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Post by Peter »

(Il positionamento degli aggettivi)

In Part 1, we explained that Italian adjectives can appear either before or after the noun, unlike in English where they almost always appear only before the noun. We also looked at the adjectives that are placed in front of the noun. Such adjectives are often referred to as figurative, whilst those that come after the noun are referred to as literal.

In this second part of the lesson we look at examples of adjectives that can be placed either before or after the noun, depending on the meaning of the adjective. We then look at the use of more than one adjective in different contexts.

1. Adjectives that come either before or after the noun

There are a lot of adjectives that have more than one meaning. For example caro can mean dear, as in a dear friend, or expensive, as in an expensive car. Depending on the meaning such an adjective can be either figurative or literal, and therefore can appear either before or after the noun.

Let us look at some examples. The first in each set is an example of a figurative adjective, whilst the second is literal.

alto - high; tall

alto tradimento - high treason
la signora alta - the tall lady

basso - low; small (in number or in stature)

una bassa opinione - a low opinion
la folla bassa - the small crowd

buono - good, kind; good (quality)

un buono stipendio - a good salary
Il servizio buono - good (quality) serviceware (ie, china, silverware etc)
la stoffa buona - good (quality) fabric

caro - dear, expensive

una cara amica - a dear friend
un abito caro - an expensive suit

cattivo - bad, unpleasant; bad, evil

un cattivo odore - an unpleasant smell (a stench)
(One can also use the nouns puzzo/a or fetore to indicate an unpleasant smell)
una persona cattiva - an evil person

diverso - various; different

i diversi problemi - various problems
le cose diverse - different things

dolce - sweet; fresh (water)

la dolce ragazzina - the sweet little girl
l’acqua dolce - fresh water

povero - poor, unfortunate; poor (not rich)

una povera donna - an unfortunate woman
un Paese povero - a poor country

unico - the only one; unique, only

l’unico modo - the only way
la figlia unica - the only daughter
il tesoro unico - unique treasure

vecchio - old (figurative); old (literal)

siamo vecchi amici - we are old friends (we have been friends for a long time)
siamo amici vecchi - we are old friends (we are friends and we are also old)

vero - real (used emphatically); true, real, authentic

una vera tragedia - a real tragedy
gli eroi veri - the true heroes

There are other adjectives that can also appear either before or after the noun.

2. Using two or more adjectives to describe a noun

Often we use two or more adjectives to describe a noun. In English they would almost always come before the noun. However, in Italian, if the adjectives are all literal then they will appear after the noun. However, you do have many instances where one adjective is literal and the other is figurative. In such cases the figurative adjective comes before the noun and the literal one after. Let us look at some examples.

i begli edifici antichi - the beautiful old buildings
(begli = figurative; antichi = literal)

le grandi città italiane - the large Italian towns

begli occhi scuri - beautiful dark eyes

un vecchio uomo simpatico - a pleasant old man

una brutta strega cattiva - an evil ugly witch

la bella campagna inglese - the beautiful English countryside

3. Using an adjective to intensify the meaning of another one

In English, we use terms such as dead tired, boiling hot, freezing cold, golden brown, bright blue, to name but a very few. In each case the first adjective is a called an intensifier; that is, it modifies, or describes, in the examples above, how tired, how hot, how cold, how brown, how blue. In Italian you can do the same thing. So, in the examples above, you can say:

dead tired - stanco morto
boiling hot - caldo bollente
freezing cold - freddo gelato
golden brown - marrone dorato
bright blue - blu cobalto

Note that in Italian, the intensifier comes after the adjective it is modifying, whereas in English it comes before.

4. Doubling an adjective to intensify the meaning

Another way of intensifying the meaning of an adjective is to actually repeat it, for example:

brutto brutto - really ugly
caldo caldo - very hot
freddo freddo - very cold

Quel uomo è brutto brutto
That man is really ugly

Questo caffé è caldo caldo
This coffee is really hot

Veramente il tempo fa freddo freddo oggi
Truly the weather is very cold today

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