top of page

Un cappuccino bello schiumoso:

l’uso di bello come intensificatore di aggettivi in italiano


Paolo D’Achille • Anna M. Thornton 



The paper examines the grammaticalization process of the Italian adjective bello ‘beautiful’, nowadays used also as an adjective intensifier (specifically, a booster), on the basis of both diachronic and synchronic corpora of Italian. The phenomenon is registered by dictionaries of Italian but not well described in grammars.

This “adverbial” usage of bello, certainly attested at the beginning of the 16th century, and possibly earlier, could have developed from its usage as focus modifier before nouns, or from its usage in coordination with another adjective, or (less likely) from contexts in which it precedes colore ‘color’ or color terms.

Bridging contexts (Heine 2002) are cases in which bello precedes nouns that denote entities whose abundance is considered positive (e.g., bel guadagno ‘lit. beautiful income’ > ‘high income’), or adjectives that denote qualities whose high degree is considered positive (bello grosso ‘lit. beautiful big’ > ‘very big’).

Grammaticalization of bello as an intensifier seems to have reached Heine’s (2002) third stage: in contemporary Italian, a requirement that the quality to which the Intensivandum refers is positively evaluated by the speaker does not hold any more. However, bello has not lost its original meaning and, even when it is used as an intensifier, agrees in gender and number with the head noun modified by the Intensivandum, unlike adverbs.


Keywords: Bello ‘beautiful’ • intensification • grammaticalization • booster • focus modifier

Full article in pdf

bottom of page