There are two basic differences between English and Italian adjectives: the Italian adjective is not invariable, and does not go before the noun.
Gender and Number of Adjectives
In Italian, the adjective is not invariable as in English, but has a masculine, feminine, singular and plural form. Moreover, whereas in English the adjective comes before the noun, in Italy most often goes after the noun, though we'll see more on the position of adjectives further on in this lesson.
Adjectives ending in -o have four possible endings:
- masculine singular -o
- masculine plural -i
- feminine singular -a
- feminine plural -e
Adjectives ending in -e have only two endings for both masculine and feminine:
- singular -e
- plural -i
- alto: un ragazzo alto; una ragazza alta; dei ragazzi alti; delle ragazze alte.
- intelligente: un uomo intelligente; una donna intelligente; degli uomini intelligenti; delle donne intelligenti.
Position of Adjectives
In Italian, the order between the adjective and the noun is not fixed.
- There is a tendency to put the adjective after the noun for a quality that characterizes one thing in relation to others, so adjectives of quality usually follow the noun.
- Other Adjectives - demonstrative, possessive, indefinite, interrogative and numerals - come before the noun.
- Adjectives of colors and nationalities always follow the noun, though, along with possessive adjectives, may follow the noun for emphasis.
- When there are two adjectives with a same noun, one comes before and the other after. Example:
He has a fine German car --> Ha una bella macchina tedesca.
- when the adjective is preceded by molto (= very), troppo (= too) or other modifying adverb, it always follows the noun. Example:
He's a very kind man --> È un uomo molto generoso.
The position of the adjectives may take a semantic meaning, for example: "un uomo grande" means a big man, whereas "un grand'uomo" means a great man. More examples of this kind and special adjectives.
- buono: un buon amico (= a true friend); un amico buono (= a good-hearted friend)
- cattivo: un cattivo consiglio (= a bad advice); un consiglio cattivo (= an evil suggestion)
- grande: una gran donna (= a great woman); una donna grande (= a big woman)
- povero: un pover'uomo (= an unlucky man); un uomo povero (= a poor man)
- nuovo: un nuovo libro (= another book); un libro nuovo (= a still unopened book)
- vecchio: una vecchia amica (= an old friend); un'amica vecchia (= an elderly friend)
- caro: un caro amico (= a dear friend); un viaggio caro (= an expensive trip)
- bravo: un brav'uomo (= a nice man); un uomo bravo (= a clever man)
In the Italian language, there is no different form for possessive pronouns (as my vs mine), but the possessive is usually preceded by the definite article, so the order is article + possessive + noun. The article is not used for family members in the singular. Moreover, while for the third person in English the gender is related to the possessor (his, her, its) in Italian masculine vs feminine depend on the name that accompanies the possessive, and there is no neutral (as "its"). The possessive for the third person plural (their, theirs) is "loro" and is invariable.
- In the order, English possessive ⇒ gender and number of the noun singular masculine; singular feminine; plural masculine; plural feminine.
- my, mine ⇒ il mio; la mia; i miei; le mie
- your, yours ⇒ il tuo; la tua; i tuoi; le tue
- his, her, its, hers, ⇒ il suo; la sua; i suoi; le sue
- our, ours ⇒ il nostro; la nostra; i nostri; le nostre
- your, yours ⇒ il vostro; la vostra; i vostri; le vostre
- their, theirs ⇒ il loro; la loro; i loro; le loro
- my car(s): la mia auto; le mie auto
- my book(s): il mio libro; i miei libri
- his/her sister(s): sua sorella; le sue sorelle
- his/her brother(s): suo fratello; i suoi fratelli.
In Italian there are three demontrative adjectives (and pronouns); each of them has masculine, feminine, singular and plural forms, and is placed before the name. For the English "this, these" (pointing to something near to the speaker) we have questo/a/i/e (singular quest' before vowels), for "that, those" (pointing to something far from the speaker) we have quello/a/i/e, with masculine also quel/quei, and singular quell' in front of vowels. The third demonstrative in Italian is codesto/a/i/e referring to something which is near to the person we are speaking to. It is obsolete in most areas, though it is still largely used in Tuscany.
- In the order, English ⇒ singular masculine; singular feminine; plural masculine; plural feminine.
- this: questo; questa
- that: quel, quello; quella;
- these: questi; queste
- those: quelli, quei; quelle
- ----: codesto; codesta; codesti; codeste.
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