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How Adjectives Work in Italian Part 1

 
How do adjectives work in Italian?
 
First off, let's review what an adjective is and what it does. An adjective describes or modifies a noun, as opposed to an adverb, which describes or modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

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The distinction is important because in Italian, adjectives need to agree with the nouns they describe, whereas adverbs don't. This means that the ending of the adjective changes according to the gender and number of the noun it describes. In English, we don't have this problem, so it can be tough to learn in a language where it does matter.
 
 
The first thing we need to consider is: Which type of adjective is it? Positive or neutral?
 
There are two basic types: aggettivi positivi (positive adjectives) that end in o in their masculine singular form, and aggettivi neutri (neutral adjectives) that end in e in their masculine (and feminine) singular form. When you look up an adjective in the dictionary you will see the singular masculine form of the adjective. 
 
If you would like to learn about adjectives in Italian, see Daniela's lessons: Don't forget: you can turn English and Italian captions on and off!
 

In italiano abbiamo due tipi di aggettivi:

In Italian, we have two kinds of adjectives.

noi li chiamiamo aggettivi positivi e aggettivi neutri.

We call them positive adjectives and neutral adjectives.

Captions 23-24, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi positivi e neutri

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An example of a positive adjective is caro (expensive).

An example of a neutral adjective is grande (big).

 
The second thing we have to consider is: What's the gender of the noun we are describing? Masculine or feminine?
 
The noun that the adjective describes may be masculine or feminine. Often, a masculine noun will end in o when in the singular, but not always.
 
Il forno (the oven, the bakery) ends in "o" but il pane (the bread) ends in "e." Both are masculine, singular nouns.
 
Tip: It's always a good idea to learn the article that goes with a noun when you learn the noun. It will make using adjectives easier.
 
The third thing we have to consider is: Is the noun we are describing singular or plural?
 
This factor, together with the gender and the type of adjective (o or e / positive or neutral) will determine the ending of the adjective. That's a lot to think about, so let's look at each of the four possible endings one by one in the "positive" adjective category.
 
Adjectives that end in "o":
This is the more common of the two kinds of adjectives, so let's see how these adjective endings work.
There can be 4 different endings for this kind of adjective if the noun it describes has both a masculine and a feminine form (like il ragazzo (boy) / la ragazza (the girl) / i ragazzi (the boys / le ragazze (the girls).
 
 
Masculine + singular = o.
 

È un tipico teatro diciamo shakespeariano, con il palco rotondo al centro.

It's a typical, let's say, Shakespearean theatre, with a round stage in the center.

Caption 18, Anna presenta - Villa Borghese

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Feminine + singular = a.
 

La spiaggia è molto pulita.

The beach is very clean.

Caption 19, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni

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Masculine + plural = i
 

Ci siamo ricordati tutti i momenti belli della nostra storia.

We remembered all the beautiful moments of our romance.

Caption 17, Anna presenta - La Bohème di Puccini

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Feminine + plural = e.
 

Si aggiustano le scarpe rotte, se ne creano nuove su misura.

They repair broken shoes; they custom make new ones.

Caption 5, Marika spiega - Il nome dei negozi

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Bambino means "child" or "baby." Piccolo means "small."  Bambino is the type of noun that can change according to gender, so as a consequence, it's quite easy to see the different endings of the adjective piccolo.
 
Il bambino è piccolo (the little boy is small).
La bambina è piccola (the little girl is small).
I bambini sono piccoli (the little boys are small).
Le bambine sono piccole (the little girls are small).
 
This noun - adjective combination is straightforward. In other words, you see a certain letter at the end of the noun, and the adjective ends the same way. But don't be fooled into thinking all nouns and adjectives are like this. They often are, so it may be a good guess, but not all the time.
 
What are some other common positive Italian adjectives (ending in "o")?
 
bello (beautiful or handsome)
brutto (ugly or bad)
buono (good)
cattivo (bad)
duro (hard, difficult)
caro (dear, expensive)
crudo (raw, uncooked)
cotto (cooked)
creativo (creative)
pulito (clean)
sporco (dirty)
rosso (red)
grosso (big)
pieno (full)
vuoto (empty)
bianco (white)
bravo (good)
 
To sum up about adjectives that end in "o," if the noun is masculine and singular, like, for example, il cielo (the sky) which also happens to end in "o," the adjective will end in "o," as well: un cielo nuvoloso, cielo scuro (cloudy sky, dark sky), not because the noun ends in "o" but because it's masculine and singular. Even if the noun ends in "e," such as il pane (the bread), or in "a" such as il sistema (the system), the positive adjective will still end in "o."
 
Il pane duro (the hard bread)
Il pane vecchio (the old bread)
il pesce fresco (the fresh fish)
il vecchio sistema (the old system)
il ponte nuovo (the new bridge)
 
By the same token, if you have a singular feminine noun such as la giornata (the day), the positive adjective will end in "a." La giornata nuvolosa (the cloudy day). Una giornata scura (a dark day), la strada vecchia (the old road), una fine inaspettata (an unexpected ending), la mano ferma (the steady hand).
 
Practically speaking:
You can now take the positive adjectives in the list above and apply them to any appropriate noun. Remember, both gender and number count, but, as you will see, not all nouns are like bambino/bambina. Not all nouns have both masculine and feminine versions.
 
Here's a short list of nouns and adjectives to get you started.
 
La casa (the house) pulita, sporca, vecchia, nuova, rossa, grossa, etc.
Le case (the houses) pulite, sporche, vecchie, nuove, rosse, grosse, etc.
Il lavandino (the sink) pieno, vuoto, sporco, pulito, bianco, etc.
I lavandini (the sinks) pieni, vuoti, sporchi, puliti, bianchi, etc.
Gli spaghetti crudi, buoni, cotti, duri, cattivi, etc.
La pasta cruda, buona, cotta, dura, cattiva, etc.
Il prosciutto crudo, cotto, buono, cattivo, etc.
 
Get the idea? Can you find positive adjectives to go with these nouns?
 
La verdura (the vegetables) (this noun can be used in the plural, but is generally used as a singular collective noun).
Una stanza (a room)
Le mele (the apples)
Gli alberi (the trees)
Un letto (a bed)
Un fiore (a flower)
Una pianta (a plant)

Use the dictionary if you're not sure how to form the plural of a noun.

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Write to us if you have questions!

Stay tuned for the next part of this lesson about adjectives, when will discuss aggettivi neutri (neutral adjectives), or those adjectives that end in "e" and do not change according to gender: they only change according to singular and plural. Thus, they have only 2 possible endings.

Extra Reading References

There are times and situations in which reading is the thing to do.

 

Oppure potete semplicemente sdraiarvi sull'erba, prendere il sole e leggere un buon libro.

Or else you can simply lie on the grass, sunbathe and read a good book.

Captions 22-23, Anna presenta Villa Borghese - Part 2

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Here are a few ideas to feed your Italian language curiosity.

 

Una parola al giorno (One word a day)

This is a great website for learning new words in Italian, or for getting explanations about words you have heard or read, and maybe even used, but would like to know more about.

The explanations are in Italian, so it’s mostly for more advanced learners. You can always consult an English language tool as well such as Google, or go straight to WordReference if the Italian is too difficult. By subscribing to Una parola al giorno, you’ll receive a new word every day in your inbox. It may be a word you don’t care about, and you can just send it to the trash, but there will be plenty of useful words, too. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe any time.

Do you like to read? 

Sometimes it’s fun to learn new words and expressions in Italian within the context of a book or story in English set in Italy. Both of the following authors pepper their writings with Italian words and phrases. It’s a great opportunity to discover when, where, and how to use them. It also gives you some inside information about Italian culture.

Tim Parks is a British author who has lived in Verona, Italy for many years. He worked as a translator and taught translating skills at Italian universities, as well as being a successful novelist. His books about Italy provide some well-written and humorous insight into Italy, Italians, and the Italian language.

Below are his non-fiction books about Italy.

Italian Neighbours, 1992. Relates how the author and his wife came to a small town near Verona and how they integrate and become accustomed to the unusual habits of their newfound neighbours. ISBN 0099286955

An Italian Education, 1996. Follow up to Italian Neighbours and recounts the milestones in the life of the author's children as they progress through the Italian school system. ISBN 0099286963

Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo 2013 This is all about the railway system in Italy, and how the author travelled the length of the “boot” to discover its ins and outs.

Donna Leon has written a long series of mysteries set in Venice. She lived in Venice for many years, so her descriptions are quite true-to-life.

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