Italian Language/Position of Adjectives
QUESTION: Dear Maria,
My question is about the position of Italian adjectives in sentences.
To try to explain my question – I am aware that some adjectives must be placed either before or after a noun, but also that many Italian adjectives can be placed either before or after the noun as per the speaker’s emphasis.
Some internet sources (for example: http://forum.impariamo.com/viewtopic.php?t=75
) say that placing an adjective after the noun gives a more emphasized meaning. Can you please tell me if this is true or not.
When an adjective is free to be placed before or after a noun - should I place this adjective before or after a noun to give more emphasis?
Thank you very much.
ANSWER: Dear Rich,
It’s true that some adjectives must be placed either before or after a noun and that many Italian adjectives can be placed either before or after the noun as per the speaker’s emphasis, as you say. Also, it’s true that placing an adjective after the noun can give a more emphasized meaning. Lastly, it’s true that, when an adjective is free to be placed before or after a noun, you can place this adjective before or after a noun to give more emphasis.
Anyway, generally speaking, descriptive adjectives precede the nouns they modify, while, generally speaking, restrictive adjectives follow the nouns they modify.
For example, if I say “Andrò ad abitare nella vecchia casa dei nonni”, the adjective “vecchia” describes the house as an old house, while if I say “Andrò ad abitare per un po’ nella casa vecchia”, I want to denote that this house is old in comparison with another house which is not old, and then the adjective “vecchia” restricts the concept. See also:“Le vecchie scarpe sono state buttate via “ which is different from “Le scarpe vecchie sono state buttate via” where it’s clear that I made a choice; “Ho conosciuto il giovane insegnante di mia figlia “ which is different from “Ho conosciuto l'insegnante giovane di mia figlia “ which means tha there is another teacher who is less young.
Moreover we often use a descriptive adjective before the noun when it has a figurative sense as in “ Un alto magistrato” where “alto” means “important” , whereas “Un magistrato alto “ denotes that this magistrate is very tall.
Anyway,there is not a compulsory rule that compels the adjectives to precede or follow the nouns in a sentence, for the position of the qualifying adjectives often depends either on the speaker’s choice or on the sense of the adjective in a sentence as in “Un alto magistrato” and “Un magistrato alto”; “Un vecchio amico” (in the sense of an old friend”) and “Un amico vecchio “ ( in the sense of an elderly friend).
See also: :Avere certe informazioni “ where “certe” means “some”; “Avere informazioni certe “ where “certe” means “sure”; “Ho letto diversi libri “ where “diversi” means “many”; “Ho letto libri diversi” where “diversi” means” different”, etc.
So, the only cases where the adjective must be compulsorily placed after the noun are the following:
1)when it is a diminutive such as “piccolina” in “Una casa piccolina”.
2)when it governs an indirect object as e.g. “Una casa piena di mobili”(not “Una piena casa di mobili”) ; “Un cane fedele al padrone (not “un fedele cane al padrone”).
3)when it is a past participle used as an adjective as in “Un edificio ristrutturato”.
4)when it derives from a noun such as “estivo” (from “estate”), “solare” (from “sole”; “elettrico” (from “elettricità”). See for example:”Era primavera, ma splendeva un sole estivo”; “L’impianto solare era in funzione”; “Il collegamento elettrico era stato fatto”.
5) when it stands for a noun in the genitive as in “Il biglietto aereo” instead of “Il biglietto dell’aereo”.
6)when id indicates the nationality: as in “Era una ragazza Americana” or the shape as in “Un tavolo rettangolare”.
That being stated, I have however to tell you that only a good knowledge and daily use of Italian language can help you to be sure that you are placing an adjective correctly.
See the following examples:”Ho visto un bel film”; “Ho fatto una bella dormita (not ” una dormita bella”); “Era un buon avvocato”; “Indossava una toga Romana”; “Che bella idea!”; “I suoi occhi neri brillavano di gioia”; “Ha avuto una vita lunga e serena”; “Gli piace la bella vita”; “Lei ha gli occhi azzurri”; “Ho comprato un’auto sportiva”; etc.
To conclude, I’m afraid I cannot help you more as this is a very difficult matter for a non-native Italian speaker.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Maria
Thank you for your great help with this question. I really appreciate the extensive answer and explanation that you have given to me. I hope you will not mind a follow-up question.
Can you please help me with the following expressions:
una casa piena di mobili
a house full of furniture
un cane fedele al padrone
a dog faithful to his master
I hope my translations are correct.
Can you please tell me if I am correct to think that the indirect
object – “di mibili” that is governed by the adjective – “piena” is a “complemento di modo”.
Can you also please tell me if I am correct to think that the indirect object – “al padrone” governed by the adjective - “fedele” is a “complemento di modo”.
Thank you very much. I very much appreciate your very generous help.
in “Una casa piena di mobili” the indirect object “di mobili” that is governed by the adjective “piena” is not a “complemento di modo”, but a “complemento di abbondanza” which depends on the adjective of abounding “piena” (full) just denoting that the house is abounding with furniture.
Moreover in “Un cane fedele al padrone” the indirect object “al padrone” governed by the adjective “fedele” is not a “complemento di modo”, but a “complemento di termine” which is used to denote the object indirectly affected by an action. It is usually denoted in English by the objective with “to”, as in “A dog faithful to his master”, or by no preposition, if the English verb is transitive as in “He gave the boy a book” (“Diede un libro al ragazzo” where “al ragazzo” is a “complemento di termine” as there is an idea of the boy's receiving the book).
Have a nice day,