Tan vs Tanto in Spanish – Meanings & Uses


Due to their similarities, tan and tanto tend to cause some confusion among Spanish learners. But even though these words are used in comparative structures, they follow different rules. Therefore, we can’t use them interchangeably. When they realize this, many people learning Spanish wonder what the differences between tan and tanto are.

‘Tan’ is used when discussing qualities and always goes before an adjective or an adverb. It can be translated as ‘so’, ‘as [adverb / adjective]’, or ‘how’. ‘Tanto’ is used when discussing quantities and goes after a verb or before a noun. It means ‘as many’, ‘as much’, ‘so many’ or ‘so much’. 

When learning Spanish, it can be difficult to tell the difference between these two terms. As a result, the following sections will explain the rules that you need to follow to use these words as well as some contexts and examples to see how you can apply them. By the end of it, you will have a stronger understanding of ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’. 

What’s the difference between tan and tanto in Spanish?

In Spanish, ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’ are used in similar contexts. They can both be used to make a comparison or put an emphasis on something. This is what usually confuses Spanish learners, because it’s unclear what the differences are. The main difference between them are the elements that they work with as well as the meanings they focus on, respectively. 

Here is a comparative table to show the key differences between both of them: 

TanTanto
Classification Adverb Adjective – when used with a noun
Adverb – when used with a verb
Rules 1. Only used with an adjective or adverb
2. Always goes before the adverb or adjective
1. Only used with nouns and verbs
When to Use With Qualities and Characteristics With quantities

Now, let’s see some phrase structures and the contexts where you can apply these words, which will help us truly solidify the uses and differences.

When and How to Use Tan & Tanto in Spanish?

As established before, ‘tanto’ and ‘tan’ can be used in comparative structures and to emphasize characteristics. However, each word has its own rules and elements to follow. In this table, you’ll see the contexts where we use these words as well as some of their differences. 

Word Use Examples
Tan 1. To compare characteristics and qualities. 

2. To emphasize characteristics and qualities. 

3. To ask questions.
María es tan bonita como Laura
Maria is as pretty as Laura

¡Qué canción tan bonita! 
That song is so beautiful!

¿Qué tan bien hablas español?
How well do you speak Spanish?
Tanto 1. To compare amounts in objects and actions. 
2. To emphasize amounts and quantities.
3. To ask questions. 
4. To express numerical approximations.
Ayer no había tanta gente como hoy
Yesterday there wasn’t as many people as today

No sabía que hablaras tantos idiomas
I didn’t know that you speak so many languages

¿Qué tanto puedes comer?
How much can you eat?

Marco tiene veintitantos años
Marco is in his twenties

This table shows when and in what situations to use ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’, respectively. 

Now, it’s time to look at each use in detail and see how we can form phrases and sentences for each context in order to start practicing them so that we can clearly understand their differences and how to use them correctly.

To Compare People and Objects 

This is probably one of the most common ways to use ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’ in Spanish. As a result, it’s also the context where you need to pay more attention to. 

TanTanto
AsAs many / As much

Tan – ‘As’

This is the basic structure that we use in Spanish to make qualitative comparisons with ‘tan’. The following examples are meant to show you how to use this word with adjectives. 

[Subject] tan + [adjective] + como + [person/object]

Liam es tan bueno en español como Charlotte
Liam is as good in Spanish as Charlotte

Mi perro es tan grande como el de mi hermano
My dog is as big as my brother’s

If instead of talking about the characteristics of a person or object, you want to compare how things are done, you will need to use the following phrase structure: 

Tan + [adverb] + para [infinitive verb] + como + [person/object]

Mateo es tan rápido para aprender como yo
Mateo is as fast to learn as me

Tu teléfono es tan malo para tomar fotos como el mío
Your phone is as bad to take pictures as mine 

Notice that ‘tan’: 

  • doesn’t have a plural or feminine form and; 
  • always goes before an adjective or an adverb. 

Tanto – ‘As many’ or ‘As much’

We established before that unlike ‘tan’, ‘tanto’ only works with nouns and verbs. Depending on the context, this Spanish word could be translated as ‘as much’ or ‘as many’. Notice that just like ‘much’ and ‘many’ in English, ‘tanto’ implies quantity. 

Here is the phrase structure that we use when comparing actions or verbs. 

[Subject] + [verb conjugated] + tanto + como + [person/object]

Luis come tanto como Michael
Luis eats as much as Michael

Manuel trata de viajar tanto como puede 
Manuel tries to travel as much as he cans

When using ‘tanto’ to compare nouns, you’ll need to use the correct plurality and gender in regards to the corresponding noun. Here is a little reminder: 

  • Tanto – singular, masculine nouns
  • Tantos – plural, masculine nouns
  • Tanta – singular, feminine nouns
  • Tantas – plural, feminine nouns

[Subject] + [verb conjugated] + tanto + [noun] + como + [person/object]

Yo tengo tantos amigos como Raquel
I have as many friends as Raquel

Este pastel tiene tanta mantequilla como aquel
This cake doesn’t have as much butter as that one

In the first example we use ‘tantos’ since ‘amigos’ (friends) is plural and masculine, whereas ‘mantequilla’ (butter) in the second example is singular and feminine. 

Take Note: You may have noticed from the examples in this section, that the English examples always end up with the phrasing “as much as” or “as many as”. In simpler terms, they contain the word “as” twice. A way to remember how to form these ‘tanto’ phrases when using “as much/many as”, is that the first ‘as’ is part of ‘tanto’ and the second ‘as’ corresponds to Spanish word ‘como’.

To Emphasize Characteristics or Amounts

On top of making comparisons, in Spanish, we also use these words to put emphasis on a quality, characteristic or quantity in sentences. Here are the direct translations for these terms in the situation.

TanTanto
SoSo many / So much

Tan – ‘So’

Due to the elements it works with, ‘tan’ emphasizes characteristics of a person, object or action. As a result it’s translated as ‘so’. 

Tan + [adjective/adverb]

 No sabía que hablaras español tan bien
I didn’t know that you speak Spanish so well

¡No tan rápido! Esa camisa no es tuya
Not so fast, that t-shirt is not your!

Alejandra es tan grosera que no tiene amigos
Alejandra is so rude that she doesn’t have any friends

Si no comieras tan lento, no habríamos perdido el avión
If you didn’t eat so slow, we wouldn’t have lost the plane

Tanto – ‘So many’ or ‘So much’

So far you know that ‘tanto’ works with nouns and verbs. We can also use it to put emphasis on them, provided they are in relation to a quantity or amount. Therefore, in this context ‘tanto’ means ‘so much’ or ‘so many’.

[Verb] + tanto 

Nunca había comido tanto en una fiesta
I have never eaten so much at a party 

Su novio la quiere tanto y ella tan grosera que es
Her boyfriend loves her so much and she’s so rude

Here is the phrase structure that you need to use when emphasizing the amount of people or objects. Don’t forget to use the plural and feminine form of ‘tanto’ if needed. 

Tanto + [noun]

¿Quén compró tantos pasteles?
Who bought so many cakes?

Tanto dinero y no quiere invertir en su educación
So much money and she doesn’t want to invest on her education

Tantas frutas que puedes probar y sólo quieres comer lo mismo
So many fruits that you could try and yet you just want to eat the same thing

To Ask Questions

The third and final use of ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’ that not many new Spanish learners know about, is to ask questions. This can be very useful when asking questions about characteristics or quantities.

TanTanto
HowHow many / How much

Take Note: You’ve probably noticed a pattern between the English and Spanish translations. While they are used in many similar ways (which makes them difficult to tell which is correct), an easy way to distinguish ‘tan’ and ‘tanto’ is that there’s always a ‘many’ or ‘much’ included in phrases using ‘tanto’. This is due to ‘tanto’ always referring to a quantity and not a quality.

Tan – ‘How’

In this case, ‘tan’ will be translated as ‘how’. It still needs to precede either an adjective or an adverb. We use this word to ask questions about the quality or characteristics of a person or object. 

¿Qué + tan [adjective/adverb]…?

¿Qué tan difícil es aprender español?
How difficult is it to learn Spanish?

Oye, ¿sabes qué tan lejos está la casa de Miriam?
Hey, do you know how far Miriam’s house is?

Tu coche está muy bonito, ¿qué tan rápido es?
Your car is very pretty, how fast is it? 

Tanto – ‘How many’ or ‘How much’

If instead of characteristics, you want to ask questions about amounts and quantities, you will need to use ‘tanto’. In these situations, ‘tanto’ will either be translated as ‘how much’ or ‘how many’. Here are some examples as well as the sentence structures that you need to follow: 

¿Qué + tanto + [verb conjugated]…?

¿Y esas bolsas? ¿Qué tanto compraste?
And those shopping bags? How many things did you buy?

Entonces, ¿qué tanto podemos usar nuestros libros en el exámen?
So, how much can we use our books in the test?

Here’s another variation that you could use: 

¿Qué + tanto + [noun] + [verb conjugated]…?

¿Qué tanto tiempo tienes mañana?
How much time do you have tomorrow?

Está más caro de lo que pensé, ¿qué tanto dinero traes?
This is more expensive than I expected, how much money do you have?

Are There Other Meanings of ‘Tan’ and ‘Tanto’?

The meanings and uses described in this article fully exhaust the translations and applications for ‘tan’.

‘Tanto’ on the other hand, has one additional use, which is to discuss or describe approximate quantities.

Tanto in Numerical Approximations

In Spanish, we also use ‘tanto’ to express numerical approximations. In this case, most of the time ‘tanto’ can be translated as ‘around’ or ‘about’. However, sometimes it won’t have a direct translation.

Pedro tiene unos treinta y tantos años Pedro must be in his thirties

Vinieron unas trescientas y tantas personas Around three hundred people came

Wrapping Up

Tan and tanto can be easily confused by new and even experienced Spanish speakers. Therefore, in this article, we discussed the uses and differences between these words. We learned that the main difference between tan and tanto is that they are used in conjunction with qualities/characteristics and quantities, respectively. As a result, this will affect the way you phrase your sentence and the elements you use.

 Additionally, we learned an extra use that can only be applied to ‘tanto’, which is to discuss a quantitative approximation.

Key Points

Tan 

  • Doesn’t have plural or feminne forms. 
  • It only works with adjectives and adverbs
  • We use it to compare or emphasize the characteristics or qualities of an object or a person. 
  • Depending on the context that it’s being applied, it can be translated ‘as___as’, ‘so’ or ‘how’. 

Tanto

  • It has plural and feminine forms: tanto, tantos, tanta, tantas. 
  • It always implies quantity or amount.
  • We use it with nouns and verbs. 
  • We can use it to build comparative structures and to emphasize sentences. 
  • Depending on the context where it’s being applied, we translate it as ‘as much as’, ‘as many as’,  ‘so much’, ‘so many’, ‘how much’ or ‘how many’
  • We use it to express numerical approximations. It means ‘about’ or ‘around’.

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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