Placement of Adverbs



I am unsure about the correct placement of an adverb in a sentence with an adjective. I think

I read a really good book.

should be translated as

Io ho letto un davvero buon libro.

because the adverb modifies the adjective and this particular adjective goes before the noun.


Posted 2014-01-05T19:18:18.970

Reputation: 205

2No, 'Io ho letto un davvero buon libro' is incorrect. You should write 'Ho letto un libro davvero buono', even if I would prefer 'Ho letto un libro davvero interessante'. However 'buono' is not wrong there. – Kyriakos Kyritsis – 2014-01-05T19:52:39.943

1@Kyriakos Kyritsis: however, Ho letto davvero un buon libro is perfectly fine. – nico – 2014-01-05T21:00:51.807

2Note that the subject pronoun is omitted in Italian in most cases; it's used when the verb is in subjunctive mode but almost never in the indicative mode, except when great emphasis is put on the subject. – egreg – 2014-01-05T22:28:17.997

@egreg, is not 'is putted ...', perhaps? – Kyriakos Kyritsis – 2014-01-06T01:35:43.960

3The past tense and past participle of put is put. – Ledda – 2014-01-06T04:27:38.523

2@KyriakosKyritsis “Put” is, like “cut” and “set”, invariable. – egreg – 2014-01-06T10:32:15.647



The construction Ho letto un davvero buon libro is ungrammatical. If the adjective is modified by an adverb, it must go after the noun. For instance, Ho letto un libro davvero bello.

But un libro buono is not the same as un buon libro; consider un uomo povero and un pover uomo: they have different meanings. That's a general rule, the adjective preceding the noun gives the construction an “abstract” (better, perhaps, figured) sense. The concrete sense can't be applied to a book.

But "un libro davvero buono" (a really good book) can be used, because the adverb modifies the adjective giving it the figured sense. The construction Ho letto un libro davvero buono, however, sounds a bit formal, so another construction is possible

Ho letto davvero un buon libro

which means the same as Ho letto un libro davvero buono, unless, in speech, one gives special emphasis to the adverb. This could be rendered, in writing, with commas: Ho letto, davvero, un buon libro (in English this would become Really, I read a good book).


Posted 2014-01-05T19:18:18.970

Reputation: 10 674


Io ho letto un davvero buon libro is wrong. Ho letto un libro davvero buono is grammatically correct but even omitting Io it is still pretty... childish. I believe it is not appropriate in a casual conversation between adult and "moderately-educated" mother-tongue people. Look for an alternative with a similar meaning, like the one suggested by Kyriakos Kyritsis (Ho letto un libro davvero interessante).

Ho letto davvero un buon libro has a radically different meaning (I really read a good book).


Posted 2014-01-05T19:18:18.970

Reputation: 1 128

1Note that the last example may sound radically different in this case, but that is mostly because the choice of buono makes it a tad strange to the ear. Think of: Questo libro è davvero entusiasmante! (This book is really engaging!) compared to Questo è davvero un libro entusiasmante! (This is really an engaging book!). In this case the difference of meaning, albeit still there, is only very subtle. – nico – 2014-01-06T07:15:16.270

1An adverb can modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. In the two examples with buon, davvero is modifying buon in the first example and letto in the second, so I have to agree that the meanings are significantly different. The first example with entusiasmante is ambiguous and could also be interpreted as "This book really is engaging!" In other words davvero could be modifying either è or entusiasmante. Saying "ho letto davvero un libro entusiasmante" is just as radically different to "ho letto un libro davvero entusiasmante" as the examples with buon. – redbmk – 2014-01-06T11:22:12.263

1I don't agree on the assertion that ho letto davvero un buon libro is radically different from ho letto un libro davvero buono; to me they mean the same thing. – egreg – 2014-01-07T16:48:55.027

1@redbmk: I don't see how the meaning is ambiguous at all. The possible ambiguity would be clear from the context, if you do not believe it is engaging and I am saying "it really is engaging". In that case, however, I would say No, davvero, questo libro è entusiasmante!. – nico – 2014-01-07T21:48:10.847

@egreg, maybe the issue is in how we're translating it then. In English, "I really read a good book" means something different than "I read a really good book." – redbmk – 2014-01-07T23:11:37.080

@nico, by ambiguous I just mean that the same sentence has two possible meanings. I agree it would be cleared up by the context, but the question is asking about the placement of adverbs. Couldn't davvero there be modifying either the word in front of it or the word after it? I'm not a native speaker so I wouldn't be surprised if I were wrong. – redbmk – 2014-01-07T23:15:38.800

@redbmk We're talking about Italian, not about translating into English. – egreg – 2014-01-07T23:28:32.090

@egreg Sorry, my comment was poorly worded. There seems to be some confusion as to the actual grammar of the sentence ho letto davvero un buon libro. Does the adverb davvero modify ho letto, buon, or is it not clear without more context? Do the two sentences have the same meaning academically, colloquially, or both? My point about the translation from Italian to English was that if davvero modifies buon rather than ho letto then the translation I really read a good book is incorrect. – redbmk – 2014-01-08T00:49:05.343

1@redbmk: Although "technically" davvero could be modifying either word, in practice, at least to my ear, the sentences are essentially saying the same. – nico – 2014-01-08T07:42:09.637


The adverb is a part of speech used to modify or add something to the meaning content of another part. The problem with Italian is that the positions of parts of speech are not (except for clear cases) fixed.

The sentence:

Ho letto un davvero buon libro

doesn't sound right. So, there are two different things you may want to say here.

  1. If the meaning is "I read a really good book" (as you outline in the question), then you need to put the adverb right before the adjective it refers to and the article must be coupled to its noun:

Ho letto un libro davvero buono

Another form for this would be "Ho letto davvero un buon libro" (you place the adverb before the whole construct article + adjective + noun).

  1. If you want to say that "I really read a good book", that is, you really read it (the adverb refers to the verb) instead, then the adverb has to be placed right before the verb it modifies and the translation would be:

Ho davvero letto un buon libro


Posted 2014-01-05T19:18:18.970

Reputation: 2 714

1Did you forget Ho letto davvero un buon libro on purpose? ;-) It's a widely used form, I believe, less formal than its equivalent Ho letto un libro davvero buono. – egreg – 2014-01-08T13:03:10.343

@egreg Thanks, added this. – martina – 2014-01-08T13:47:20.133

1In my opinion «Ho letto un davvero buon libro» might be formally correct but very weird indeed. «Ho letto un libro davvero buono» is OK but the meaning might be different and it also sounds a bit clumsy, very slow. «Ho letto davvero un buon libro» is OK but «Ho davvero letto un buon libro» sounds much more natural to me (and it is not really relevant if the adverb modifies the verb rather than the adjective - what matters is that the general meaning is expressed better this way). – None – 2014-01-09T12:06:12.980