paciente como Juan.
English: Her house isn’t as expensive as yours.
Español: Su casa no es tan cara como la tuya.
English: After six months, I’m still not as accustomed to life here as I had hoped.
Español: Después de seis meses, todavía no estoy tan acostumbrado a la vida aquí como yo esperaba.
Some example comparisons using tanto (with nouns):
English: I have not seen as many movies as Maria.
Español: No he visto tantas películas como María.
English: You have as much experience as your colleagues.
Español: Usted tiene tanta experiencia como sus compañeros.
English: We have as many problems as our neighbours.
Español: Tenemos tantos problemas como nuestros vecinos.
There is one other structure that you can use with tanto to make comparisons of equality. It looks like this:
… verbo + tanto como …
Here are some examples:
English: No one eats as much as Carlos.
Español: Nadie come tanto como Carlos.
English: I don’t travel as much as I want.
Español: No viajo tanto como quiero.
English: Carla doesn’t speak as much as her boyfriend.
Español: Carla no habla tanto como su novio.
Conclusions with tan and tanto
Another use of tan and tanto is for making conclusions, deductions, or even hyperbole if the time calls for it. In English, the most familiar structure would be:
… so … that …
You could fill in the blanks with ideas such as ‘…so tired that…’, ‘…so hot that….’, or ‘…so overwhelmed that…’.
The equivalent structure to above in Spanish for conclusions is:
… tan + (adjetivo) + que …
… tanto/a/os/as + (sustantivo) + que …
The key change you have to make to go from comparisons to deductions is to replace the como with a que.
Here are some conclusions using tan:
English: It’s so expensive that we can’t allow ourselves to buy it.
Español: Es tan caro que no nos podemos permitir comprarlo.
English: The movie was so boring that I had to leave early (before the end).
Español: La película era tan aburrida que tuve que irme antes.
English: I was so worried that I couldn’t sleep all night.
Español: Estaba tan preocupado que no pude dormir toda la noche.
Some example comparisons using tanto and nouns:
English: There were so many people at the party that we had to leave.
Español: Había tanta gente en la fiesta que tuvimos que salir.
English: They made so many changes at the school that I didn’t recognise it.
Español: Ellos hicieron tantos cambios en la escuela que no la reconocí.
English: I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse.
Español: Tengo tanta hambre que me comería un elefante.
In English when we are hungry we eat horses; in Spanish, they eat elephants. There is potentially a joke here about who is hungrier but I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
Approximations with tanto
The last use of tanto is for making approximations.
A common way to make an approximation in Spanish is with ‘más o menos‘. For example:
English: I’m staying here for about six weeks (more or less).
Español: Me quedo aquí durante seis semanas más o menos.
The way you use tanto for approximations is slightly different. Here are two examples with age and time:
English: He returned home at some (random) hour in the morning.
Español: Volvió a casa a las tantas de la mañana.
English: He is in his forties (forty-something).
Español: Tiene cuarenta y tantos años.
Here you can see the translation is ‘he is forty-something’ or more literally ‘he is forty and so many years’.
Muy vs tan and mucho vs tanto
A common question that comes up around this topic is: When should you use tan or muy? And when should you use mucho or tanto?
You have already seen above how tan and tanto can be used to make comparisons and conclusions. The key reason you would use muy or mucho is to make a general superlative statement without a direct comparison.
For example, you could say:
English: The car is really expensive.
Español: El coche es muy caro.
Or you could make a comparison with tan:
English: The car is as expensive as a house.
Español: El coche es tan caro como una casa.
Similarly, with mucho, you may want to make a superlative statement:
English: Alba has a lot of money.
Español: Alba tiene mucho dinero.
Or as a conclusion, you could say:
English: Alba has so much money that she can buy a boat.
Español: Alba tiene tanto dinero que puede comprar un barco.
The words muy, mucho, tan and tanto take a little practice to master. As with any other Spanish topic, the trick is to use it and reinforce it in your mind as often as you can.
Try to form some conclusions this week using these Spanish words. How difficult is Spanish? “It’s as difficult as…” Or how important is this topic? “It’s as important as…”
How else can you use tan and tanto in Spanish?