Imagine not being able to describe anything. Ever.
It would be a world devoid of colors and shapes, with no unique features.
Okay, maybe more weird than scary, but it is still pretty bad.
You just imagined a world without adjectives, the descriptive little backbones of our everyday conversations.
Figuring out adjectives is key to learning any language, and Italian is bursting with words to describe anything you can think of.
Adjectives in Italian do not work in quite the same way as they do in English. Knowing the differences is an important part of working towards fluency.
This post will be your guide to understanding the most important things to know about Italian adjectives. Add some color to your world with adjectives!
It will make your sentences impressive, exciting, cool and maybe even magical. (See what we did there?)
A Splash of Color: Using Italian Adjectives to Spice Up Any Sentence
The Right Order: Italian Adjective Placement
One of the biggest differences between English and Italian is the placement of adjectives in a sentence.
Unlike English (but like most other Romance languages), Italian usually puts the adjective after the noun it is describing.
This means that a “pink apple” in English becomes a mela rosa (“apple pink,” literally) in Italian. Here are some other examples:
The green plant — La pianta verde
A smart man — Un uomo intelligente
A skinny cat — Un gatto magro
The funny joke — Lo scherzo divertente
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are some cases where adjectives go before nouns in Italian, though it is not nearly as common.
Usually, putting an adjective before a noun puts less emphasis on that descriptor.
Sometimes, a noun might even have an adjective before and after it to provide two kinds of description. Remember that the adjective that comes after the noun is the one with more emphasis on it.
In some cases, the position of an adjective in a sentence changes the meaning of the phrase. Adjectives placed before the noun tend to focus on the quality of something while an adjective placed after usually emphasizes a more literal, physical description.
There is a common example you might have heard where the adjective goes before the noun:
A beautiful woman — Una bella donna
Here are some examples of how the meaning of a sentence can change depending on where you place the adjective:
The great book — Il grande libro
The big book — Il libro grande
The cold personality — La fredda personalità
The cold day — La giornata fredda
A new car (new to me) — Una nuova machina
A new car (fresh off the lot, no miles, brand spanking new!) — Una macchina nuova
Want to hear the difference for yourself? Head over to FluentU for tons of authentic videos like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks.
Listen closely to the use of adjectives to get the hang of the difference placement makes. You can even use video flashcards to make your own word lists and to hear adjectives used in various contexts.
An important fact to note: Some adjectives are irregular when they go before a noun, changing their form. This only occurs for four specific adjectives: grande (big), buono (good / well), santo (holy) and bello (handsome / beautiful).
These irregular adjectives will have both plural and singular forms, as well as forms designed to go in front of vowels and consonants. We will go into detail about these four irregulars later in this post.
It’s a Girl! Gendered Language and Italian Adjectives
Italian shares another trait with a lot of Romance languages: nouns have genders.
This might seem like a complicated concept for English speakers. The basic idea is that there are masculine nouns and feminine nouns, and these determine the endings of certain words—including adjectives.
Masculine nouns usually end in -o or -e and use the articles il / lo (the) or un (a), with l’ being used for words that start with vowels.
When they are changed from singular to plural, masculine nouns end in an -i. These use plural articles such as gli (for words beginning with vowels, z and s+consonants) and i (for all other consonants).
Here are some examples of masculine nouns:
the man / men — l’uomo / gli uomini
the sock/s — il calzino / i calzini
the boot/s — lo stivale / gli stivali
Feminine nouns usually end in -a, and use the articles la (the) or una (a).
When a feminine word is pluralized, the -a turns into an -e and uses the article le. L’ is still used as an article for words beginning with vowels.
Here are some examples of feminine nouns:
the woman / women — la donna / le donne
the bag/s — la borsa / le borse
the shoe/s — la scarpa / le scarpe
It might seem strange to study nouns when you are learning about adjectives, but it is very important.
Adjectives in Italian must agree with the gender of the noun they are modifying. This means that adjectives change their form based on whether the word they are describing is masculine or feminine.
Here is a set of adjectives being used to describe masculine nouns:
The tired man — L’uomo stanco
The new socks — I nuovi calzini
The yellow boot — Lo stivale giallo
Note that all of the adjectives used here have endings that agree with the endings of their nouns, consisting of -i and -o when applicable.
Here are those same adjectives applied to our feminine nouns:
The tired woman — La donna stanca
The new bag — La nuova borsa
The yellow shoes — Le scarpe gialle
Notice that these endings change to -a or -e depending on whether the noun is singular or plural.
It is not very hard to figure out once you get the hang of it!
Conjugating irregular Italian adjectives
Remember those four irregular adjectives we mentioned earlier?
Like regular adjectives, these irregular four change based on the noun they describe, using four forms: plural / singular masculine and plural / singular feminine.
In addition to these forms, though, an irregular adjective’s form also depends on whether the noun it modifies starts with a vowel or a consonant.
In addition, irregular adjectives take different articles than most adjectives: dei for masculine and delle for feminine.
It makes a lot more sense if you simply see it in action. Let’s take a look at the word buono:
A good dog — Un buon cane
good dogs — Dei buoni cani
Masculine Singular (with s+consonant or z):
A good boot — Un buono stivalo
Masculine Plural (with s+consonant or z):
Some good boots — Dei buoni stivali
A good apple — Una buona mela
Some good apples — Delle buone mele (some good apples)
While the rest of the adjectives mostly follow these patterns, you can find specific charts outlining the exact conjugation of irregular adjectives.
Since there are so few, they are relatively easy to study. Make sure that you know them all well!
Finding the Right Place: Predictive and Attributive Italian Adjectives
There are two types of adjectives in Italian: predictive and attributive.
Figuring out the difference is simple.
Predictive adjectives use the verb essere (to be) to describe a noun:
The bag is blue — La borsa è blu
Attributive adjectives are directly attached to the noun they are describing, such as with many of the earlier examples. Here is one again so you can see how this looks:
A pink apple — Una mela rosa
This is all a matter of placement, so the forms are simple to identify. To make sure you have your predictive adjectives down right, practice the conjugation of essere.
Beyond Adjectives: A Brief Look at Italian Adverbs
Finally, with all this knowledge of adjectives, you can start to crack the nut of adverbs in Italian.
That’s because the two actually go hand-in-hand: If you want to figure out how to use an adverb in Italian, knowing your adjectives is a good place to start.
You can create an adverb using two main methods: by adding the word molto (very) before it for emphasis, or by substituting the ending with -amente.
Molto does not change based on gender, so that one is an easy one. Check out these examples to get a feel for this:
Very quick — Molto rapido
Quickly — Rapidamente
Very nice — Molto bello
Nicely — Bellamente
Adjectives that end in -e, such as felice (happy) or semplice (simple) are slightly different, instead changing their ending to -mente (keeping the existing -e instead of adding an -a). For example:
Very happy — Molto felice
Happily — Felicemente
Very simple — Molto semplice
Simply — Semplicemente
As you can see, adverbs are fairly easy to get the hang of if you know your adjectives.
Adjectives are a great way to add color and description to your sentences and boost your vocabulary. So get on out there and make your Italian bright, beautiful, nice and sharp!
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