Italian Lessons

Topics

Lessons for topic Adjectives

Making Sense of Comparatives and Superlatives

This week, Daniela concludes her lessons on the comparative and the superlative. Let's take a moment and review the series because, coming from English, we might want to put the lessons together in a different way.

 

As we have seen, the comparative and superlative work a bit differently than in English. In English we have two ways of the comparative and superlative of an adjective: by changing the adjective itself (as in "big," "bigger," "biggest") or by adding "more" or "less" before the adjective, as with the adjective "beautiful." But in Italian, comparatives and superlatives are formed using più (more) or meno (less) plus the adjective. Attenzione! The adjective buono is an exception to this. Learn more here.

 

In the first lesson, Daniela explains the comparativo di maggioranza (majority), which corresponds to “more” plus the adjective in English. If it's meno (less), we call it comparativo di minoranza (minority).

 

Even though we don't use these terms in English, they are fairly self-explanatory. In English, after the comparative adjective, we use the conjunction "than" before the second part of the comparison: This book is bigger than that one.

 

But in Italian, there are two different conjunctions we use when comparing things: di (than, of) or che (than). This is a big deal and somewhat tricky. Daniela starts explaining it in the first video and continues explaining here and here.

 

Daniela then explains all about comparing things that are equalcomparativo di uguaglianza. We discuss this further here. This is tricky in any language, and Italian is no exception. Daniela begins talking about it here and continues herehere and here.

 

Daniela dedicates three segments to the absolute superlative. There is no comparison with anything; it's absolute. We discuss this further here.

 

So if you are interested in getting the scoop on how to say "the best of all," then go straight to this week's lesson, where Daniela shows us how this — the regular old superlative — works in Italian. It called the superlativo relativo, since this superlative is relative to a group of elements. As she explains...

"È l'amico più generoso di tutti". Sto paragonando la qualità dell'essere generoso del mio amico all'essere generoso di tutti.
"He is the most generous friend of all." I am comparing the quality of being generous of my friend, to the generosity of all.
Caption 24, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Superlativo relativo

 

The superlativo relativo corresponds, roughly, to the superlative in English, in respect to the comparative, as when we add "-est" to an adjective: nice, nicer, nicest.

 

In Italian, we still use the modifiers più (more) and meno (less) but with the addition of the definite article before it, it becomes "the most" or "the least."

 

Let's take the adjective bello whose English equivalent "beautiful" needs "more" or "less" to make it comparative.

Margherita è bella (Margaret is beautiful). [positivo]
Margherita è più bella di Barbara (she is more beautiful than Barbara). [comparativo di maggioranza]
Margherita è la piu bella di tutte le quattro sorelle. She is the most beautiful of all four sisters. [superlativo relativo di maggioranza]

Margherita è intelligente (Margherita is intelligent). [positivo]
Margherita è meno intelligente di Barbara (Margherita is less intelligent than Barbara). [comparativo di minoranza]
Elisabetta è la meno intelligente di tutte le sorelle (Elisabetta is the least intelligent of all the sisters). [superlativo comparativo di minoranza]

 

We hope this helps you make sense of the comparative and superlative in Italian. 

Continue Reading

Absolutely Superlative!

We've talked recently about comparatives of equality, and so it makes sense to talk about yet another kind of comparative. We're not really comparing two or more items, but rather giving one item a very high vote.

 

In English we use words or prefixes such as "super," "very," "extra," "maximum," "mega."

 

There is a super easy way to make adjectives into absolute superlatives in Italian.

 

Daniela explains how this works:

Ripeto due volte la parola "bravo" e dico: "Lui è bravo bravo".
I repeat the word “brilliant” twice and I say, “He is extremely brilliant.
Caption 6, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Superlativo assoluto - Part 2 of 3

 

There are certain adjectives we use quite frequently in this form to express an absolute superlative.

 

One is bello (beautiful, nice):

Là, in mezzo a quelle canne ci sono due belle fagiani [fagiane] con un maschione bello bello.
There, in the middle of those canes, there are two nice pheasants with a really nice big male.
Caption 70-71, Anna e Marika - Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 3 of 3

 

Another is piccolo (small):

E aveva soltanto un balcone per prendere un po' d'aria e un appartamento piccolo piccolo.
And he only had a balcony for getting a bit of air, and a very tiny apartment.
Captions 22-24, Andromeda: e i gatti 2 - Part 1 of 2

Still another is nuovo (new):

Se si vince, si prende il primo premio.
If we win, we'll get the first prize.
Me lo dici che premio è?
Will you tell me what the prize is?
Un carro armato vero, nuovo nuovo.
A real tank, brand new.
Captions19-21, Trailer - La vita è bella: Roberto Benigni

 

There are lots of others, and you will, little by little, start noticing them as you listen to spoken Italian, where they occur most frequently.

 

Practice: 
Think of things in your everyday life, and try forming sentences with this form of the superlativo assoluto. It's fun and easy.

Here's a head start.

Il frigo è vuoto vuoto (the fridge is completely empty).
Questo pavimento è sporco sporco (this floor is very dirty).
Il disco rigido è pieno pieno (the hard drive is totally full).
Questo video era facile facile da capire (this video was super easy to understand).
Tieni il volume basso basso (keep the volume really low).

Continue Reading

Meglio or Migliore?

In our last lesson, there was mention of the Italian comparative adjective migliore (better).  This brought up an excellent question on the part of one of our readers. What's the difference between migliore and meglio? They both mean "better." When should we use meglio instead of migliore?

 

It's a great question, because the answer is not so simple. On a very basic level, migliore is an adjective and is the comparative of buono (good). It is also, with the addition of an article, the superlative of buono (good), as in the following example.

 

La moto è il mezzo migliore per superare il traffico.
The motorbike is the best means of transportation for getting past the traffic.
Caption 27, Adriano: Giornata 

 

Migliore stays the same in both the masculine and the feminine.

Io voglio solo una vita migliore di questa.
I just want a better life than this.
Caption 70, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 5 of 25 

 

La mia migliore amica.
My best [girl]friend.
Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7  

 

But in the plural it's always migliori, for both the masculine and the feminine.

Ed è uno dei vini migliori della Basilicata, è chiamato Aglianico.
And it's one of the best wines of Basilicata, it's called Aglianico.
Caption 53, Milena: al supermercato

 

No, veramente le cose migliori le abbiamo fatte insieme, no?
No, actually, the best things are the ones we've done together, right?
Caption 47, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 7 of 12

 

Migliore and its plural form migliori can also be nouns, just like in English. 

Sei il/la migliore!
You're the best!

 

Migliore is either an adjective or a noun — never an adverb.

 

Meglio, on the other hand, is basically an adverb, so it makes sense for it to be the comparative of bene (well). Meglio often means in modo migliore (in a better way).

Facciamo un esempio così capite meglio.
Let's make up an example, that way you'll understand better.
Caption 7, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Approfondimento Verbi Modali - Part 1 of 2

 

But meglio has a gray area, too, and is much more flexible than migliore. Unlike migliore, which is either an adjective or a noun, meglio, in addition to being an adverb, is often also used colloquially as an adjective or in some contexts as a noun. It's also used in a huge number of expressions. 

 

Note that the verb migliorare exists, too, to mean "to improve," to "get better."

Se posso migliorare, perché non farlo?
If I can improve, why not do so?
Caption 4, L'arte della cucina: L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni - Part 13 of 16

Il mio italiano è molto migliorato.
My Italian has gotten much better.

 

We'll focus on meglio next week, but in the meantime, why not compare things with migliorein your home or workplace?

Think about food, movies, books, the time of day/year for doing something.

Per esempio:

In questo bar, fanno il miglior caffè della città.
In this bar, they make the best coffee in the city.

Il mio italiano scritto è migliore di qualche anno fa.
My written Italian is better than a few years ago.

Non ero la migliore della classe quando andavo a scuola. 
I wasn't the best in the class when I went to school.

Qual è la stagione migliore per visitare la Sicilia?
What's the best month for visiting Sicily?

Continue Reading

The "Otherness" of Altrui

We have recently come to the end of the disturbing but fascinating documentary about Italian Fascism and the Italian language. We hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two about Italian history.

 

One important concept put forth in this final segment is that language is an equalizer, allowing us to express ourselves and understand others.

Uguale è chi sa esprimersi e intendere l'espressione altrui.
An equal is one who is able to express himself and understand how others express themselves.
Caption 9, Me Ne Frego - Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana:  Part 15 of 15

 

There’s a curious little word in that caption: altrui. It’s an odd word, not following the usual rules for adjectives. In earlier times, the three famous fourteenth-century Florentine "authors" of the Italian language (Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio) also used it as a pronoun to mean “others.” It was used with various prepositions: di (of), a (to), or con (with).

 

More commonly, altrui is used as a possessive adjective to mean “of others” or “belonging to others/someone else.” So we might say the preposition is built-in. And once you're in the know, it's also easy to use because it doesn’t change according to number or gender. To translate altrui into English, we would most likely use the possessive form with an apostrophe.

 

In the first episode of Commissario Manara, Toscani is looking at his new boss with a bit of envy. His wife calls him on it.

Toscani, non essere invidioso del posto altrui.
Toscani, don't be jealous of someone else’s job.
Caption 39, Il Commissario Manara 1:  Ep. 1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8 of 14  

 

The meaning of altrui is also fairly easy to guess. In Italian, you can think of the noun or adjective altro-altra-altri (other/others) or think of “altruism” or “altruistic” and you’ll get it! Just remember you don’t need a preposition.

 

Further learning:
Check out these examples of sentences with altrui.

Continue Reading

Chiaro and Chiaramente

A user wrote in with a question about these two words. Is there a difference? Yes, there is:chiaro is an adjective, and chiaramente is an adverb. But that’s the simple answer.

 

Language is in constant flux, and chiaro has various meanings, just as “clear” in English does. And this adjective has come to take on the job of an adverb in certain contexts, as Marika mentions in her lesson on adverbs.

Non fare troppi giri di parole, parla chiaro.
Don't beat around the bush. Speak plainly.
Caption 29, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi di modo

 

As a matter of fact, dictionaries list chiaro as both an adjective and adverb, but as an adverb, it's used only in certain circumstances, with certain verbs.

What’s the difference between parlare chiaro and parlare chiaramente?

Well, sometimes there isn’t much difference.

Del resto la relazione del mio collega di Milano parla chiaro.
Moreover, the report from my colleague in Milano is clear.
Caption 30, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 3 of 14 

In the example above, the speaker could have used the adverbial form to mean the same thing.

Del resto la relazione del mio collega di Milano parla chiaramente.

 

Parlare chiaro has become an idiomatic expression — un modo di dire. It gets the message across very clearly.  It implies not using flowery language, wasting words, or trying to be too polite. But parlare chiaramente can have more to do with enunciation, articulation, ormaking oneself understood. So, sometimes parlare chiaro and parlare chiaramente can coincide, but not necessarily.

 

Apart from this modo di dire, the adjective and adverb forms are used a bit differently in grammatical terms.

 

Since chiaro is an adjective, it normally describes or modifies a noun. To be correct, then, we often use è (it is).

È chiaro che non lo deve sapere nessuno perché il marito è gelosissimo.
It's clear that no one should know, because her husband is very jealous.
Caption 33, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 12 of 14 

 

Chiaro may be used by itself with a question mark to ask, “Is that clear?”

E non sono tenuto a spiegarti niente, chiaro?
And I'm not obliged to explain anything to you, is that clear?
Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 10 of 17 

 

The adverb chiaramente, on the other hand, can stand alone before or after another clause or can be inserted just about anywhere in a sentence.

Natoli ha chiaramente bisogno di glutine, eh.
Natoli clearly needs gluten, huh.
Caption 33, La Tempesta: film - Part 5 of 26 

 

Using chiaro, Paolo could have said:

È chiaro che Natoli ha bisogno di glutine.
It’s clear that Natoli needs gluten.

 

But chiaro has a special in-between meaning when it’s used in place of an adverb with verbs such as parlare (to speak) and vedere (to see).

Finché non ci ho visto chiaro la tengo io.
Until I've seen things clearly I'm keeping it.
Caption 44, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 10 of 17 

 

Although we have translated it with an adverb, we could also say:

Until I get a clear picture of things, I’m keeping it.

Practice:
Look for sentences with either chiaro or chiaramente and try switching them, making the necessary changes. Doing a search on the video tab will give you plenty of examples.

Continue Reading

Solido and Sodo

This week, Marika talks about adverbs. But she also talks about adjectives used as adverbs in idiomatic expressions. If we think about it, this happens in English, too, as we shall see.

 

One adjective she uses is sodo. It is very similar to solido, and indeed, they are pretty equivalent and have the same Latin origin: “solidus.”

Solido is a true cognate, and means “solid.”

Il composto è stato a riposare in frigo. Adesso è più solido e così possiamo preparare le palline.
The dough has been resting in the fridge. Now it's stiffer and that way we can prepare the little balls.
Caption 29, Dolcetti vegan: al cocco e cioccolato 

 

Sodo is just a bit different, and used primarily in different contexts. One of the most common uses for sodo is when talking about how long an egg is cooked. If it’s hard-boiled, it’s sodo. We can well visualize the shell coming off the egg, and its being solid enough to hold in your hand: sodo.

 

While we’re on the subject of eggs, here are some different ways of cooking eggs in Italian: Let’s remember that the noun uovo has an irregular plural. Un uovo (an egg), due uova (two eggs), delle uova (some eggs).

uova strapazzate (literally, “over-worked eggs,” scrambled eggs)  
uovo affogato (literally, “drowned egg”) or in camicia (literally, “in its jacket,”  poached egg)  
uovo alla coque  (literally, “egg in its shell," soft-boiled egg, often eaten in its shell in an egg cup)
uovo sodo (hard-boiled egg)  
uovo al tegameuovo al tegamino (fried egg)
all'occhio di bue (literally, “like an ox’s eye,” sunny-side up)

There is an Italian film by Paolo Virzì called OvosodoOvo is Tuscan for uovoHere is an English language description of the movie.

 

We also use sodo when referring to working hard. This is similar to English, where we have the adjective “hard” functioning like an adverb, modifying, or describing the verb lavorare(to work).

Bisogna lavorare sodo per ottenere dei buoni risultati.
You have to work hard to obtain good results.
Caption 31, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi di modo 

 

Sodo can also be used a bit like nocciolo (the kernel, the point, the heart of the matter). In this case, the adjective sodo is used as a noun, to mean something like  “the serious stuff.” Seethis lesson about nocciolo.

Arriviamo al sodo (let’s get down to brass tacks, let’s get to the point).
Va subito al sodo. Non gira intorno (he gets right to the point. He doesn’t beat around the bush).

Continue Reading