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50 good-to-know Italian adjectives part 1 — positives

It's good to know some basic Italian adjectives so that you can comment on things you see, hear, smell, and taste. We'll be presenting 50 Italian adjectives that people use every day, approximately 10 by 10, so they'll be manageable. Some of these will be easy because they are similar to ones you know in English. Others will be past participles of verbs, just as in English. Yet others will be weird and different and just need to be memorized. And there will be some false friends to watch out for. For more about how adjectives work, see this lesson.



Sometimes An Adjective Is Enough. 

Adjectives are an essential part of speaking a language but the good news is that even if you don't know how to form a sentence or a question, just knowing the appropriate adjective can allow you to communicate something. And that's what language is all about: communication. So if nothing else, just say the appropriate adjective, all by itself, and you will get your message across. 


Adjectives that express something positive:


1) bello (beautiful, great)

beautiful blue sea
We can use this adjective for much more than describing a panorama or person as “beautiful.”


We also use it for a movie or book we liked, a situation like a vacation, an encounter…


Ho visto un bel film (I saw a great movie).


So it can also mean “wonderful.” And, since it’s an adjective that changes its ending according to gender and number, it can be used for both guys and gals or masculine and feminine nouns by just changing the ending from bello to bella. So it also means “handsome!”


You'll have noticed that instead of saying Ho visto un bello film, we chop off the ending when it's followed directly by the noun. We say:

Ho visto un bel film, ho letto un bel libro (I saw a great movie, I read a good book). 


When you see something beautiful, you can simply say Bello! or Che bello!

Bello, l'ha fatto Lei?

b. Did you do it?

Caption 16, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 18

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2) buono (good)

Buono is used a lot for food, for instance, when something tastes good, but it’s also used to mean “valid.” It can also describe a good person.

È una buona persona (He/she is a good person). 


Note that persona is a feminine noun, so even if we are talking about a boy or man, the adjective describing persona has to take a feminine ending. Tricky, right?


See Daniela's video lesson about bello, buono, and bene.

Questo è il gelato artigianale. Più gli ingredienti sono freschi e più è buono.

This is handmade ice cream. The fresher the ingredients are, the better it is.

Captions 15-16, Andromeda in - Storia del gelato - Part 2

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Note: Buono is one of those adjectives that has an irregular comparative. See this lesson and this one, too.


3) carino (nice, pretty, good-looking)

This is another adjective with an “o” ending, changing its ending according to gender and number. In aesthetic terms, it is less extreme than bello. However, carino is often used to mean “nice” or “kind” in describing a person, or what the person has done, for example, if you do someone a favor they didn’t ask you to do.

Eh sì. -Eh sì. Comunque Luca è stato molto carino, eh, ad accompagnare suo figlio Fabio all'istituto.

Oh yes. -Oh yes. However Luca was very sweet, no, to accompany his son Fabio to the institute.

Oh yes. -Oh yes. However, it was really nice of Luca, no, to accompany his son Fabio to the institute.

Captions 26-27, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 14

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4) gentile (kind, gentle)

Gentile is a bit more formal than carino. Carino is often used to describe people close to you, but if the bank manager was nice and polite to you, you would use the word gentile. You might also use cortese (courteous) —a great cognate!

E come no, mai una cattiva parola, sempre gentile.

For sure, never a mean word, always kind.

Caption 31, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP2 Rabbia - Part 3

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5) bravo (capable, well-behaved, good at something)

Caro Olivetti, sarai anche bravo a far le macchine da scrivere, ma i tuoi interessi non sono i nostri.

Dear Olivetti, you might be good at making typewriters, but your interests are not ours.

Captions 43-44, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 20

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False friend alert! Forget about “brave” for the most part. Fai la brava! means “Be a good girl!” 


È un bravo idraulico (he is a very capable plumber. He is a good plumber).


When I want to say, “Good for you!” I say Bravo! (for a guy) or Brava! (for a gal).

Il cane è bravo (he’s a good [well-behaved] dog–he won’t bite you).

6) ottimo (great, excellent)

This looks like “optimal,” and can also mean that sometimes, but primarily, it’s a superlative kind of adjective that means “great.” Consider this exchange:

Ci vediamo alle cinque. -Ottimo.
I’ll meet you at five o’clock. -Great.


È un ottimo posto per fare jogging.

It's a great place to go jogging.

Caption 25, Anna e Marika Villa Torlonia - Casino Nobile

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This is the perfect comment for someone whose work you appreciated:

Ottimo lavoro!
[You did a] great job! 

7) eccellente (excellent)

Here’s a great true friend or cognate. This adjective ends in e, so it doesn’t change with gender, just number.

Questo risotto era da vero eccellente (this risotto was excellent.)

Queste ostriche sono eccellenti (these oysters are great.)


Eccellente can also describe a prominent or eminent person, such as someone in a high position.

8) corretto (correct, fair, right, decent)

Here is a partially false friend. If you get the right answer, la risposta è corretta. That’s easy.  However, the other meaning of “fair,” — “fair-minded,” “sportsmanlike”— is less familiar to non-native speakers, but very important! For instance, corretto can describe a person as well as his or her behavior.

Pensavo che fosse una persona corretta, e invece… (I thought he was a decent, fair-minded person, but instead…)


Ma ti pare corretto, l'esaminatore che si fa venire a prendere dall'esaminando? -No. -Ma dai!

But does it seem right to you for the exam giver to have the exam taker pick him up? -No. -Come on!

Captions 8-9, La Ladra EP. 11 - Un esame importante - Part 4

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9) favoloso (fabulous, magnificent, awesome)

Here is another true friend. We don’t use “fabulous” in English so much anymore — but some of us still remember the “fab four” (The Beatles). In contrast, Italians do use favoloso when they really mean it. Eyebrows go up, eyes get wider.

Allora, io oggi sono arrivata in questa favolosa città, Lucca, però non la conosco, quindi dove posso andare?

So, today I arrived in this fabulous city, Lucca, but I don't know it, so where can I go?

Captions 16-17, In giro per l'Italia Lucca - Part 1

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10) magnifico (magnificent, great, terrific, cool)


Another true friend, this adjective is somewhat over-used in Italian, thus diminishing its value as a superlative:


Ci vediamo alle cinque. -Magnifico. (I’ll see you at five. -Great.)


E tu, come sempre, sei stata magnifica. -E tu un magnifico bugiardo.

And you, as always, were magnificent. -And you, a magnificent liar.

Captions 2-3, La Ladra EP. 12 - Come ai vecchi tempi - Part 14

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Let's add one more adjective (not included in the 50) that is super easy to use, and easy to remember: fantastico. It's used just like "fantastic" in English, so when you're short on vocabulary, try this one. AND even if you say it in English, people will understand. Of course, it can also be connected with "fantasy," but that's another story. 

Sarebbe fantastico andare al concerto tutti insieme. -Un sogno.

It would be fantastic to go to a concert all together. -A dream.

Caption 48, JAMS S1 EP2 - Part 7

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We hope this has been helpful. The next group of adjectives will be about negative adjectives. Stay tuned!



Poi: A Short Word That Carries a Big Punch

Poi is a short word, and it's an adverb, but it is used extremely often, and more often than not, it means something other than its basic translation of "then." The English word "then" is also one of those words we find in all sorts of situations, meaning various things. Sometimes it's tricky to find the "right" English equivalent of poi, since it is also used as a kind of filler word in Italian.


Let's look at the dictionary definition of poi. The first definition is "then." How helpful is that? Not so helpful, except in the most basic cases.


At its most basic, poi may be used like "then" to put things in order, in a series. For example, if you are giving someone instructions, you will use "Then you do this..." The same thing can be done in Italian. Here, Daniela is listing the colors and how they work in Italian.


I colori positivi sono: grigio.

The positive colors are: gray.

Grigio. La maglia di Sandra è grigia.

Gray. Sandra's sweater is gray.

Poi abbiamo il nero.

Then we have "nero" (black).

La mia maglia è nera.

My sweater is black.

Poi abbiamo la maglia di Ingeborg che è... bianca.

Then we have Ingeborg's sweater, which is... white.

Captions 4-8, Corso di italiano con Daniela - I colori

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When someone is telling a story, you might ask:


E poi cosa è successo?

And then what happened?

Caption 30, Acqua in bocca - Rapimento e riscatto - Ep 12

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But poi can also mean later. Maybe the easiest way to remember this is in the expression prima o poi (sooner or later).


Se nascevo da un'altra parte,

If I was [had been] born somewhere else,

prima o poi, il destino bussava.

sooner or later, destiny would have come knocking.

Caption 20, Chi m'ha visto - film

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Speaking of expressions, another one that's used a lot is d'ora in poi from now on:


Siamo una cinquantina

There are about fifty of us

e siamo tutti pronti ad avere,

and we are ready to have,

d'ora in poi, come soli referenti voi.

from now on, you as our sole representative,

Captions 24-25, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2

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In other words, we're talking about "later than this moment," or "henceforth." But we can also say da quel moment in poi, when we're talking about the past or the future — from then on, from that moment forward.


Sometimes poi is used like "besides," "in the end," "all in all."


Poi, adesso che ha deciso di candidarsi alle elezioni,

Besides, now that he has decided to run for election,

ha in testa soltanto la politica e il Movimento Comunità.

he has only politics and the Community Movement in mind.

Captions 4-5, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2

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In the following example, we could even leave poi out, and the sentence would make sense.


...perché questo serve per

...because this serves to

rendere ermetica la chiusura,

create the hermetic seal,

quindi non far entrare l'aria,

meaning it doesn't let in any air,

che poi è quella che va a far deteriorare la marmellata.

which is, in the end, what makes the jam deteriorate.

Captions 75-78, Andromeda - Marmellata anti spreco

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So, often, poi is just used as filler. In fact, here, it's even left out of the translation, because del resto is already complete. But poi embellishes it a bit, to mean "also" or "too."


Come prosciutto e melone poi del resto, però la mozzarella...

Like cured ham and melon, for that matter, but mozzarella...

Caption 23, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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We have just scratched the surface. If you find instances of poi that you don't understand, please let us know and we will add on to this lesson. 

Niente (nothing, no, not): How to use it

Niente is an indispensable word to have in your basic Italian vocabulary. It's a noun, it's a pronoun, it's an adjective, it's an adverb, and it can even be a simple filler word that doesn't mean anything in particular. This highly useful word can mean various things, but they all have some connection with "no," "nothing," or "not."



Double negative

Let's remember that in Italian, the double negative is totally acceptable. It gets the meaning across! So, as opposed to English, we will often see non and niente in the same sentence expressing something negative. For example:

Pronto? Non sento niente.

Hello? I can't hear anything.

Caption 11, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 20

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Of course, when we translate, we try to use correct English, so with the presence of non, we avoid a double negative and transform "nothing" into "anything."


Niente before a noun to mean "no" or "not any"

We use niente to mean "no" or "not any" before a noun (or verb in the infinitive that is functioning as a noun).


Buoni! -E sì, invece di prendertela col buio, accendi la luce, sennò niente biscotti!

Good! -Oh yes, instead of getting upset with the darkness, turn on the light. Otherwise, no cookies!

Captions 61-62, Dixiland Buio mangiabiscotti

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If we see the little preposition di (of) before the word male (bad), then we're saying "nothing wrong," "not anything bad," 

Allora, insomma, erano un po' preoccupati, ma in realtà non ho fatto niente di male.

So, basically, they were a bit worried, but I didn't actually do anything wrong.

Captions 91-92, Che tempo che fa Raffaella Carrà - Part 3

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But when we have niente followed by male (with no preposition), then it means "not bad."  This is an important distinction. Niente male is a wonderful alternative to "great!" We say something similar in English, too. 

Anche a me sono successe un paio di disavventure niente male!

I also had a couple of things happen to me that weren't bad at all [pretty incredible]!

Caption 56, Francesca e Marika Gestualità

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In Italian, we can either say non male (not bad) or niente male (not bad at all), which is a bit stronger towards the positive end of the spectrum.


Nothing at all

One way to say, "nothing at all," is niente di niente.

No, no, io non ho sentito niente, niente di niente.

No, no, I didn't hear anything — nothing at all.

Caption 18, La Ladra EP. 6 - Nero di rabbia - Part 8

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Another way to say "nothing at all" is un bel niente.

No, abbiamo un caso di suicidio e stiamo ce'... -Abbiamo, abbiamo. Lei non ha un bel niente, Manara, finché non l'autorizzo io, ha capito?

No, we have a case of suicide and we're lo'... -We have, we have. You have a big nothing Manara, until I authorize it, understand?

Captions 24-25, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 3

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But to say, "not at all," it's per niente.

E a me non piacciono per niente.

And I don't like them at all.

Caption 43, Volare - La grande storia di Domenico Modugno Ep. 1 - Part 15

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Niente as filler 

OK, e niente, avevo portato qualcosa da mangiare,

OK, and nothing more. I had brought something to eat,

Caption 7, Il Commissario Manara S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 4

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We translated niente here as "nothing more," but actually, it could mean something like "that's all." 


There are undoubtedly other ways to use niente, such as: 

Fa niente (it doesn't matter).

Di niente (you're welcome, don't mention it).

Non ho capito niente (I didn't understand anything).


Keep your eyes and ears open for the word niente as you watch Yabla videos, or any other videos. It's really all over the place!