It’s good to know some basic Italian adjectives so that you can comment on things you see, hear, smell, and taste. Here are 50 Italian adjectives that people use every day. Some of these will be easy because they are similar to ones you know in English. Others will be past participles of verbs, just as in English. Yet others will be weird and different and just need to be memorized. And there will be some false friends to watch out for. For more about how adjectives work, see this post.
Sometimes An Adjective Is Enough.
Adjectives are an essential part of speaking a language but the good news is that even if you don’t know how to form a sentence or a question, just knowing the appropriate adjective can allow you to communicate something. And that’s what language is all about: communication.
Adjectives that express something positive:
Here are some adjectives to use when you like something or at least want to express something positive.
— beautiful, great
We can use this adjective for much more than describing a panorama or person as “beautiful.”
We also use it for a movie or book we liked, a situation like a vacation, an encounter…
Ho visto un bel film. (I saw a great movie.)
So it can also mean “wonderful.” And, since it’s an adjective that changes its ending according to gender and number, it can be used for both guys and gals by just changing the ending from bello to bella. So it also means “handsome!”
Buono is used a lot for food, for instance, when something tastes good, but it’s also used to mean “valid.” It can also describe a good person. È una buona persona.
-nice, pretty, good-looking
This is another adjective with an “o” ending, changing its ending according to gender and number. In aesthetic terms, it is less extreme than bello. However, carino is often used to mean “nice” or “kind” in describing a person, or what the person has done, for example, if you do someone a favor they didn’t ask you to do.
Gentile is a bit more formal than carino. Carino is often used to describe people close to you, but if the bank manager was nice and polite to you, you would use the word gentile. Or you might use cortese (courteous) —a great cognate!
False friend alert!
Forget about “brave” for the most part. Fai la brava! means “Be a good girl!”
È un bravo idraulico. (He is a very capable plumber. He is a good plumber.)
When I want to say, “Good for you!” I say Bravo! (for a guy) or Brava! for a gal.
Il cane è bravo. (He’s a good [well-behaved] dog–he won’t bite you).
This looks like “optimal,” and can also mean that sometimes, but primarily, it’s a superlative kind of adjective that means “great.” Consider this exchange:
Ci vediamo alle cinque. –Ottimo.
I’ll meet you at 5 o’clock. –Great.
This is the perfect comment for someone whose work you appreciated:
[You did a] great job!
Here’s a great true friend or cognate. This adjective ends in e, so it doesn’t change with gender, just number.
Questo risotto era da vero eccellente. (This risotto was excellent.)
Queste ostriche sono eccellenti. (These oysters are great.)
Eccellente can also describe a prominent or eminent person, such as someone in a high position.
—correct, fair, right, decent
Here is a partially false friend. If you get the right answer, la risposta è corretta. That’s easy. However, the other meaning of “fair,” — “fair-minded,” “sportsmanlike”— is less familiar to non-native speakers, but very important! For instance, corretto can describe a person as well as his or her behavior.
Pensavo che fosse una persona corretta, e invece… (I thought he was a decent, fair-minded person, but instead…)
—fabulous, magnificent, awesome
Here is another true friend. We don’t use “fabulous” in English so much anymore — but some of us still remember the “fab four” (The Beatles). In contrast, Italians do use favoloso when they really mean it. Eyebrows go up, eyes get wider.
—magnificent, great, terrific, cool
Another true friend, this adjective is, however, over-used in Italian, thus diminishing its value as a superlative:
Ci vediamo alle cinque. -Magnifico. (I’ll see you at five. -Great.)
Good-to-know Italian Adjectives that express something negative
Brutto is the opposite of bello, and works the same way. We use brutto to talk about a movie we didn’t like, or something that is physically unpleasant to look at. Just like bello, brutto is more than ugly. It’s often used to mean bad, for instance un brutto incidente (a bad accident).
—bad, mean, nasty, evil
This is another kind of “bad,” but often has more to do with non-physical things. Someone can be una cattiva persona (a nasty person).
—really bad, awful
This a wonderful adjective to have in your repertoire when you really need to call something “awful.”
Quel risotto era pessimo. (That risotto was really awful.)
—unfair, unjust, rude
This is one of those wonderful adjectives that, by merely adding the “s” prefix, becomes the opposite of the original word, in this case, corretto.
—terrible, awful, horrendous
Here’s a partially true friend. We add it because it will be an easy word to call on if you need a negative adjective. It is not the first choice for Italians, though, and usually describes something as extraordinarily intense.
—dreadful, horrifying, terrifying, scary
False friend alert. Terrificante does not mean “terrific.” It is a negative adjective, often used to mean “terrible,” but also “terrifying,” — inspiring fear.
—horrible, hideous, horrendous, dreadful, awful, terrible
This is a strong, extreme (negative) adjective, but it’s there when you need it, as a true “friend.” Eyebrows up, eyes wide open in horror.
—boring, annoying, tedious, irritating
This is a great adjective because, as well as describing a boring movie —
Quel film era molto noioso. Mi sono addirittura addormentato. (That film was boring. I even fell asleep.)
— it can also describe something or someone that’s annoying you or being a nuisance:
Non essere noioso (Don’t be so irritating, don’t annoy me).
—hopeless, useless, incapable, decidedly ungifted
This is a wonderful adjective for admitting someone does something badly because they have no talent, no gift, not because they aren’t trying. Negato describes a person (or possibly an animal), not an action or thing. Negato comes from the verb negare (to deny, to negate) but here we are talking about the quality of a person.
Sono negato per la cucina. (I’m no good at cooking. I’m a disaster at cooking.)
This describes a person who holds onto his or her money or possessions. However, in English, we might sooner use a noun such as “tightwad.”
Quanto sei tirchio. (What a tightwad you are.)
Good-to-know Italian Adjectives that describe size and strength:
—big, large, tall, adult, great
This is a basic adjective that covers several bases, which means there is also room for doubt about what someone means. Hand gestures help, of course. Generally speaking, grande is a very positive adjective.
—big, large, major, coarse, arduous
As you can see, grande and grosso are equivalents in some cases, but not all. If you say someone is grande, that’s fine. You might mean “tall” or you might mean “adult.” If you use grosso, you are talking about size, and might be implying they are also grasso (fat). Reading and watching Italian language videos will help you develop a sense for which adjective to use.
il sale grosso (coarse salt)
Sale grosso is what most Italians use to salt the water for cooking pasta or vegetables. Good to know!
We also need to consider the figurative meanings of both grande and grosso.
È stato un grande lavoro can imply the positive quality of a job. Grande also means “great.”
È stato un grosso lavoro implies that there was a lot of work to do.
Sometimes we describe someone as grande e grosso. In this case, it’s (often) a big, tall man with broad shoulders and possibly also a paunch. Grosso might give the impression of strength too.
—fat, fatty, greasy, oily
We use this adjective to describe a person or animal, but also to describe the fat content of food. Even oily or greasy hair can be described with grasso — Capelli grassi (oily hair). Boldface letters are called in grassetto because the letters are thicker than normal ones.
—strong, sturdy, hardy, robust, heavyset
Here’s a word to use when you don’t want to call someone grasso (fat). Era una donna robusta. (She was a heavyset woman.)
—strong, loud, intense, gifted
Here’s an adjective that is good to know, but which can also be ambiguous sometimes. See this Yabla lesson about this ambiguity.
Forte can be the opposite of negato, therefore describing someone who is very good at something.
Here are two examples with forte, but where it means something different in either example.
Abbassa la musica; è troppo forte. (Lower the volume of the music. It’s too loud).
Rallenta, stai andando troppo forte! (Slow down, you’re going too fast.)
If you are ordering a beer, the waiter might ask you grande o piccola? large or small? —
Una birra piccola, per cortesia. (A small beer, please.)
Piccola can also mean very young, just as grande, especially when used comparatively, can describe someone older, like an older brother.
Mio fratello è più piccolo di me. (My brother is younger than me.)
Sono troppo debole per sollevare questo peso. I’m too weak to lift this weight.
—thin, subtle, fine
The cognate for sottile is “subtle,” but sottile also means thin, as when you want thin slices of something like cheese or prosciutto.
—low, short, shallow, soft [in volume]
Here’s another adjective with different meanings than can lead us astray, so consequently, we have to pay careful attention to context. Sometimes it’s hard to know!
—high, loud, tall
The same ambiguity applies to this adjective. If you know all the meanings, you can try to figure out which meaning is intended, according to context. As with basso and forte, sometimes it’s hard to be 100% sure of the meaning.
Good-to-know Italian Adjectives Describing Someone’s Mood
Apart from its most common meaning, felice can also mean “fitting” or well-chosen.” We can also make this adjective into its opposite by adding the prefix in: infelice = unhappy.
Whereas infelice is a general state, triste more often describes a momentary feeling or something that brings on feelings of sadness, such as a sad story.
When you eat in an Italian restaurant, you often find penne all’arrabbiata on the menu. The color is red, and it’s hot with peperoncino (hot pepper). The color red is associated with anger.
—hopeful, confident, optimistic, trusting
Italian doesn’t have a cognate for “hopeful,”— or rather, it does — speranzoso, but it is rarely used. As a result, fiducioso is a good bet, especially when you are optimistically hopeful. Fiducioso comes from the reflexive verb fidarsi (to trust) and the noun la fiducia (the trust).
This adjective is used to describe a person who pitches in and helps, or is willing to learn. It comes from the verb volere (to want, to want to). Someone who is volenteroso will likely offer his or her services as a volunteer, a cognate to help you remember its meaning. See this Yabla lesson: Being Willing with Volentieri
The s prefix turns incoraggiare (to encourage) into scoraggiare (to discourage), and the adjective scoraggiato comes from the past participle of the verb scoraggiare.
—fed up, sick and tired
This is a great adjective, and comes from stufare (literally, “to stew”). It’s commonly used in the reflexive — stufarsi (to get fed up with) — but the adjective is good to know, too.
Svogliato has the s prefix, indicating the opposite of the original word (often making it negative) and comes from the verb volere (to want). This is a great word for when you really don’t feel like doing what you have to do.
False friend alert!
Nervoso really seems like a great translation for “nervous,” and it does have to do with nerves, but when you are nervous, there’s a different word (next on our list). Nervoso is more like when your kids are acting up and you have work to do and you are having trouble staying calm and collected. Irritable is a good equivalent. See this Yabla lesson: Emozionato or Nervoso? What’s the Difference?
—nervous, excited, moved, touched, thrilled
There are lots of different nuances to emozionato, but it has to do with emotions or nerves. When you are nervous before or during a performance, your emotions get the better of you. Sometimes that’s bad, and sometimes it good. In any case, this adjective is good to know so you can get your feelings out in the open and say how nervous or excited you are about something.
—calm, relaxed, peaceful, quiet
This very useful adjective covers a lot of ground, so it’s a good one to have in your Italian vocabulary. If you travel in Italy, you’ll undoubtedly hear this expression a lot: Stai tranquillo. It means, “Don’t worry.” The polite version is Sta tranquillo. It can also mean, “Stay calm.”
This adjective looks like it should mean “preoccupied,” but it basically means “worried.”
Sono molto preoccupato per mio figlio (I’m very worried about my son).
And someone might say to you:
Non ti preoccupare (Don’t worry).
And if the situation is formal:
Non si preoccupi. (Don’t worry [formal])
More about worrying in Italian, here.
More Good-to-know Italian Adjectives that Describe a Person
This is an easy cognate and it means just what you would think!
This is another adjective that means just what you would imagine it would.
This is a fun word and primarily describes a person or animal. Note that just as in English we can be crazy about something or someone, Italian uses this adjective, too.
Sono pazza/pazzo di te. (I’m crazy about you.)
And “to go crazy” is diventare pazzo (to become crazy).
—clever, cunning, shrewd
This adjective can either be positive or somewhat pejorative, depending on the context.
—naïve, gullible, inexperienced, innocent
Someone who is ingenuo isn’t all that familiar with the ways of the world. They may be too trustful and might easily get conned.
Sospettoso mostly describes a person. For
something that’s suspicious-looking, the adjective sospetto is normally used. Il sospetto is a noun that means “the suspect.”
—affectionate, loving, tender
—likeable, congenial, nice
This is such a great Italian adjective, but it’s hard to translate into English. It describes a person that you want to get to know, someone who is attractive as a person, someone with a great personality, a warm smile. More about simpatico here.
—unpleasant, troublesome, nasty
The opposite of simpatico, antipatico can describe a person, but also behavior or a situation.
Ti devo dare una notizia un po’ antipatica. (I have to give you some unpleasant news.)
Il mio insegnante di Italiano è veramente antipatico. (My Italian teacher is really not very nice.)
—polite, well-behaved, good-mannered/rude, ill-mannered
False friend alert!
Educato and its opposite, maleducato have nothing, or very little, to do with going to school. They have to do with manners and behavior, and also training as regards children and animals.
Non si azzardi più a chiamarmi a quest’ora, maleducato!
Don’t you dare call me again at this hour, how rude!
We’ve given you more than 50 (but who’s counting?) good-to-know Italian adjectives to put in your pocket. Try them out for size — practice them as you go about your day, observing your human, animal and physical surroundings.
Practical examples of these adjectives can be found throughout Yabla videos available here.
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