When to use ‘tan’ vs. ‘tanto’ in Spanish 

When to use ‘tan’ vs. ‘tanto’ in Spanish 

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated March 17, 2023

Tan and tanto both mean ”so” or “so much” in Spanish. The difference between tan vs. tanto in Spanish is that tan makes a comparison of quantities using adjectives, while tanto makes a comparison using nouns. 

Because the two words are similar, it can be confusing for language learners to distinguish tan vs. tanto in Spanish. To know when to use each, it’s important to understand how the grammar for tan and tanto is different. Confusing? ¡No tanto! (Not much.) 

Let’s review how to use these forms correctly, so that you never mix them up again.

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The difference between ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’

The difference between tan vs. tanto in Spanish comes down to grammar. As we mentioned above, both words have essentially the same meaning.  But their usage results in different types of comparative sentences. This subtle difference is why Spanish language learners need to focus a bit on grammar.

Since tan goes with adjetivos (adjectives) and tanto goes with sustantivos (nouns) and verbos (verbs), the construction for each in Spanish is:

  • tan + [adjective] + como
  • tanto/a/os/as + [noun] + como …
  • … [verb] + tanto/a/os/as + como; … no [verb] + tanto/a/os/as + como

You can see in the above constructions that tanto is often sandwiched between a verb and a noun. Let’s dig a bit deeper by looking at the words separately.

When to use tan

We use tan to compare two or more things using an adjective. This means we’re comparing or emphasizing the quality of things. Some common adjectives in Spanish are:

  • grande (big)
  • pequeño (small)
  • feo (ugly)
  • bonito (pretty)
  • caro (expensive)
  • economico (affordable)

Tan means “as” or “so” and is used with adjectives. In English, the equivalents are:

  • as big as, as expensive as, as pretty as, etc. 
  • so big, so expensive, so pretty, etc.

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Comparing adjectives

To compare things using adjectives, we use the following constructions with tan:

Expressing inferiority: no + [verb] + tan + [adjective] + como

  • Tú coche no es tan caro como el mío. (Your car is not as expensive as mine.) 
  • Mi casa no es tan grande como la tuya. (My house is not as big as yours.)

Expressing equality: tan + [adjective] + como 

  • Él es tan bonito como yo. (He is as pretty as me.)
  • Mi perro es tan pequeño como el tuyo. (My dog is as small as your dog.)

To emphasize qualities without comparing. In this context, tan means “so” (as in, so well, so nice, so friendly, etc.). To form this structure, we use tan + [adjective], like so:

  • Ella es tan amable. (She is so nice.)
  • Ese coche es tan caro. (That car is so expensive.)

You can also use tan in questions. The most common question is, ¿Qué tan + [adjective]?:

  • ¿Qué tan bien le conoces? (How well do you know her?)
  • ¿Qué tan lejos está? (How far is it?)

When to use tanto

We use tanto in Spanish to compare quantities of things, express magnitude, exaggerate and estimate unknown quantities.

Tanto is similar to “as much” or “as many” in English. It can also be used to emphasize the amount of something without comparing, in which case it’s like saying “so many” or “so much.” In both cases, we use either verbs or nouns rather than adjectives.. 

[H3] Comparing nouns

To compare nouns we use the following structures with tanto:

Expressing inferiority: no + [verb] + tanto/a/os/as + [noun] + como

  • Esta tienda no tiene tanta fruta como la otra. (This store doesn’t have as much fruit as the other.)
  • Él no gana tanto sueldo como ella. (He doesn’t earn as much salary as her.)

Expressing equality: tanto/a/os/as + [noun] + como

  • Hay tantas reglas en tú escuela como la mía. (There are just as many rules in your school as mine.)
  • Habrá tanta gente como la semana pasada. (There will be as many people as last week.)

[H3] Comparing verbs

We also use tanto to compare or emphasize how much we do actions

Expressing inferiority: no + [verb] + tanto como 

  • No pagué tanto como tú. (I didn’t pay as much as you.)
  • Ella no limpia tanto como yo. (She doesn’t clean as much as me.)

Expressing equality: [verb] + tanto como 

  • Yo como tanto como un luchador de sumo. (I eat as much as a sumo wrestler.)
  • Pero también hago ejercicio tanto como un olímpico. (But I also work out as much as an Olympian.)

Matching the noun with the right form of ‘tanto’

You may remember from other lessons that nouns can be countable (a house, a car, a banana) or uncountable (water, sand, time). When we compare countable nouns in English, we use “as many;” with uncountable nouns, we use “as much.” The same is true in Spanish with tanto. Match the gender as well as the quantity of the noun that follows.

Type of NounUseExample
Singular or uncountable, masculinetantotanto tiempo (so much time)
Singular or uncountable, femininetantatanta presión (so much pressure)
Plural, masculinetantostantos perros (so many dogs)
Plural, femininetantastantas flores (so many flowers)

You can also use tanto in questions. The question phrase ¿Qué tanto…? Translates to “how much…”  

  • ¿Qué tanto dinero necesitas? (How much time do you need for this?)
  • ¿Qué tanto arroz quieres? (How much rice do you want?)

Tan vs. tanto in Spanish es tan fácil 

Now that you’ve got the basics of tan vs. tanto in Spanish, it will be a snap to use the expressions we learned today. Use tan to emphasize or compare an adjective (e.g. “so funny” or “as fast”). Use tanto to emphasize or compare the quantity of a noun (e.g. “so many people”). It may seem confusing at first, but knowing the difference will help you to understand common expressions and have more fluid conversations with native Spanish speakers.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.


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