Italian Adjectives

In Italian adjectives (describing words) agree with the gender and number of the person or object which is being described.

There are two main types of adjectives, namely those which end in ‘o’ and those which end in ‘e’, but another less common adjective ends in ‘ista’.

One important rule is Italian Adjectives usually (but not always) go after the noun. Therefore ‘the small house’ would be ‘the house small‘. However further down you will learn about when to put Italian adjectives before the noun.

Use the appropriate table to work out the correct ending for your adjective. Please note that the one you choose depends on the noun being described, not the person doing the describing.

Adjectives which end in o

Timido = timid/shy


MasculineFeminine
Singulartimidotimida
Pluraltimiditimide

Adjectives which end in e

Triste = sad


MasculineFeminine
Singulartristetriste
Pluraltristitristi

Adjectives which end in ista

Ottimista = optimistic


MasculineFeminine
Singularottimistaottimista
Pluralottimistiottimiste

One important rule is that generally adjectives come after the noun being described. (In English this is the opposite). Therefore we would say….

  • L’uomo timido = The timid man
  • La donna triste = The sad woman
  • La ragazza ottimista = The optimistic girl

Qualcosa di + Adjective

Be aware that ‘qualcosa’ (something) is followed by the word ‘di’ (of) when followed by an adjective, for example:

  • Qualcosa di bello = Something beautiful

Which Italian Adjectives go before nouns?

By default adjectives normally come after the noun (e.g. La casa piccola = The small house). However, the following adjectives normally go before the noun and so follow the English word order:

Abbastanza
(Enough)
Un altro/Un’altra + Singular Noun
(Another/Other)
Altri/Altre + Plural Noun
(Other)
Molto/Molta
(Much/A lot of + Singular Noun)
Molti/Molte
(Many/A lot of + Plural Noun)
Troppo/Troppa
(Too much + Singular Noun)
Troppi/Troppe
(Too many + Plural Noun)
Ogni
(Each/Every + Singular Noun)
Qualche + Singular Noun**
(Several/Some)
Poco/Poca/Pochi/Poche
(Not much + Singular Noun/Not many + Plural Noun)
Tutto il/Tutto lo/Tutto l’
(All the + Masculine Singular Noun)
Tutta la/Tutta l’
(All the + Feminine Singular Noun)
Tutti i/Tutti gli
(All the + Masculine Plural Noun)
Tutte le
(All the + Feminine Plural Noun)

** Qualche is followed by a singular noun, even if in English you would use a plural noun (e.g. qualche giorno = several days).

All the adjectives listed in large table above normally follow the English word order, so by way of example:

  • Vado a Roma ogni settimana (= I go to Rome every week)
  • Hanno poco tempo (= They have not much time)
  • Non hanno molto tempo (= They do not have much time)
  • Abbiamo molti libri (= We have many books)

As regards ‘all (the)’ the Italian word order again is normally the same as English. Essentially you firstly put the word for ‘all’ depending on the gender of the noun being described, as follows:

Masculine SingularFeminine SingularMasculine PluralFeminine Plural
TuttoTuttaTuttiTutte

You then add the word for ‘the’ you would normally use and you are done, for example:

  • Tutto il libro = All the book
  • Tutta la giornata = All the day
  • Tutto lo sport = All the sport
  • Tutte le macchine = All the cars
  • Tutti i libri = All the books

Cardinal and ordinal numbers go before the noun

The following adjectives also usually follow the English word order and accordingly normally go before the noun:

  • Numbers e.g. Un/Una/Un’/Uno*, due, tre, etc…. go before the noun.
  • Ordinal numbers (e.g. the first, the second, the third, the fourth etc. i.e. Il primo/La prima/I primi/Le prime, Il secondo/La seconda/I secondi/Le seconde, Il terzo/La terza/I terzi/Le terze, Il quarto/La quarta/I quarti/Le quarte, etc).

Examples:

  • Un libro (= A book)*
  • Due uomini (= Two men)
  • La prima casa (= The first house)

* Remember ‘uno’ must be replaced with un/uno/una/un’ when a noun follows immediately afterwards.

Quel, etc. goes before the noun

The word for ‘that’ and ‘those’ in Italian normally has the same word order as English. This means that normally it goes before the noun (e.g. Quel libro = That book).

The word you choose in singular depends on which word for ‘the’ you would use. In plural the situation is simpler. See the following table for guidance:

Quel+ Il noun (e.g. Quel libro = That book)
Quella+ La noun (e.g. Quella donna = That woman)
Quello+ Lo noun (e.g. Quello sport = That sport)
Quell’+ L’ noun (e.g. Quell’uomo = That man)
Quei+ I noun (e.g. Quei libri = Those books)
Quelle+ Le noun (e.g. Quelle donne = Those women)
Quegli+ Gli noun (e.g. Quegli uomini = Those men)

If you want to say ‘that one’ or ‘those ones’, you would instead just use:

  • Quello/a (= That one)
  • Quelli/e (= Those ones)

Examples of usage:

  • Mi piace quello/a (= I like that one)
  • Mi piacciono quelli/e (= I like those ones)

Questo, etc. goes before the noun

The Italian words for ‘this’ and ‘these’ again normally follow the English word order and therefore normally go before the noun (e.g. Questo libro = This book) is as follows:

Questo+ Masculine Singular Noun (e.g. Questo libro = This book)
Questa+ Feminine Singular Noun (not starting with a vowel) (e.g. Questa donna = This woman)
Quest’+ Singular Noun starting with a vowel* (e.g. Quest’ amica = This friend)
Questi+ Masculine Plural Noun (e.g. Questi amici = These friends)
Queste+ Feminine Plural Noun (e.g. Queste amiche = These friends)

* Sometimes you can use ‘questo’ in front of a masculine noun beginning with a vowel.

If you want to say ‘this one’ or ‘these ones’, you would instead just use:

  • Questo/a (= This one)
  • Questi/e (= Those ones)

Examples of usage:

  • Mi piace questo/a (= I like this one)
  • Mi piacciono questi/e (= I like these ones)

Nessuno, etc. goes before the noun

When you want to say ‘not a/not any’, this normally goes before the noun (just like in English).

The version you choose depends on which word for ‘a’ you would use for the singular. The plural version however is simpler. See the following table to help you:

Nessun+ Un noun (e.g. Nessun libro = Not any book)
Nessuna+ Una Noun (e.g. Nessuna donna = Not any woman)
Nessun’+ Un’ Noun (e.g. Nessun’ amica = Not any friend)
Nessuno+ Uno Noun (e.g. Nessuno sport = Not any sport)
Nessuni+ Masculine Plural Noun (e.g. Nessuni libri = Not any books)
Nessune+ Feminine Plural Noun (e.g. Nessune donne = Not any women)

Nessuno, nessuna, etc require you put non in front of the verb (so that the sentence becomes a double negative), for example:

  • Non ho nessun tempo = I have no time. (= Literally: I do not have no time)
  • Non hanno nessuna macchina = They have no car. (= Literally: They do not have no car)

In reality you do not need to use nessun, nessuna, etc. at all, for example:

  • Non ho tempo = I don’t have time.
  • Non hanno macchina = They don’t have a car.

If you do decide not to put ‘nessuno’, etc. immediately before the noun but elsewhere in your sentence you would instead use the simpler versions of:

  • nessuno (for masculine singular nouns)
  • nessuna (for feminine singular nouns)
  • nessuni (for masculine plural nouns)
  • nessune (for feminine plural nouns)

Look at the follows examples:

  • Non ho nessuno (= I don’t have any) – Referring to a masculine singular noun
  • Non abbiamo nessuna (= We don’t have any) – Referring to a feminine singular noun
  • Non hanno nessuni (= They don’t have any) – Referring to a masculine plural noun

Beware that ‘nessuno’ when not followed by a noun could mean ‘nobody’, so:

  • Non ho nessuno (above) could mean ‘I do not have any‘ or ‘I have nobody
  • Non c’è nessuno qui = There is nobody here.

It normally is very easy in practice to tell which meaning someone is using because of the context.

What about other adjectives?

By default:

  • The Italian adjectives ‘bello’ (beautiful), ‘buono’ (good), and ‘grande’ (big) normally go before the noun.
  • Most other Italian adjectives by default go after the noun unless the adjective is describing an inherent charactertistic.

Let’s talk about ‘bello’ (beautiful), ‘buono’ (good) and ‘grande’ (big), each in turn. We will then turn our attention to the concept of inherent characteristic.

Bello, etc. by default normally goes before the noun

By default ‘bello’, etc. goes before the noun rather than afterwards (e.g. Il bel libro = The beautiful book).

The word for ‘beautiful’ you choose depending on which word for ‘a’ or ‘the’ you would use for the noun you are describing:

Bel+ Un Noun (e.g. Un bel giorno = A beautiful day)
Bello+ Uno’ Noun (e.g. Un bello sport = A beautiful sport*)
Bell’+ Un’ Noun (Una bell’amica = A beautiful friend)**
Bella+ Una Noun (Una bella giornata = A beautiful day)
Bei+ I Nouns (I bei libri = The beautiful books)
Begli+ Gli Noun (I begli uomini = The beautiful men)
Belle+ Le Noun (Le belle donne = The beautiful women)

* Note: Uno sport = A sport and Un bello sport = A beautiful sport. Uno changes to Un here, because Un is no longer followed immediately by a masculine noun starting with st, sp or z.

** In reality many people will say ‘Una bella amica’ even if not gramatically perfect.

If you do decide to put ‘bello’, etc. after the noun, for example, because you feel the adjective is not an inherent charactistic (discussed below) you would use the simpler versions of:

  • bello (for masculine singular nouns)
  • bella (for feminine singular nouns)
  • belli (for masculine plural nouns)
  • belle (for feminine plural nouns)

These versions are also the versions you would use where you do not put them immediately before a noun, because your sentence word order requires it, for example:

  • L’uomo è bello (= The man is beautiful)
  • I libri sono belli (= The books are beautiful)
  • Le donne sono belle (= The women are beautiful)
  • Gli uomini sono belli (= The men are beautiful)

Buono, etc. normally goes before the noun

By default ‘buono’ etc. goes in front of the noun unless you feel that the noun is not inherently ‘good’ (discussed below).

When you want to say ‘good’ before the noun you choose depending on which word for ‘a’ you would use for the singular. The plural version however is simpler. See the following table to help you:

Buon+ Un Noun (e.g. Un buon libro = A good book)
Buono+ Uno Noun (e.g. Un buono sport = A good sport)
Buon’+ Un’ Noun (e.g. Una buon’ amica = A good friend)*
Buona+ Una Noun (e.g. Buona sera = Good evening)
Buoni+ Masculine Plural Noun (e.g. Buoni giorni = Good days)
Buone+ Feminine Plural Noun (e.g. Buone sere = Good evenings)

* In reality many people will say ‘una buona amica’ even though this may not be gramatically correct.

If you do decide not to put ‘buono’, etc. before the noun, for example, because you feel the adjective is not an inherent charactistic (discussed below) you would use the simpler versions of:

  • buono (for masculine singular nouns)
  • buona (for feminine singular nouns)
  • buoni (for masculine plural nouns)
  • buone (for feminine plural nouns)

These versions are also the versions you would use where you do not put them immediately before a noun, because of the circumstances, for example:

  • L’uomo è buono (= The man is good)
  • I libri sono buoni (= The books are good)
  • Le donne sono buone (= The women are good)
  • Gli uomini sono buoni (= The men are good)

Grande by default goes in front of the noun

By default ‘grande’ (big) goes in front of the noun. Essentially:

  • Grande is the singular version, so you use it to describe a singular noun
  • Grandi is the plural version, so you use it to describe a plural noun.

Please note that you can technically use the word gran instead of grande/i in front of a noun in all circumstances, although usage varies a lot. You cannot however use gran after a noun.

Do I put adjectives not mentioned above before or after the noun?

For the vast majority of other adjectives in the Italian language (i.e. ones not mentioned earlier), follow the rule of thumb that:

  • an adjective describing an inherent characteristic goes before the noun
  • adjectives not describing an inherent charactertistic normally need to be placed after the noun

If you are not sure, it is usually safest to put it in the default position of after the noun.

What is an inherent characteristic?

It is hard to describe what an inherent characteristic, but it is a quality that all nouns of that type have. This could include:

  • Le alte montagne = The tall mountains
  • La bianca neve = The white snow

Essentially:

  • All mountains are ‘tall’, so in these circumstances the Italian adjective for ‘tall’ should be placed before the noun.
  • All snow is (in theory) ‘white’, so in these circumstances the Italian adjective for ‘white’ should be placed before the noun.
  • If however we were talking about, say, objects that may or may not be ‘tall’ it would not be an inhererent charactertistic. In these circumstances the Italian adjective for ‘tall’ would therefore go after the noun (i.e. the default position)
  • As regards the adjective ‘white’ it only goes before the noun here because of the context. If however we were talking about, say, white carpets, the adjective would go after the noun.

To summarise, putting an adjective before the noun essentially shows that it is an inherent characteristic of the noun being described, in that mountains are always tall and snow is always white.

Putting an adjective after the noun when it describes an inherent characteristic emphasises the adjective. For example:

  • Le montagne alte = The tall mountains

Here the mountains are especially tall.

Putting an adjective before a noun when it is not an inherent characteristic by contrast emphasises the adjective, for example:

  • La cara macchina = The expensive car (= emphasising the word ‘expensive’ here)
  • La macchina cara = The expensive car (= neutral, no emphasis)

Above we spoke about the adjectives ‘bello’, ‘buono’ and ‘grande’ normally going before the noun. These three adjectives are normally perceived as inherent characteristics in Italian. This means that you should use these three adjectives immediately before your noun.

If however you feel that your noun is not inherently ‘beautiful’, ‘good’ or ‘big’ you can put the adjective after if you wish, but it is best usually to put these before the noun. It could be perceived as overemphasising the adjective (or perhaps being sarcastic, depending on the context).

Note: The discussions on ‘inherent characteristics’ does not affect the adjectives in the table towards the top of this page (i.e. with abbastanza, un altro/un’altra, etc.) where the word order is usually the same as in English. Adjectives of this typeusually follow the English word order and as such their word order is fixed, so there is little or no flexibility.

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