Forum Rocket Italian Italian Grammar Question on adjectives / noun positioning in sentences

Question on adjectives / noun positioning in sentences




A question i have always had on my mind is, when and what goes first? The adjective, or the noun in sentences? Is there a rule? I'm sure there is.

While doing the survival kit Proverbs there is the saying of:

Donna buona vale una corona  "A good woman is worth a crown!"

I see that adjective "Buona" goes after the noun "Donna"

My question does not really refer just to the saying in the proverbs survival kit above but in general context and grammar in Italian, if you were to say "Una buona donna vale una corona" would that sound right too?

Another example not on the lessons, something like "Questa è stata una buonissima cena" or would you have say/write "Questa è stata una cena buonissima" isntead ? ...This was a very good dinner

And, also without the superlative of the adjective, would it be before or after the noun "Questa è stata una buona cena" or "........una cena buona" ? ...This was a good dinner

This has always been my question and I have seen the adjectives being used before and after nouns at times, what's the correct way?

Grazie tante
Lucia - Rocket Languages Tutor

Lucia - Rocket Languages Tutor

Hi rigoletto,

Italian adjectives usually come after the noun. Their position is lax, however, and often this rule is set aside for poetic purposes or for more clarity.

When there is a collocation in use, the adjective is in its most common position:
Bel tempo. (nice weather)
Tempo bello.
Cielo azzurro. (blue sky)
Azzurro cielo.
The usage of tempo bello or azzurro cielo is permitted, due to the lax way Italian handles the elements in a sentence, but such forms sound unconventional, old-fashioned and may be much more likely found in poetry than in an everyday conversation (during which they would sound weird). Because of this, they can can come before a noun for emphasis, too. When the adjective covers an uncommon position, it stands out.
Buona cena can be included in this category: buona cena is much more common than cena buona, so you would use Questa è stata una buona cena. The same applies to buona donna (although, donna buona would be perfect as well).

The superlative works differently here, in that both forms sound natural. Buonissima cena is not a collocation, so the ear is not "trained" on a specific order of the sentence.

Now for a more subtle feature:
A few adjectives (very few!) change the meaning on a sentence depending on their position. These are basic adjectives such as alto, basso, vecchio, nuovo.
Consider these:
Un vecchio amico. Un amico vecchio.
You would translate both as an old friend. The first one translates an old friend, meaning someone you've known for years. The sentence where the adjective comes after the noun, however, means that this certain friend is old.

Un alto ufficiale. Un ufficiale alto.
A high (tall) official. (meaning, an important official). A tall official. (meaning, a 6 ft official!)

Another example:
Ho comprato una nuova casa. Ho comprato una casa nuova.
"I bought a new home".
The first one translates so. The first one implies that you had a house and bought a new one. The second sentence, however, doesn't, because it tells that you bought a house that was newly built, and it could be your first.

Luckily there are not many adjectives that behave this way, but their use is erratic and can only be learnt with practice.

Hope this helps!



Thanks for the explanations Lucia, very very informative,

So in one of the lessons earlier, there was also:

Roma è una città bellissima = Rome is a very beautiful city 

If it was to write:

Roma è una bellissima città - being lax how would that sound, would it sound any different where the adjective and noun are placed here,  or is it preferred as the ear is trained, to be read as ".........città bellissima"

Thanks :)
Lucia - Rocket Languages Tutor

Lucia - Rocket Languages Tutor

Roba è una città bellissima.
Roma è una bellissima città.

There is no difference in here, they both sound correct and natural! :)


Grazie mille Lucia :) 

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