Italian Lessons


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.


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.


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.

Getting Adjectives to Behave - Part 1

See also: Getting Adjectives to Behave - Part 2

In Italian, gender and number affect not only a noun and its article, but also the adjective describing the noun. We looked at some special cases in a previous lesson, which Daniela also discusses in her lesson series. But let's get back to general adjective behavior.


Adjectives fall into two categories: positivi (positive) and neutri (neutral). In simplistic terms, it's a way of dividing them according to their endings: o or e


In this video lesson, Daniela starts out with the most common kind of adjective. She calls it an aggettivo positivo (positive adjective). It’s the kind of adjective that in its basic form (masculine singular), ends in o. Many of us are already familiar with this type: bello (beautiful, nice), piccolo (small), grasso (fat), magro (thin), alto (high, tall), buono (good), and so on. This kind of adjective matches up with its nouns in all four kinds of endings: masculine singular, masculine plural, feminine singular, and feminine plural. 


Allora, quando parlo di aggettivo positivo vuol dire che un aggettivo positivo è quello che ha tutte e quattro le finali.

So, when I talk about positive adjectives, it means that a positive adjective is one that has all four endings.

Captions 41-42, Corso di italiano con Daniela Aggettivi positivi e neutri - Part 1

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These adjectives are easy to deal with because they are entirely predictable: the masculine singular ends in o. The masculine plural ends in i, the feminine singular ends in a, and the feminine plural ends in e, just like many of the nouns they describe:

Masculine singular:
Il vestito è bello (the dress is beautiful).
Masculine plural:
I vestiti sono belli (the dresses are beautiful).
Feminine singular:
La gonna è bella (the skirt is nice).
Feminine plural:
Le gonne sono belle (the skirts are nice).


It’s important to know the gender of the nouns you are describing. The good news is that much of the time the gender is easily determined by looking at the ending of a noun, as Daniela explains in this video lesson.


Even if the noun is absent but implied, as when you tell someone they look nice, the rule still applies!

If you’re talking to a man:
Sei bello (you're handsome).
If you’re talking to a woman:
Sei bella (you're beautiful).
If you're talking to two men:
Siete belli (you're [both] handsome).
If you're talking to two women:
Siete belle (you're [both] beautiful).
If you're talking to a man and a woman:*
Siete belli (you're [both] beautiful).

*Masculine reigns, even though it seems unfair. 


It's easy to know the gender when referring to people. But don't forget that not only people have gender, but every kind of noun.

Il tavolo è alto (the table is high).
I materassi sono duri (the mattresses are hard).
La sedia è comoda (the chair is comfortable).
Le finestre sono aperte (the windows are open).


You can see why, when learning a new noun, it’s a good idea to learn the article along with it. "Positive" adjectives are the easiest ones to use, so they're a good place to start for understanding noun-adjective agreement. 


Further practice:
After viewing a Yabla video, check out the Vocabulary Review. You’ll recognize the nouns, because most of them will have articles attached to them, whether singular or plural. Check out the adjectives, too. Can you pick out the positive ones? Hint: they'll end in o, because they're given in the masculine singular. While you're at it, why not go through the other endings (masculine plural, feminine singular, and plural) for each positive adjective you find? 


Stay on the lookout for a lesson on aggettivi neutri, coming soon on Yabla. They're the adjectives that end in e, and they aren't quite as well-behaved as the aggettivi positivi.


Just in case you're getting discouraged:
Learning to speak correctly is important, but remember, communication is the real key. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble getting it all straight. For people coming from languages where gender is nonexistent, it’s a huge challenge to get genders right all the time, not to mention grasping how adjectives work. Don’t let your doubts stop you from using your new language skills.

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