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Hi everybody! Marika here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Italian questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: Where should I put the adjective?
Usually, descriptive adjectives in Italian are placed after the noun they modify. For example:
La mela rossa. “The red apple.”
Il tavolo verde. “The green table.”
However, sometimes you can put an adjective before the noun. There isn’t a fixed rule for when you can invert the order, but here’s a tip: the adjective put after the noun is denotative (the meaning is literal). The adjective put before the noun is connotative (the meaning is suggestive).
Let’s see some examples:
Un calciatore grande can be translated as “a big footballer.” The meaning here is literal. The guy is tall and well-set.
Un grande calciatore means “a great footballer.”
The meaning here is figurative. We don’t know if the guy is short or tall; the important thing is he never misses a goal!
Un vecchio amico and un amico vecchio are both translated as “an old friend” in English, but they’re not the same!
When vecchio is before the noun, it means “long-standing.”
When it’s after the noun, it means “advanced in years.”
Here’s another example:
Ho visto un nuovo film.
Here, nuovo has the same meaning as “another”: “I’ve seen another movie.”
Ho visto un film nuovo.
Here, nuovo is used in its literal meaning: “I’ve seen a new movie.”
Sometimes, the meaning doesn’t change, regardless of where you put the adjective. For example,
Una bella poesia or una poesia bella both mean “a beautiful poem.”
However, some adjectives always come after the noun. These include...
Adjectives that specify color, shape, nationality, religion, category.
Occhi azzurri (“blue eyes”), una scatola quadrata (“a square box”), un ragazzo americano (“an American boy”).
Adjectives that come from the present participle (they end in -ante or -ente) or from the past participle (ending in -uto, -ato, -ito). For example:
Un essere vivente (“a living being”), un sole abbagliante (“a dazzling sun”), un libro bruciato (“a burned book”), un paese evoluto (“a developed country”).
Adjectives modified by a suffix (-ino, -etto, -uccio, -accio, etc.)
Un bambino piccolino (“a tiny child”), un colore giallastro (“a yellowish color”).


Finally, here’s something that may surprise you. English adjectives occur in a specific order: quantity, quality, size, age, and so on.
In Italian, on the other hand, the order doesn’t really matter when there’s more than one adjective. So, if you want to say “a beautiful, tall, young woman” you can say:
Una donna bella, alta e giovane, or
Una donna giovane, alta e bella, or
Una donna alta, giovane e bella
and other combinations, too!
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”