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Diminutive, Comparative, Superlative

In both English and Italian suffixes, the end part of a word added to change or alter the word’s meaning, can be used to describe the noun in a sentence. In the Italian language the suffix has to be compatible with the noun’s gender and number or value. Here you will find an explanation of the different type of suffixes–diminutive, comparative, and superlative forms–that can be used in Italian.

Diminutive forms are used to indicate a noun is small or, in the case of nicknames, to express intimacy. In Italian the most common diminutive suffixes are -ino, -ina, -etto, -etta, -ello, -ella, – uccio, and -uccia. The suffixes ending in “o” are used for masculine words, while the suffixes ending in “a” are for feminine words. For example:

Car = macchina;  Little Car = macchinina

Street = strada;  Small or Narrow Street = stradina or stradetta

Boy = ragazzo; Small or Little Boy = ragazzino or ragazzetto

Tree = albero;  Small Tree = alberetto or alberino

Piece = pezzo; Small Piece = pezzettino or pezzetto

Donkey = asino; Little Donkey = asinello

Finger = dito; Little Finger = ditino

Horse = cavallo; Little Horse or Toy Horse = cavalluccio or cavallino

In the interest of clarity it is very important to match the noun’s gender. Adding on the wrong suffix can completely change the meaning of a word.  For example, casa or house is feminine, meaning it uses the -etta or -ina suffixes (ie: casetta or casina). If the masculine suffix -ino is incorrectly attached to the word it becomes casino, a slang word for brothel. Definitely not the same meaning as a small and cozy home.


In Italian there are three types of comparatives:  di maggioranza (majority), di minoranza (minority), and di uguaglianza (equality).

Comparativo di Maggioranza  = Comparative of Majority

The comparative of majority is used when the first noun in a sentence is bigger or better than the second.


The boy is taller than his sister = Il ragazzo è più alto di sua sorella

Andrea is faster than Elena = Andrea è più veloce di Elena

Comparativo di Minoranza = Comparativde of Minority

The comparative of majority is used when the second noun in a sentence is smaller or less than the first.


The boy is less intelligent than his sister = Il ragazzo è meno intelligente della sorella

March is less cold than February = Marzo è meno freddo di Febbraio

You Use “DI“:
1. When two terms are compared with respect to one quality/action
2. In front of numbers

You Use “CHE
1. When there is one term and two qualities/actions refer to this one term
2. In front of a preposition
3. In front of an infinitive

Comparativo di Uguaglianza = Comparative of Equality

The comparative of equality is used when the nouns in a sentence are the same.

(così)…come or (tanto)…quanto
(The first for adjectives and adverbs; “tanto…quanto” are adverbs and there is no agreement)

(For nouns, here “tanto…quanto” are adjectives and there is agreement)

(tanto) quanto
(For verbs, “(tanto)…quanto” are adverbs and there is no agreement)

Il caffé Italiano è (così) buono come il caffé americano = Italian coffee is as good as American coffee

Gli Americani mangiano tanti popcorn quante patatine = Americans eat as much popcorn as they do french fries.

Il Superlativo Relativo = The Relative Superlative

The relative superlative is one of the easiest grammatical points in Italian, uno dei punti grammaticali più facili dell’italiano.  The relative superlative is formed by:

the definite article (il, la, i , le) + noun + più or meno + adjective + di + the term in relation to which we are comparing

The construction is very similar to English, except that in Italian you use di instead of “in.”  For example:

Le macchine Americane sono le più grandi del mondo = American cars are the biggest in the world.

Il caffè Italiano è il più buono nel mondo = Italian coffee is the best in the world.

Il Superlativo Assoluto = The Absolute Superlative

The Italian absolute superlative is the equivalent of the English “very + adjective” and “adjective + -est” or “most + adjective.”  In Italian this can be expressed in several ways:

1. By adding -issimo/a/i/e at the end of an adjective.
2. By placing molto, tanto, parecchio, or assai in front of the adjective.
3. By using the prefix arci-, stra-, super-, or ultra-.
4. By using stock phrases such as ricco sfondato (filthy rich); ubriaco fradicio (very drunk); or stanco morto (dead tired).
5. By repeating the adjective or the adverb.
6. Some adjectives have irregular superlatives such as acre/acerrimo; celebre/celeberrimo; integro/integerrimo; and misero/miserrimo. In spoken language, however, most people just avoid the “-issimo” endings with these words and use molto, tanto, parecchio, or assai instead.

In Italian absolute superlatives express the quality in a higher grade than by using an adverb such as very or extremely. For example:

Questo regalo è bellissimo = This present is really very nice

Queste regole sono utilissime = These rules are extremely useful

Io ho due cani piccolissimi = I have two small dogs

Comparativi e Superlativi Irregolari = Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

The comparative of “bene” is always “meglio” (and never “più bene”)

The comparative of “buono” can be “migliore” (“più buono” can also be used)

The comparative of “male” is always “peggio”  (and never “più male”)

The comparative of “cattivo” can be “peggiore” (“più cattivo” can also be used)

Maggiore” is an alternative to “più grande” (più grande=bigger; maggiore=greater)

Minore” is an alternative to “più piccolo” (più piccolo=smaller; minore=lesser)


Find the following comparatives and superlatives

1) Comparative of expensive            Comparativo di caro/costoso

2) Comparative of tall                      Comparativo di alto

3) Superlative of good                     Superlativo di buono

4) Comparative of nice                    Comparativo di bello

5) Comparative of short                   Comparativo di basso

6) Comparative of rich                     Comparativo di ricco


  1. More expensive = più costosa
  2. Taller = più alto/a
  3. Best = meglio
  4. Nicer = più bello
  5. Shorter = più basso
  6. Richer = più ricco

By Elisa Bressan

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