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The fine line between adjectives and nouns

When we distinguish between adjectives and nouns, the presence or absence of an article plays its part. Certainly, in the Vocabulary Review exercise, included with all Yabla videos, a noun will have either a definite or indefinite article to distinguish it, and we add an article to the English translation for the same reason. But in real life, the distinction can be kind of fuzzy. 


When you're just speaking Italian, without translating, the difference doesn't matter all that much, but when we translate we have to decide whether a word is a noun or an adjective.



In English, too, the line can be a bit fuzzy. Take the word "elderly." It's an adjective, but we can also use it as a noun, to identify a group: the elderly. We don't think about it, we just use the word correctly. 


If we talk about an old person in Italian, we can use the adjective vecchio [m] or vecchia [f].

Passati i settant'anni, ormai è vecchio.

Being over seventy, he's already old.

Caption 29, Corso di italiano con Daniela Ormai

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But we can use the adjective as a noun by using an article with it. 

È un vecchio.

He's an old guy.

Caption 29, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP1 I Bastardi - Part 16

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When we translate it into English, we need a noun after the adjective. 

Allora le faccio entrare le tre vecchie? -Signore, le... chiamiamole signore. -Le tre vecchie signore.

So should I have the three old [women] come in? Ladies, the... let's call them ladies. The three old ladies.

Captions 68-70, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP2 Rabbia - Part 20

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The sergeant was describing the elderly women in a somewhat pejorative way and Lojacono corrected him. So he just turned the word he was using as a noun into an adjective. We could follow the same model with the adjective giovane (young).This adjective ends in e, so we don't immediately know the gender of the young person. As a noun in the context of the following clip, it usually refers to a male.

No. -Dio bono, Dio... -Eh... giovane, stai molto calmo, eh!

No. -Dear God... -Uh... young man, stay super calm, huh!

Caption 23, Il Commissario Manara S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 10

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When we add a noun after the adjective, we sometimes have a clue as to gender, but after that, we have to use the context to choose our noun wisely. In Italian, there are suffixes that can enhance the noun. Instead of saying una vecchia, we can say una vecchietta. That way it's clear it's a noun. We can say, instead of un giovane, un giovanotto.


We often find this noun-adjective correlation when describing people and their traits.


Pazzo (crazy)

E certamente, quello è pazzo di me.

And of course, that guy is crazy about me.

Caption 20, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP1 I Bastardi - Part 16

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Aragona, guidi come un pazzo.

Aragona, you drive like a maniac.

Caption 13, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP1 I Bastardi - Part 4

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Malato (ill)

E sapevate che era malato?

And did you know that he was ill?

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 4

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Molti dei malati vennero ricoverati nel vicino ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala,

Many of the sick were admitted to the nearby Santa Maria della Scala hospital,

Caption 42, Meraviglie EP. 3 - Part 6

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In this particular case, we use "the sick" to mean "sick people" in English, but we can't do it with all adjectives.


È un bastardo.

He is a bastard.

Caption 27, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP1 I Bastardi - Part 24

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Se fossi più grande, andrei al cantiere, da quel geometra bastardo e gli darei un sacco di botte.

If I were older, I would go to the construction site, to that bastard of a construction supervisor and I'd throw a bunch of punches at him.

Captions 3-5, La Ladra EP. 7 - Il piccolo ladro - Part 3

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Most of us have heard or uttered the adjective stupido (stupid). But we can use it as a noun, too, just like adjectives idiota, cretino, and scemo.

Sì. Sara, io sono uno stupido.

Yes, Sara, I'm an idiot.

Caption 40, Stai lontana da me Rai Cinema - Part 16

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When people call other people names, it's not always clear how to translate them, whether as nouns or adjectives. But in either case, the insult is clear. 

Stupido! Cretino! Deficiente!

Stupid! Idiot! Dumbass!

Caption 44, La Ladra EP. 6 - Nero di rabbia - Part 7

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