Italian Lessons


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!



Qualifying Adverbs: troppo, tanto

Troppo (too, too much, too many) is an essential word to know. It's also easy because its meaning is clear even if you use it by itself, even if you use it incorrectly. It is a word that will serve you well if you travel to Italy, and especially if you do any shopping. But let's remember that it can be used as either an adverb or an adjective. So it's just one more thing to think about when using it (correctly). 


Troppo caro! is an important phrase to memorize. Too expensive!



The question you might ask before saying that is:

Quanto costa (how much does it cost)?

If you don't understand the answer, try to get the vendor to write down the price.


Here below, troppo is used as an adverb. We see there is an adjective following it: caro (expensive, dear).


Ma è troppo caro, ma questo vasetto qua...

But that's too expensive, but this little pot here...

Caption 60, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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You can also just say È troppo (it's too much) or Costa troppo (it costs too much).


Typical uses of troppo as an adverb:

Troppo difficile (too difficult)

Troppo forte (too loud, too strong)

Troppo caldo (too hot)

Troppo complicato (too complicated)


Even when the adjective modifies a feminine noun, troppo (as an adverb) remains the same.

Lei è troppo ansiosa (she is too anxious).

I miei professori sono troppo esigenti (my teachers are too demanding).


But we can also use troppo as an adjective. Attenzione! When we use troppo as an adjective it has to agree, or correspond, to the noun it is modifying. We have to consider gender and number and thus, in translating troppo as an adjective, we have to think of whether it's "too much" or "too many."


So let's say we are again finding an item to be too expensive. We can say: 

Sono troppi soldi (that's too much money) .


Remember money is countable in Italian. Un soldo (a penny) or i soldi (the money).


Chances are that when you see troppo (with an o at the end) it will be an adverb but look around to see if there is an adjective or a noun after it.


C'è troppo aglio.

There's too much garlic.

Caption 1, Dafne - Film - Part 18

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When you see troppi or troppe, then you know they are adjectives.


Tu ti fai troppi problemi, troppi.

You're having too many scruples, too many.

Caption 16, Sposami - EP 3 - Part 20

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Ti ho perdonato... ti ho perdonato troppe volte.

I've forgiven you... I've forgiven you too many times.

Caption 43, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio - A corto di idee

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Let's also be aware that troppo is often used by itself: È troppo! to mean, "that's too much!" in a figurative way.



Tanto is another word that is very useful and very common, although it does have various meanings and uses that we won't cover here.  We'll limit ourselves to talking about its function as an adjective or adverb to mean "a lot," "much," "many," or "very."


Ben presto però si sviluppò in Europa, dove ebbe tanto successo.

Quite early on, it spread to Europe, where it had a lot of success.

Caption 7, Adriano - balla il Tango Argentino

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In the example above, there's a noun after tanto, so we can see it's an adjective. But in the following example, there's an adjective after tanto, so it's an adverb. When translating, we'll need "very" when tanto is used as an adverb.


Il problema principale è che Boss era un gatto,

The main problem was that Boss was a cat...

era ed è un gatto tanto socievole.

he was, and is, a very sociable cat.

Captions 31-32, Andromeda - La storia di Boss

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We use tanto a lot in negative sentences too, or we can use poco the same way:

Non è tanto bello (it's not very nice).

È poco bello (it's not very nice).


When tanto is used as an adjective, we have to watch the endings, just as we did with troppo.


Si può aggiungere il caffè, si possono aggiungere tanti ingredienti...

One can add coffee, one can add many ingredients...

Caption 10, Andromeda - in - Storia del gelato

 Play Caption vista di tante passeggiate all'aria aperta. anticipation of many walks in the open air.

Caption 35, Adriano - Le stagioni dell'anno

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So basically troppo and tanto work the same way, in terms of grammar. As we said before, tanto has other meanings or nuances, so we suggest doing a search of tanto in the lessons tab, to see multiple lessons about the word. Check them out! 


When Accents Make a Difference

Let’s talk about some other common Italian words containing written accents. In case you missed the lesson in which we started talking about accents, read it here.


The accent on the u at the end of più (more) tells us that the accent of the word doesn’t fall on the iwhich is where it would naturally fall.


Più gli ingredienti sono freschi e più è buono.

The fresher the ingredients are, the better it is.

Caption 16, Andromeda - in - Storia del gelato

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A similar-looking word is pio (pious) where the accent does fall on the i, and indeed there is no accent on any letter.


È pio, eh di, di nome e di fatto.

He's Pio [pious], uh in, in name and in fact.

Caption 48, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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In the same manner, ciò  (that, what) has an accent on the to tell us the accent is not on the i where it would normally fall.


È uno che di fronte a una bella donna

He's someone who, faced with a beautiful woman,

si dimentica di ciò che è giusto e ciò che è sbagliato.

forgets what's right and what's wrong.

Caption 28, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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All the days of the week except il sabato (Saturday) and la domenica (Sunday) have an accent on the i at the end: lunedì (Monday), martedì (Tuesday), mercoledì (Wednesday), giovedì (Thursday), venerdì (Friday). In fact,  is another word for "day" (normally giorno).


Un bel vedremo.

One beautiful day we'll see.

Caption 13, Anna presenta - Madama butterfly di Giacomo Puccini

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Without the accent on the i, it's di (of).


Eppure io non ho mai smesso né di aspettarlo né di amarlo.

Nonetheless I never ceased to wait for him or to love him.

Caption 11, Anna presenta - Madama butterfly di Giacomo Puccini

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Similarly, da (of, from, to, at) has no accent, but when we conjugate the third person singular of the verb dare (to give), we use an accent to distinguish it from da: .


Invito Sigrid, una mia studentessa a farvelo sentire,

I invite Sigrid, a student of mine, to let you hear

in modo da mettere in evidenza appunto ogni sillaba

it in order to highlight, precisely each syllable

che il nome alle note.

that gives its name to the notes.

Captions 37-39, A scuola di musica - con Alessio

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Remember that except for e, where the accent may be either grave (è) or acute (é) to distinguish between an open (è) or closed (ée, all the accents will be “grave,” that is, going down from left to right (àìòù). 


Try learning these words one by one, making the accent part of the word as you learn it. Needless to say, taking advantage of the Yabla games, from multiple choice to Scribe, will help you nail it.

Modal Verbs in Italian

To get the basics about why and how we use modal verbs in Italian, and how they are conjugated, see Daniela's video lesson about modal verbs. The modal verbs are: dovere (to have to, must), potere (to be able to, can), and volere (to want to, would).

Italian modal verbs have some similarities with English modal verbs, because they are used together with verbs in the infinitive, but there are differences, too. In English, for example, we can use "to be able to," which does get conjugated, or "can," which doesn't get conjugated. Italian modal verbs are conjugated and are irregular, so as Daniela says, you just have to learn them. These verbs are used so often that you're bound to learn the principle conjugations just by listening. Here's a quick conjugation chart for the present tense, plus a few tips.


There are other verbs like sapere (when it means "to be able to") that are also considered to be modal.

Non lo so spiegare.
can't explain it [I don't know how to explain it].

When in the regular present tense, using modal verbs is mostly trouble free, as long as you've learned the irregular conjugation. The easy part (handy for when you're not sure of the conjugation of another verb) is that the other verb is going to be in the infinitive!

Note that both volere (to want) and dovere (to owe) have uses that aren't modal. All three modal verbs are also nouns, so, occhio al contesto (keep an eye on the context)! 


Let's look at some practical examples. Look for an infinitive verb in the vicinity of the modal verb, to put the modal picture together. 


Zia, che cosa devo fare?

Aunt, what should I do?

Caption 25, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Alex vuole imparare il tedesco.

Alex wants to learn German.

Caption 22, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Domande

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Alle mie spalle, potete vedere la statua del Cristo di Maratea.

Behind me you can see the statue of Christ of Maratea.

Caption 1, Antonio - Maratea, Il Cristo Redentore

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Let's remember that the verb in the infinitive might actually be missing from the sentence itself, but it can easily be imagined, just like in English.

Non posso!

One very common way modal verbs are used is with the impersonal. See these lessons about the impersonal, which uses the third person, as in the example below.


Si può aggiungere il caffè, si possono aggiungere tanti ingredienti.

One can add coffee, one can add many ingredients.

Caption 10, Andromeda - in - Storia del gelato

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So far we've been looking at the present tense. A bit further along the line, we'll get into modal verbs with compound tenses, which is a bit more complex. Hope to see you then!


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