Adjectives and their position Posted by Serena on Aug 17, 2009 in Grammar
A few weeks ago in my blog Esprimiti – part 1 I wrote: Siamo entusiasti della nostra nuova casa (we are delighted with our new house), which prompted the following question from Vince: “‘nuova casa’. That’s how we say it in English. Do Italians now put adjectives in front of nouns with there being no change in meaning? Is there a rule for when you put an adjective in front of a noun or after a noun?” The answer is Yes! there is a rule but, as is often the case, us native speakers are not really aware of it, we just use adjectives instinctively i.e. we do what ‘sounds right’ to us. Therefore to be able to answer this question properly I had to do a bit of studying myself, and the result is quite interesting.
1) Adjectives normally precede a noun in the following cases:
aggettivi numerali (numerals), e.g. due cappuccini, per favore (two cappuccini, please); l’appartamento è al primo piano (the apartment is on the first floor)
aggettivi possessivi (possessives), e.g. dov’è la tua macchina? (where is your car?)
aggettivi indefiniti (indefinite adjectives), e.g. desidera un altro biscotto? (would you like another biscuit?); c’erano poche persone (there were few people)
aggettivi dimostrativi (demonstratives), e.g. questo libro è interessante (this book is interesting); quel fiore è bellissimo (that flower is beautiful)
aggettivi interrogativi (interrogatives), e.g. quale gusto preferisci? (which flavor do you prefer?)
2) Adjectives normally follow a noun in the following cases:
aggettivi di nazionalità (nationalities), e.g. la lingua italiana è musicale (the Italian language is musical)
aggettivi di colori (colors), e.g. ho comprato un vestito verde (I bought a green dress)
participi passati usati come aggettivi (past participles used as adjectives), e.g. mi piacciono le pere cotte (I like cooked pears); la pasta fatta in casa è più buona (homemade pasta is nicer)
aggettivi preceduti da un avverbio (adjectives preceded by an adverb), e.g. Anna è una studentessa molto diligente (Anna is a very diligent student)
aggettivi alterati (adjectives modified by a suffix), e.g. è una casa carina (it’s a pretty house)
For all the other adjectives, there is a general rule for their position before or after a noun, that is:
when an adjective comes after the noun its position is more emphatic, and the information added by the adjective is fundamental to the understanding of the noun, e.g. le case vecchie del paese sono costruite in sasso (the old houses of the village are built of stone), implying that only the old houses are built of stones, and that there are also some new houses which are not built of stone.
when an adjectives is before the noun, its value is reduced and the information given is extra but not fundamental to the understanding of the noun. So by simply moving the position of the adjective in the following way: le vecchie case del paese sono costruite in sasso changes the meaning to: in the village all the houses are old and built of stone. The adjective vecchie (old), is not an essential piece of information, and could even be left out without changing the main point of the sentence, which is that all the houses in the village are built of stone.
So to return to the original example: siamo entusiasti della nostra nuova casa (we are delighted with our new house). In this case the fact that the adjective precedes the noun indicates that the newness of the house is just bonus information i.e. we could simply say siamo entusiasti della nostra casa (we are delighted with our house) without changing the main meaning of the sentence. However, if we say siamo entusiasti della nostra casa nuova the implication would be that we are delighted with our new house as opposed to our old house i.e. the newness of the house has now become an essential piece of information.
Finally, there are some cases in which adjectives change meaning according to their position, but I will save that for rainy day!