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Italian Language/Restrictive Adjectives


Dear Maria,

Would you please help me to understand  “restrictive” adjectives.  

Please see your answer to my question about the position of adjectives – 4/30/2016 where you told me that “restrictive” adjectives generally follow the noun they modify.

My problem is that I have come to realize that I do not know what is meant by a “restrictive” adjective.  

At first, I thought that a “restrictive” adjective was the same thing as a “limiting” adjective (possessive adjectives, demonstrative adjectives, indefinite adjectives, numbers, articles, interrogative adjectives, titles, and proper adjectives).  

But, now I think that a “restrictive” adjective may not be the same as a “limiting” adjective.   So, I would very much appreciate if you would please explain what is meant by a “restrictive” adjective.

Can you also please tell me if the same adjective can sometimes be used as a “descriptive” adjective and at other times be used as a “restrictive” adjective.

Thank you very much.

Very Sincerely,


Dear Rich,

when I wrote :“Anyway, generally speaking,  descriptive adjectives precede the nouns they modify, while, generally speaking, restrictive adjectives follow the nouns they modify”(see  my answer on 4/30/2016), I wanted to mean that such “restrictive” adjectives served to  specify the particular circumstance or circumstances being mentioned, and in fact I have quoted some examples  that explained the sense of the term “restrictive”, though perhaps I  should have used the term “limiting” as in e.g. “a limiting factor” just to refine the sense of a context.

So, in the above-mentioned  answer I  just wrote:” 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”.

As you can see, the adjectives “vecchio”, “giovane” and "alto" can be either descriptive adjectives or restrictive/limiting  adjectives, depending on their place in a sentence.

I really know that this subtle difference between two different positions of the same adjective can be hard for an English speaker  to understand, but in Italian such a nuance is very common.

To conclude, I have therefore to tell you that the same adjective can sometimes be used as a “descriptive” adjective and at other times be used as a “restrictive” adjective, just as you see in the above-mentioned examples.

Hope I’ve help you a little bit.



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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.


Over 25 years teaching experience.

I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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