Francisco Umbral won praise as a master of words on Monday as he received the Cervantes Prize, considered the Spanish-speaking world's Nobel for literature.

Dressed in a morning coat, King Juan Carlos placed a medallion symbolizing the award around the neck of the 65-year-old novelist, essayist and newspaper columnist.

The award for the year 2000 was announced in December, and the formal ceremony took place Monday at the University of Alcala de Henares, the town where Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was born in 1547. It is about 30 miles northeast of Madrid.

Spanish Education Minister Pilar del Castillo hailed Umbral as one of the most important and imaginative writers of the second half of the 20th century.

"He is as demanding of language as a poet," Del Castillo said. "A born creator, he rebels against verbal stereotypes."