Meglio o Migliore?

Posted on 02. Apr, 2009 by in Grammar

I recently received an interesting e.mail from a reader saying that he had never realized that “adverbs can also function as adjectives and nouns” and he asked me to focus in particular on “bene, meglio, male e peggio in comparison with buono, migliore, cattivo e peggiore”. I must admit that I had a few moments of panic when I read this, but after a bit of research I’ve probably got an answer, even if not a complete one, as these particular words are used in many idiomatic expressions. Proviamoci! (Let’s try!)

Aggettivi (adjectives) are words that describe nouns, and add more information about them: e.g. il maglione rosso (the red jumper), la mia penna (my pen), queste scarpe (these shoes). Because adjectives describe nouns, they agree with the noun by changing gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural): e.g. rosso, rossa, rossi, rosse. Of course, there are always exceptions, so some adjective, like viola (purple), don’t change at all.

Avverbi (adverbs) are words that describe verbs: e.g. Marco ascolta attentamente l’insegnante (Marco listens carefully to the teacher), Lucia parla correntemente tre lingue (Lucia speaks three languages fluently). Adverbs can also be used to reinforce an adjective or another adverb: e.g. questo maglione e’ veramente bello (this jumper is really beautiful); Giorgio guida troppo pericolosamente (Giorgio drives too dangerously). Many adverbs are constructed by adding the suffix –mente to the equivalent adjective, like the ending in ‘-ly’ in English: pericolosamente (dangerously), attentamente (carefully). Adverbs do not change, they don’t have gender or number.

So, what are “bene, meglio, male, peggio, buono, migliore, cattivo e peggiore”?

Bene and male are adverbs and they mean ‘well’ and ‘bad/badly’: Lucia suona bene il violino (Lucia plays the violin well); questo lavoro e’ fatto male (this job is badly done). But with the definite articles, i.e. il Bene and il Male, they are nouns and mean “Good” and “Evil”. Similarly, we can use them with the indefinite article, i.e. un bene, un male, meaning “it’s a good thing/a bad thing”: ‘e’ un bene che tu sei arrivato perche’ ho bisogno del tuo aiuto’ (it’s a good thing that you have arrived because I need your help).

Buono and cattivo are adjectives meaning “good” and “bad”: e.g. Mario ha fatto un buon lavoro (Mario did a good job), oggi il tempo e’ cattivo (today the weather is bad). For more detailed explanations of their meaning and uses see my past blogs The Good the Bad and the Ugly and Buono o Bello .

Migliore and peggiore are adjectives, in particular they are the comparative and superlative forms of buono and cattivo: migliore means “better” or “the best”, and peggiore means “worse” or “the worst”. Queste scarpe sono migliori di quelle (these shoes are better than those), questo e’ il libro migliore che abbia mai letto (this is the best book I’ve ever read), questo vino e’ peggiore di quello (this wine is worse than that one), questo e’ il peggiore film che abbia mai visto (this is the worst film I’ve ever seen).

Meglio and peggio are adverbs, in particular they are the comparative forms of bene and male: meglio means “better” and peggio means “worse”. Lucia suona il violino meglio di Laura (Lucia plays the violin better than Laura), Laura suona il violino peggio di Lucia (Laura plays the violin worse than Lucia). Meglio and peggio are commonly used in expressions such as: e’ meglio (it’s better) / e’ peggio (it’s worse): e’ meglio partire domani (it’s better to leave tomorrow), e’ peggio andare in macchina che in autobus (it’s worse going in the car than by bus). In modern Italian you will often hear meglio  and peggio used in place of the more grammatically correct migliore and peggiore  when they follow the verb e’ e.g. il maglione rosso e’ meglio di quello blu, instead of il maglione rosso e’ migliore di quello blu (the red jumper is better than the blue one), questo vino e’ peggio di quello instead of questo vino e’ peggiore di quello (this wine is worse than that one).

I hope I’ve helped to clarify some points, or have I made them as clear as mud?

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6 Responses to “Meglio o Migliore?”

  1. w a 2 April 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    This is very helpful, as is your entire blog! Particularly for a new student such as myself, who is studying independently. Relatively simple concepts like this aren’t often spelled out and explained so well, even though they’re necessary for the foundation of the language. I always am glad to see when you post a new article. Mille grazie!

  2. Claire Ludovico 3 April 2009 at 1:11 am #

    In English (and I believe in Italian as well), the verb “to be” is not followed by an adverb but by an adjective…unless it is an adverb modifying an adjective or other word.

    Hence:
    Butterflies in January are rare.
    Or
    Butterflies in January are rarely seen.
    Not
    Butterflies in January are rarely.

    And the opposite thought in Italian to demonstrate a similar principle:
    Le farfalle di maggio sono molte.
    O
    Le farfalle di maggio sono molto normali.
    Non
    Le farfalle di maggio sono molto.
    (“Very” being an adverb without anything to modify in this case.)

    Hope this makes sense.

  3. Bill Rohwer 3 April 2009 at 10:08 am #

    Gentile Signora Serena,

    Le ringrazio molto. Ha fatto le distinzioni molto, molto più chiare. Grazie a Le la mia comprensione delle è più “migliore di” prima.

    Un picolo aneddoto: here in Lido di
    Camaiore where we stay for three months every three months, the owner of our local produce store has become a friend whom we often consult about proper usage in Italian. On this matter, he has adamantly insisted on three points: (a) in comparisons of two things, Italians always use, ‘meglio,’ never ‘migliore;’ (b) one never says, “molto meglio, ” nor “molto migliore;” (c) saying, e.g., “questo vino è migliore di quello,” is an error — one can say of three wines, “vino numero uno è buono, numero due è migliore, e tre è il migliore,” without ever making direct comparisons.

    Despite my agreement with your analysis, Signora Serena, sono troppo timido di correggere Bruno.

    Bill Rohwer

  4. Kim 3 April 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    Hi Serena, Excellent blog, thank you so much! If you get a change to talk to the people who do the Word of the Day, it’d be really useful in the translations if they would print out the phrase, then the normal conversational translation as they currently do, and then add the literal translation. It’d be helpful for beginners trying to learn how to properly order their thoughts/words to construct sentences in the foreign language. Thanks again, Kim

  5. Laszlo Benke 19 September 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Gent.ma Serena, grazie per i chiarimenti.
    Le chiedo la cortesia di aggiungere un ulteriore chiarimento sul superlativo degli avverbi; es. “Carla dipinge il meglio/peggio nella classe” é corretto o scorretto?
    Grazie per il suo interesse,
    Laszlo dall’Ungheria (il paese piú lungo del mondo, giá che siamo ai superlativi :o)).

  6. Serena 21 September 2011 at 8:28 am #

    Salve Laszlo,

    Questo blog l’ho scritto più di due anni fa, quindi presto lo rivisiterò con nuovi esempi. Spero perciò di rispondere ai tuoi dubbi. Comunque, la frase “Carla dipinge il meglio/peggio nella classe” è sbagliata, dovrebbe essere: “Carla dipinge meglio/peggio di tutta la classe” oppure “Carla è la migliore/peggiore della classe a dipingere”

    Saluti da Serena


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