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Gentile as a Courtesy Adjective

You may be familiar with the adjective gentile. We use it when we are talking about someone who is nice, kind, and courteous.


Il povero anatroccolo si accovacciò tra le canne

The poor duckling crouched down among the reeds

e tremava per il freddo.

and trembled because of the cold.

Fortunatamente, passò un contadino gentile

Fortunately, a kind farmer passed by

e se lo portò con sé

and he brought him along with him,

a casa nel suo fienile.

to the hay barn of his house.

Captions 58-62, Ti racconto una fiaba - Il brutto anatroccolo

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1) How about telling this part of the story in the present tense?


The cognate for gentile is "gentle," but "gentle" only corresponds sometimes, not often. In fact, "gentle" often corresponds to delicato.


Seguì un bussare delicato alla porta.

It was followed by a gentle knock at the door.

Caption 38, Ti racconto una fiaba - Il Principe Ranocchio

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There's a brand of bleach called Ace Gentile because it is less harsh than normal bleach, but most of the time, gentile is more about kind and courteous.


Carino vs gentile


You might describe the bank director, your neighbor, the cashier at the grocery store, your doctor, a policeman who wants to give you a ticket but doesn't, etc... with gentile. The more informal version of this is carino.


Eh sì. -Eh sì. Comunque Luca è stato molto carino, eh,

Oh yes. -Oh yes. However Luca was very kind, no,

ad accompagnare suo figlio Fabio all'istituto.

to accompany his son Fabio to the institute.

Captions 26-27, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Carino can also refer to someone or something's physical appearance:


Però, all'epoca era simpatico e pure carino.

But at the time he was nice, and cute, too.

Caption 9, La Ladra - EP.11 - Un esame importante

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2) Here, a gal is talking about a guy. What if it were a guy talking about a gal?

Courtesy and intimacy

But we also use gentile as a description of courtesy in certain expressions, often written, and that's what we're going to talk about here.


If you get a letter from your phone company about their change in fees, or some special promotion, it may start out with, 

Gentile cliente (dear customer)


In English, we use "dear" almost universally for the beginning of a letter, except for informal emails where we will often just write "Hi" and then the name. The equivalent of "dear" is caro, care, cari, or care, and it may be used in many situations, where it can either be warm or cool, depending on the relationship. 


There's a famous movie from 1993 called Caro diario (Dear Diary) with Nanni Moretti. Check out the trailer here!


In an informal letter, caro can be used, and, as a matter of fact, it can be used without any name at all. In this case, it's often used in its superlative form (superlativo assoluto) carissimocarissima, etc. 


To some, caro implies a certain intimacy or acquaintanceship, so in a less personal kind of letter, caro is often replaced by gentile, which is both polite and generic. It's a good choice when you are in doubt as to what choice to make.


Formal letters

If you are writing a formal letter, you will likely use signor or signora and the last name, or sometimes even the first name of the person you are addressing, or no name at all.


So, a letter could begin with one of the following:


Gentile signora

Gentile signorina

Gentile signora Rossi

Gentile signorina Rossi

Gentile signora Adriana (sometimes we don't feel informal enough to use someone's first name without the signora because of an age difference, for example).

Gentile signor Rossi

Gentili signori (this includes men and women, much like "dear sirs").


We have looked at one way to start a letter, but there are others, so check out Daniela's lessons about writing both informal and formal letters.


Solutions to "Extra credit," as one reader called it...

1) Il povero anatroccolo si accovacia tra le canne e trema per il freddo. Fortunatamente, passa un contadino gentile e se lo porta con sé a casa nel suo fienile.

2) Però, all'epoca era simpatica e pure carina.

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