italian vocabulary

Italian Vocabulary: The Proper Way to Use the Four B’s

italian vocabulary

Are you confused about how to properly use the Italian vocabulary words, buono, bello, bravo, and bene? Below, Italian teacher Giulio G. explains the right way to use the four b’s…

Buono, bello, bravo, bene—the so-called four b’s—are very common words in the Italian language. Their exact usage, however, can be quite difficult for beginner Italian students to master.

That’s because when translated to English these Italian vocabulary words all mean, “good.” Below are some tips and tricks that I hope will be useful for all of you who might be struggling with these four Italian vocabulary words.

Bene:

First, it is extremely important to emphasize that the Italian vocabulary words buono, bravo, and bello are adjectives and bene is an adverb.

This means that the actual meaning of bene is ‘well’ in English and it cannot be conjugated following the gender and the number of the noun it precedes.

Regarding its usage, bene is always used after the verb, and its function is to express a positive judgment. See example below:

  • Joseph parla bene l’Italiano. (Joseph speaks Italian well.)

Joseph speaks Italian in an excellent way. So, bene modifies the verb by giving the listener (or the reader) more information related to that specific action.

Buono:

This adjective is used to express a positive judgment related to the quality of a person, an animal, or an object. Specifically, buono is referred to:

  • Morality: Lui è un buon uomo. (Meaning Lui has a good soul or a good heart)
  • Quality: è un buon film. (Meaning that the movie is well-made)
  • Taste: La torta è buona. (Meaning that the cake tastes good.

It is important to know that this Italian vocabulary word can be used with animals, people, and things.

Bravo:

Whereas the Italian vocabulary word buono can be used with animals, people, and things, the adjective bravo can be used only with people or animals.

Bravo is used to underline that someone is good at doing something or that he/she has very good manners. See examples below:

  • Lei è un brava pittore. (She is good painter/ She is good at painting.)
  • Lui è un bravo ragazzo. (He has very good manners).

Bello:

Like the two Italian vocabulary words above, bello is used to express a positive judgment; however, it is usually used to emphasize another characteristic of the noun. It expresses a positive judgment related to the formal, aesthetic aspect.

For example, the phrase “Un bell’uomo” (A handsome man) doesn’t refer to his behavior and kindness, but just to his physical attributes. Essentially, it means that man is attractive.

Additionally, bello also has the purpose of intensifying a concept. For example, in the sentence, “Mi mangio una bella torta,” (I eat a beautiful cake) the speaker wants to emphasize his desire toward a specific sweet. In other words, he cannot wait to eat it.

Overall, the differences of these words are very small and it can be difficult to always choose the correct word. While you’re learning Italian, it is very normal to make occasional mistakes with the four b’s.

Therefore, don’t worry if you mix up these Italian vocabulary words. Just keep practicing with your Italian teacher and talking to natives and you’ll soon get it right!

Photo by MC Quinn

Giulio GPost Author: Giulio Giannetti
Giulio G. teaches in-person Italian lessons in New York City. He is originally from Florence, Italy and is currently a student at the University of Florence for Languages and Intercultural Relations. He has been teaching lessons since 2009. Learn more about Giulio here!

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