Adjectives in Italian: The position

Position of adjectives

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In Italian, adjectives of quality can either precede or follow the noun they refer to.

The substantial difference between the two positions, in general, is very thin and only the practice of the language can help to clarify it.

In practice, when we need to give more emphasis to the adjective, we place it after the noun. If the adjective is placed before the noun, we are giving greater emphasis to the noun.

Example:
Una bella ragazza (a beautiful girl) - Adj. + Noun → (greater emphasis to the noun) we are talking about a girl that has the characteristic of being beautiful.

Una ragazza bella (a beautiful girl) - Noun + Adj. → (greater emphasis to the adjective) we are talking about this girl because she is beautiful.

In some cases, the position of the adjective and/or the meaning of the noun, determines the change in meaning of the adjective. Here we will see just some of the most common cases, but the list is long and only the practice of the language and the use of a good dictionary, can help to deepen this subject:

Il nome proprio (N + A)
(the proper noun)
The opposite of common noun
Il proprio nome (A + N)The name of the person in question
Una grande pizza (A + N)An amazing pizza
Una pizza grande (N + A)A large pizza
Un certo fatto (A + N)
(A certain fact)
An unmentionable event
Un fatto certo (N + A)
(an accepted fact)
An event happened for sure
Una donna povera (N + A)
(a poor woman)
A non-rich woman
Una povera donna (A + N)
(a poor woman)
A woman deserving of pity
Una semplice domanda (A + N) One question only
Una domanda semplice (N + A)An easy question
Un vero disastro (A + N)
(a real disaster)
A very tragic event
Una storia vera (N + A)
(a true story)
The narration of an event actually happened
Un dolce risveglio (A + N)
(a sweet awakening)
Waking up in a good mood
Un caffé dolce (N + A)
(a sweet coffee)
A coffee with sugar
Numerose famiglie (A + N)
Many families
Famiglie numerose (N + A)
(Numerous families)
A family with many children

In Italian, there are also some adjectives that specify a very distinctive quality and that always follow the noun. Adjectives indicating: nationality, color, shape, material, religion, etc... fall into this category.

Example: Una tazza bianca (a white cup), una birra tedesca (a German beer), un prete cattolico (a Catholic preast), un tappeto rettangolare (a rectangular carpet), una giacca impermeabile (a waterproof jacket), etc…
When an adjective is specified by an adverb, the group "adverb + adjective" always follow the noun.

Example: Un albero molto alto (a very tall tree), un ragazzo sempre attento (an always attentive boy), una persona poco gentile (an unkind person), etc...
When there are two or more adjectives that specify a noun, if they express specific characteristics, the adjectives follow the noun, otherwise, they precede it.

Example: Una partita bella e avvincente (a beautiful and exciting game), le lunghe notti polari (the long polar nights), una triste, breve storia (a sad, short story), etc...
Posted by Arnaldo Colonna on Jaunary 21, 2010 - All rights reserved


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