Italian Lessons


50 good-to-know Italian adjectives part 2 — negatives

Here are some good-to-know Italian adjectives that express something negative: for positive adjectives (numbers 1-10) see this lesson.

11) brutto (ugly, bad)

Brutto is the opposite of bello, and works the same way. We use brutto to talk about a movie we didn’t like, or something that is physically unpleasant to look at. Just like bello, brutto is more than ugly. It’s often used to mean "bad," for instance: un brutto incidente (a bad accident). 

Che brutto incidente!
What a terrible accident!

12) cattivo (bad, mean, nasty, evil)

This is another kind of “bad,” but often has more to do with non-physical things. Someone can be una cattiva persona (a nasty person).


13) pessimo (really bad, awful)

This is a wonderful adjective to have in your repertoire when you really need to call something “awful.”


Quel risotto era pessimo. (That risotto was really awful.)


14) scorretto (unfair, unjust, rude)

This is one of those wonderful adjectives that, by merely adding the “s” prefix, becomes the opposite of the original word, in this case, corretto.

Va be', ma non ti sembra scorretto nei confronti del mio Cicci? -No.

OK, but don't you think it's unfair to my Cicci? -No.

Caption 32, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 9

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15) terrible  (terrible, awful, horrendous)

Here’s a partially true friend. We add it because it will be an easy word to call on if you need a negative adjective. It is not the first choice for Italians, though, and usually describes something as extraordinarily intense.

Qui, in seguito a una terribile frana, non abita più nessuno.

Here, following a big landslide, no one lives here anymore.

Caption 48, Basilicata Turistica Non me ne voglio andare - Part 2

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16) terrificante (dreadful, horrifying, terrifying, scary)

False friend alert. Terrificante does not mean “terrific.” It is a negative adjective, often used to mean “terrible,” but also “terrifying,” — inspiring fear.

Cioè, viviamo in un mondo che è brutale, terrificante... -Aspro, sì.

That is, we live in a world that's brutal, terrifying... -Bitter, yes.

Caption 6, Fellini Racconta Un Autoritratto Ritrovato - Part 8

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17) orrendo (horrible, hideous, horrendous, dreadful, awful, terrible)

This is a strong, extreme (negative) adjective, but it’s there when you need it, as a true “friend.” Eyebrows up, eyes wide open in horror.

18) noioso (boring, annoying, tedious, irritating)

This is a great adjective because, as well as describing a boring movie, it can also describe something or someone that’s annoying you or being a nuisance:

Quel film era molto noioso. Mi sono addirittura addormentato (That film was boring. I even fell asleep).
Non essere noioso (Don’t be so irritating, don’t annoy me).


Eh, povero Dixi, il singhiozzo è noioso

Oh, poor Dixi, the hiccups are bothersome

Caption 15, Dixiland Il singhiozzo

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19) negato (hopeless, useless, incapable, decidedly ungifted)

This is a useful adjective for admitting someone does something badly because they have no talent, no gift, not because they aren’t trying.

Negato describes a person (or possibly an animal), not an action or thing. Negato comes from the verb negare (to deny, to negate) but here, we are talking about the talent of a person.

Sono negato per la cucina. (I’m no good at cooking. I’m a disaster at cooking.)

Il maestro dice che non ha mai visto nessuno più negato di me.

The teacher says he has never seen anyone less gifted than me.

Caption 41, Questione di Karma Rai Cinema - Part 9

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20) tirchio (stingy, miserly)

This describes a person who holds onto his or her money or possessions. However, in English, we might sooner use a noun such as “tightwad.”

Quanto sei tirchio (what a tightwad you are).


We hope these words will help you describe events, people, food, and more. 

Asking What Something Means in Italian

One of the most basic things we need to know as we venture into the world of speaking Italian is how to ask about a word we don't understand.


There are a couple of ways to do this.




One way is to use a verb we can easily understand, even though we don't use its English equivalent the same way, or very often in conversation. The Italian is significare. It kind of looks like "signify." Of course, in English, we would sooner use the adjective "significant" or the adverb "significantly."


Cosa significa (what does it mean)?


"Pilazza" in italiano significa "vasca di pietra" o "lavatoio";

"Pilazza," in Italian, means "stone tub" or "washhouse."

è il posto in cui, anticamente,

It's the place where, in earlier times,

venivano i cittadini di Mazara del Vallo a fare il bucato.

the citizens of Mazara del Vallo would come to do the laundry.

Captions 15-17, In giro per l'Italia - Mazara Del Vallo - Sicilia

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And if we want the noun form, it's il significato (the meaning, the significance).


Questo è un ottimo esercizio per ripassare alcune parole del video e il loro significato.

This is a good exercise for reviewing some words from the video and their meaning.

Caption 49, Italian Intro - Serena

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We can ask: Qual è il significato (what's the meaning)?


The other more common way with volere

The more common way to ask what something means is a bit more complex at first: We need 2 verbs to say it, but it's easy to say, and once you master it you will be all set.


The first verb is volere (to want). This is a very useful but tricky verb, as it is actually two verbs in one: It's a stand-alone transitive verb, as in: 


Voglio una macchina nuova (I want a new car).


We can also translate it as "to desire."


Volere is also a modal verb, basically meaning "to want to." The main thing to know about a modal verb is that it's followed by a verb in the infinitive, or rather it goes together with a verb in the infinitive, and can't stand alone. Just like some verbs in English, such as "to get," volere has meanings that go beyond "to want to." And just like "to get" in English, volere can pair up with other verbs to take on a new meaning. 


In the case of asking what something means, we add a second verb, in the infinitive: dire (to say). 


You know how in English we always say, "I mean..."? Well, Italians do this too, but they say, Voglio dire... (I mean to say, I mean).


Bene, forse è ancora in tempo.

Good, maybe there's still time for you.

Prima che distrugga anche la sua famiglia, voglio dire.

Before he destroys your family as well, I mean.

Captions 10-11, La Ladra - Ep. 2 - Viva le spose

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The difference between "I mean to say" and "I mean" is minimal, right? If we take this one step further and put it into the third person singular, it's vuole dire, which commonly gets shortened to vuol dire. And there we have it. It means "it means."


Of course, it could also mean "he means" or "she means," but more often than not it means "it means."


Uso il termometro

I use the thermometer

e misuro la mia temperatura.

and I measure my temperature.

Se è superiore a trentasette e mezzo, vuol dire che ho la febbre.

And if it's above thirty-seven and a half (centigrade), it means that I have a fever.

Captions 25-27, Marika spiega - Il raffreddore

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Marika could also have said, Significa che ho la febbre (it means I have a fever).


Asking about the meaning of a word


Here's one way to ask what a word means:


Nell'ottocentocinquanta, i Saraceni gli diedero il nome di Rabat.

In eight hundred fifty, the Saracens gave it the name of Rabat.

Cioè, sai pure l'arabo ora?

So, do you even know Arabic now?

E che vuol dire Rabat? -Borgo.

And what does Rabat mean? -Village.

Captions 8-10, Basilicata Turistica - Non me ne voglio andare

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The answer is: Rabat vuol dire "borgo". "Rabat" means "village."


So when asking what a word means, we can either use cosa (what) or just che (what), which is a bit more colloquial.

Cosa vuol dire (what does it mean)?

Che vuol dire (what does it mean)?


If you are absolutely desperate, just say: Vuol dire... (that means...)? You'll get the message across.



Some learners like to know why we say what we say. It helps them remember. Others do better just memorizing how to say something and not worrying about the "why." Whatever works is the right way for you. We all learn in different ways, for sure. And if you need to know more, just ask. We at Yabla are pretty passionate about language and are happy to share the passion. This lesson, as a matter of fact, came about because a learner had trouble grasping why we use the verb "to want" when talking about the meaning of something. We hope that this has helped discover the underlying connection.


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