By- Claudia Quesito
As you certainly know, attributive adjectives—words used to modify nouns—agree in gender and number with the noun they refer to. The aggettivi del primo tipo—the so-called “easy ones”—end either with –o (masculine) or –a (feminine) in their singular form, and turn respectively to –i and –e in the plural form, as in bello, bella, belli, belle.
The aggettivi del secondo tipo— aka the “tricky ones”—only have two endings: –e in the singular and –i in the plural form. Where’s the trick? They only show number, not gender. See intelligente (singular) and intelligenti (plural). There’s no way to tell if intelligente refers to a man or a woman. Luckily, there are normally plenty of clues: a noun, an article, and context. Still, these adjectives can be confusing since they do not necessarily match the noun ending. Compare, for instance, il libro interessante and i libri interessanti.
As for the placement, adjectives normally follow the noun they modify (una città fantastica) except some very short and common ones that go before the noun. These include bello, brutto, caro, buono, and bravo (as in una bella città). However, even these must precede the noun when modified (una città molto bella) or for emphasis or contrast. Some adjectives have a different meaning depending on their placement. They keep their literal meaning when following the noun. Consider un amico vecchio, (a friend who is old), and compare it with un vecchio amico (an old friend, as in one you have known for a long time).
In this last case, the subjective point of view of the user prevails. Along the same lines, compare ho comprato una macchina nuova and ho comprato una nuova macchina. In the first case, you are saying “I bought a brand- new car,” while in the second phrase “new” could also mean that you bought a second car, in addition to one that you already had in your garage.