Bel or Bello? A special Italian adjective

The adjective “bello” is one of the most known Italian words. It follows a special rule, which you should learn and remember if you want to speak correctly

Foreigners make fun of Italians saying “Ciao bello!” or “Ciao Bella!”. I think it’s funny and also a good stereotype. We are friendly and everyone deserves the title of  “bello”.

Let’s see more in detail what this word means and how we can use it correctly.

In English, adjectives come before a noun. In Italian we usually put them after.

  • Ho una penna rossa and not Ho una rossa penna. We can’t put rossa before penna. 

Some adjectives however, can be put before or after a noun, changing the value of the noun itself.

  • Leonardo Di Caprio è un attore bravissimo
  • Leonardo Di Caprio è un bravissimo attore.

In the first case, we express an objective fact. Di Caprio is a great actor. In the second example, we want to express a point of view, the value of Di Caprio as an actor according to the opinion of the speaker.

Since bravissimo is a superlative, the position of the adjective here does not change much the intensity or the perspective of the speaker.

A better example would be:

  • Mario è un vecchio amico.
  • Mario è un amico vecchio.

In the first case, we say that Mario is al old friend, in the second Mario is an old person and he’s a friend. So, the first case is an example of a qualitative use of the adjective vecchio, it’s about my friendship with Mario.

There’s a more extensive explanation on another blog about the position of adjectives in Italian sentences. Have a look.

The adjective bello belongs to this second category. We can put it before or after the noun.
If we put it after the noun, it acts as a normal aggettivo, changing as singular or plural, masculine or feminine. We express an objective situation:

  • Il bambino è bello – sm
  • La bambina è bella – sf
  • I bambini sono belli – pm
  • Le bambine sono belle – pf

However, if we put bello before the noun, it changes quite radically and instead of agreeing with number and gender, it follows the rules of definite articles IL – LO – LA – I – GLI – LE – L’.

  • il ragazzo
  • lo zaino
  • la macchina
  • i regali
  • gli anni
  • le colline
  • l’albero

We get as a result:

  • Mario è un bel ragazzo.
  • Hai un bello zaino.
  • La Ferrari è una bella macchina.
  • Ho ricevuto dei bei regali.
  • Ho passato dei begli anni all’università.
  • In Toscana ci sono delle belle colline.
  • Davanti a casa mia c’è un bell’albero.

We don’t simply say that an object is beautiful. We want to give an opinion, a subjective point of view.

Using correctly the Italian adjective “bello” will help you to speak naturally and, why not, to get along with Italian people.

Try the quiz. Alla prossima.


Don`t copy text!