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How do Italian adjectives work?

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Just like with nouns in Italian, adjectives usually have different endings depending on whether they’re singular or plural, feminine or masculine. Unlike English, they are usually positioned after the noun. Let’s see how this applies to adjectives in Italian!

Just like with nouns in Italian, adjectives usually have different endings depending on whether they’re singular or plural, feminine or masculine. Unlike English, they are usually positioned after the noun. Let’s see how this applies to adjectives in Italian!

Adjectives: how do they work?

First, let’s review: what’s an adjective? It’s a word used to describe things, persons, animals, actions, places, ideas, etc. Adjectives can be used for any type of description: colors, feelings, categories, possession, quantity, and more. If there’s anything you need to describe, there’s an adjective available at your fingertips. For example: il muro bianco [the white wall], l’ottima pizza [the excellent pizza].

How to make adjectives agree

In order to make sure your adjectives are correct in Italian, we need to make sure they agree in gender and number with the noun to which they refer. That is, adjectives and other parts of a sentence need to change their endings in order to “match” the noun. Let’s “count down” the different adjective endings with the...endings countdown!

4… (endings -o, -a, -i, and -e)

Screen Shot 2021-08-06 at 10.37.42 AM

One thing that learners of Italian often struggle with, is that the noun and the adjective don’t necessarily have the same ending — please remember that we don’t care about having matching endings, we just care about gender and number: in the example above, maglione is masculine singular, just like morbido, and so they both match in gender and number.

3… (endings -a, -i, and -e)

Screen Shot 2021-08-06 at 10.42.55 AM

Group ‘3’ doesn’t include many adjectives, and most of the adjectives ending in -sta belong to this group.

2… (endings -e and -i)

Screen Shot 2021-08-06 at 10.46.18 AM

Most adjectives belong to groups ‘4’ and ‘2,’ so if you memorize these rules, you’ll be able to make adjectives agree in most cases...not too bad, right?!

But what about the last group? Well, there’s a handful of adjectives that are invariable: they have the same form in the singular, plural, masculine, and feminine. Some adjectives for color belong to this group, along with all adjectives borrowed from other languages:

1… (no change!)

Screen Shot 2021-11-18 at 5.27.19 PM

After reading about these rules, you may want to learn some more adjectives in order to practice and enrich your vocabulary. I usually recommend studying adjectives in context, divided into different topics, like adjectives related to food, sports, work, school, etc....Check out these tables and exercises to try and memorize some of them!

What’s the adjective order?

As we’ve seen in the examples above, Italian adjectives don’t follow the same rules as English adjectives. In English, adjectives almost always come before the noun:

  • The American movie

  • The excellent company

In Italian, that’s not always the case:

  • Il film americano

  • L’ottima compagnia

So, how do we decide where to put the adjectives? Most of the time, it doesn’t really matter. Generally, adjectives go after the noun, but can even be placed before the noun without affecting its meaning:

  • Una ragazza simpatica / una simpatica ragazza [a nice girl]

  • Un dibattito interessante / un interessante dibattito [an interesting debate]

However, there are a few rules to keep in mind:

  • The word abbastanza has two meanings: “quite” and “enough.” Adjectives always follow abbastanza when used as “quite,” but they can precede or follow it when used as “enough”:

    • Il mio cane è abbastanza vivace. [My dog is quite lively.]

    • Oggi non sono felice abbastanza! / Oggi non sono abbastanza felice! [Today I’m not happy enough!]

  • Color and nationality adjectives always follow the noun:

    • Il computer viola [The purple computer]

    • Lo spettacolo francese [The French show]

  • When using more than one adjective, as a rule of thumb, remember that subjective information usually precedes the noun, while objective information follows it:

    • L’incredibile atleta statunitense [The incredible US athlete]

    • La deliziosa acqua frizzante [The delicious sparkling water]

We can see how the order of the adjectives, in these examples, is the same as in English — when in doubt, use multiple adjectives in the same order as you would in English, but keep the noun in the middle!

Multiple adjectives can also follow the noun, separated by commas or e [and]:

  • L’oceano immenso e blu [The huge blue ocean]

  • La ditta storica, italiana e multinazionale [The historical Italian multinational company]

In a nutshell, putting the adjectives after the noun is the safest bet, but there are also a few that change meaning depending on their position. Find out more about the adjectives that change meaning here and then practice them with this exercise!

Summing up

In conclusion, let’s keep in mind that: 

  • Adjectives agree with the nouns to which they refer in number and gender; 

  • Adjective endings can be chosen by remembering to which of the four groups they belong; 

  • Adjectives are generally placed after the noun except for the few that change meanings depending on their position. 

Would you like to see the same ideas in a different order and add some more examples in your arsenal? Then check out an article on how to use Italian adjectives and another one on Italian adjectives. Adjectives are also discussed in the Encyclopedia Treccani, entirely in Italian! 

And most importantly, relax! Enjoy speaking the language spontaneously, Italians will appreciate the effort even when you make mistakes!

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