As you probably know, in correct Italian, the adjective generally follows the noun.


The question arises when you find sentences like these:


Ho preso una decisione importante/Ho preso un'importante decisione.


and this:


Mi ha raccontato una storia incredibile/Mi ha raccontato un'incredibile storia.


What is the difference in the meaning of the two adjectives above? Is my decision less important in one of the two cases? Is that story more believable in the second example? And why would someone choose to say the same thing in two different ways?


Let's see case by case how the different position of the adjective influences the meaning of our sentence.


Case #1


Usually, putting the adjective before the noun stresses the characteristic or quality described by it. In this case, un'importante decisione sounds more convincing than una decisione importante. Equally, un'incredibile storia stresses the characteristic of the adjective incredibile.





  • Ho preso una decisione importante/Ho preso un'importante decisione.
  • Mi ha raccontato una storia incredibile/Mi ha raccontato un'incredibile storia.



Case #2


Sometimes, putting the adjective before the noun gives it just a general descriptive role: it does not help to distinguish the thing it refers to from other similar things, nor does it mark it as unique. In this example, la nuova casa is generally descriptive and it simply implies that Luigi has a new house. La casa nuova, instead, identifies this house as the new one, which is different from the old one, from the country one, etc.





  • La nuova casa di Luigi.
  • La casa nuova di Luigi.




Case #3


In some cases, adjectives completely change their meaning when placed before or after the noun they refer to. When they follow the noun, they carry the general meaning we know, but when they precede the noun, they have a totally different one: un'idea vecchia is not original anymore, it's widely known. Una vecchia idea, instead, has not been realised or spread yet and could be still interesting. Un libro grande is quite a heavy book with many pages, while un grande libro is a masterpiece of literature.





  • La tua è un'idea vecchia/Sogno ancora di realizzare la mia vecchia idea.
  • Questo è un libro grande/Ti consiglio di leggere questo: è un grande libro.



Case #4


Adjectives that derive from nouns (storia storico, Italia italiano, noia noioso) always follow the noun. They are easily recognizable because they end in:



  • -ale
  • -are
  • -ico
  • -ista
  • -istico
  • -ano
  • -oso






  • Una storia normale
  • L'impero romano
  • Un bambino goloso
  • Un atto benefico
  • Una persona egoista
  • Un trauma cerebrale
  • La seduta parlamentare




Case #5


As we know, possessive adjectives (mio, tuo, suo, nostro, vostro, loro) normally precede the noun (il suo cappello, la nostra auto, la loro casa). However, there are some cases when they follow it. In these few expressions they carry an emphatic meaning.





  • Ci vediamo a casa mia, non a casa tua.
  • Non dovresti farmi queste domande: sono affari miei!
  • Quello che è successo è tutta colpa tua.




Case #6


Finally, let's have a look at some fixed expressions, where the combination of a particular adjective and a particular noun always comes in the same order.


Case 6A: Fixed expressions where the adjective precedes the noun. These combinations have their own specific meaning.





  • bella presenza
  • bella vita
  • pari opportunità
  • bravo ragazzo
  • brutta esperienza
  • giusta causa
  • lunga storia
  • grossa perdita
  • buona dose
  • curioso caso



Case 6B: Fixed expressions where the adjective follows the noun. It's highly improbable to find these combinations in the reverse order.





  • acqua dolce
  • agente segreto
  • settimana santa
  • sangue freddo
  • velo pietoso
  • atti osceni
  • atto ostile



And what should we do when we want to use two or more adjectives to describe something? Let's find it out.


Case #7


The adjectives described in Case #4 (the ones deriving from a noun and ending in -ale, -are, -ico, -ista, -istico, -ano, -oso) always follow the noun they refer to even when there are more than one.





  • Un pubblico internazionale numeroso
  • La storia culturale italiana
  • La riunione comunale settimanale
  • La produzione automobilistica italiana annuale
  • La cucina regionale tradizionale italiana



Case #8


The rest of the adjectives (describing someone/something's characteristic or quality) can be placed quite freely around the noun they refer to. In general, they follow these schemes:


  • Noun + adj. E adj. (It's a mistake not to use e or a comma*).
  • Noun + adj. + adj.
  • Adj. + noun + adj.
  • Adj. E adj. + noun.


* When we use one of the fixed expressions seen in Case #6, we can use a second adjective without adding e or a comma.





  • Una bambina brava e diligente
  • Una bambina brava, diligente
  • Una bambina brava diligente
  • Una brava bambina diligente
  • Una brava e diligente bambina
  • Un agente segreto infallibile
  • Un sangue freddo invidiabile



Now that you have read this quick guide, I hope you will make better use of adjectives in Italian. Shades of meaning can add a lot to your conversations and help you to formulate your message properly. Please, contact me if you have any questions or doubts in this regard.


Thanks for reading!


Image Sources


Hero image by Andrea de Poda (CC BY-SA 2.0)