How to Handle Italian Adjectives

Adjectives in Italian are essential components of the language and can add meaning, colour, and depth to your phrases. They are used to describe or modify a noun, and they must agree to the noun they are modifying in terms of both gender and number. Let’s analyze the proper usage of Italian adjectives and, in particular, how the position of adjectives in a phrase may change its meaning.

Some adjectives have different meanings if used before or after nouns.

When these adjectives come after a noun they express their usual meaning:

un libro nuovo, una giacca rossa.

When they come before a noun, they can express different nuances of meaning (sometimes metaphoric):

un grande albero, un bel film.


Andrò ad abitare nella vecchia casa dei nonni

Andrò ad abitare nella casa vecchia dei nonni.

How to Handle Italian Adjectives

In the first example, the adjective “vecchia” is used to add a different quality to “la casa dei nonni” to express a nuance of meaning (grandparents live or have lived there for years)

In the second example, the adjective “vecchia” means the opposite of new, so the real, literal meaning of this word.

When adjectives are placed before nouns, they tend to convey a more subjective or emotional meaning, and they can be used to emphasize a certain aspect of the sentence.

The positioning of adjectives in Italian can vary depending on the intended meaning and emphasis of the sentence, but they generally follow a fixed order of agreement.

Common Adjectives that can be positioned differently in a sentence


pressione alta (high pressure of blood)
alta pressione (high pressure of atmosphere or gas)

Mario è un alto magistrato (very important magistrate)
Mario è un magistrato alto (a tall magistrate)


un uomo buono (a good-natured man)
un buon uomo (a good guy)

Mario è un buon uomo  (uomo mite e onesto)
Sergio è un uomo buono ( di buon cuore)


un ristorante caro (an expensive restaurant)
un caro ristorante (a lovely restaurant)


notizie certe (reliable news)
certe notizie (certain news)

Ho certe informazioni (I have certain information)
Ho informazioni certe (I have reliable/solid information)


colori diversi (different colors)
diversi colori (several colors)

Ho diversi amici (I have many friends)
Ho amici diversi (I have various/different types of friends)


l’acqua dolce del lago (freshwater -not salty)
la dolce acqua del lago (the sweet water of the lake)


un uomo grande (a large man)
un grande uomo (a great man)

ho letto un grande libro (an important book)
ho letto un libro grande (a big book)


un grosso attore
un attore grosso

Giorgio è un grosso attore (Giorgio is a famous actor)
Giorgio è un attore grosso  (Giorgio is a fat actor)


famiglie numerose (large families)
numerose famiglie (many families)


una nuova auto
una auto nuova

Mio padre ha comprato una nuova auto (my father bought another car)
Mio padre ha comprato una auto nuova (my father bought a new house,  a firsthand car)


un uomo povero (a poor man)
povero uomo! (pover’ uomo) (poor /= unfortunate/ man!)


una domanda semplice (a simple question)
una semplice domanda (just a question)


per donne sole (for single or unaccompanied women)
per sole donne (for women only)


un unico quadro (Just one picture)
un quadro unico (extraordinary)


alla festa c’erano varie persone (many people)
alla festa c’erano persone varie (different kind of people)


un amico vecchio (a friend who is old)
un vecchio amico (a friend of long-standing)

Ho molti vecchi amici (I have many long-staning friends)
Ho moltio amici vecchi (I have many old friends)


Questa è una commedia vera. (This is a factual play)
Questa è una vera commedia! (This is a real comedy!)


What’s next?

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free resources:

🔗 How do Italian adjectives work?

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