The Differences Between Bene, Buono, Bravo & Bello in Italian

These four little words starting with b- are known to most students of Italian from the very beginning of their learning process, and sometimes even before that. At the same time bene, buono, bravo and bello are very easy to confuse and their correct usage, especially during a spontaneous conversation, can take a long time to master. Don’t feel frustrated, though; patience is the key, and sometimes, even if you make a mistake, context can help you.

However, it’s a virtuous thing to aim for accuracy, and this article is intended to be a reference to clarify the meanings of these words. So save it as a bookmark and buona lettura (happy reading)!

Niccolò Curini, the author of this article, has graciously offered a video rendition of this article for those who prefer an oral explanation over a written one. You can view his video below!

1. BENE 

I’d like to start with bene because it is the only one in this group of four words that never changes. This is because bene doesn’t refer to a person, an object or a situation, but rather describes the way an action is carried out.

Technically, a word that describes or modifies a verb is called an adverb and in this case the English equivalent of bene is well (and not good).

In the following examples bene refers to the verbs parlare / to speak, lavorare / to work, andare / to go and stare as in to be or to feel.





¹ In Italian, the verb stare / to stay is used instead of essere / to be in order to express physical and psychological conditions. Therefore a literal translation of this example could be I don’t stay well. Although in English it is common to say good instead of well, in Italian you can not replace bene with buono.

Antonym of BENE – MALE

The opposite of bene is male which in English is badly, poorly or bad. So we can reformulate the example seen above in this way:




Two businessmen giving a handshake in the office
Come sta? – Bene, grazie. = How are you? – Well, thanks.

2. BUONO 

a) BUONO means good and is therefore the right word to express your appreciation for a taste, a smell, and the good quality of a material. Buono is an adjective, so it has to be in accordance with the gender and number of the noun it refers to.



Buono can also be found before the element it refers to. In this case, but only if masculine and singular², it has to be shortened to buon (losing the last -o).


² Originally, this rule only applied to masculine singular words that did not have lo as a definite article, but nowadays it is extended to all masculine singular words.

b) Buono is the right word to describe good behaviour and a positive attitude towards others. 



c) Buono is used to say that someone is very competent in their profession or role.



d) Buono is also used in expressions such as greetings or good wishes.






³ It’s possible to write both buongiorno and buon giorno, but the first unified version is more popular.

Antonym of BUONO – CATTIVO

The opposite of buono is cattivo, which in English is translated again as bad.




Close up of three generation family sitting together at the kitchen table celebrating the pre-teen daughter's birthday with a birthday cake
Buon compleanno! = Happy birthday!

3. BRAVO

Bravo means good as well, but more specifically, bravo is used for:

a) People who are skilled at something.




The superlative suffix -issimo/a corresponds to the English very or extremely.

b) Kind, honest and reliable people (and animals too) or professionals.




Bravo also appears in the classic piece of advice parents give their children: 


Antonym of BRAVO

There is more than one translation to express the opposite of bravo:

a) Scarso / poor at something, incapace / incapable, incompetente / incompetent


b) Cattivo / bad, disonesto / dishonest, disobbediente / disobedient


Speaking into professional microphone during podcast in home studio. Creative online show On-air production internet broadcast host streaming live content, recording digital social media communication
Maria è brava nel suo lavoro. = Maria is good at her job.

4. BELLO

The word bello, meaning beautiful, is primarily connected to a positive visual perception, although in Italian its use is extended to other situations that can have different translations in English. We will see this shortly, but first I’d like to mention a peculiar feature of this word.

It’s extremely common to use bello before the word it refers to, but as you can see below when this happens bello is influenced by the appropriate determinative article. Keep this list in mind in order to “decrypt” the word bello in the following paragraphs.

  • Be + il = bel
  • Be + lo = bello
  • Be + la = bella
  • Be + i = bei
  • Be + gli = begli
  • Be + le = belle
  • Be + l’ = bell’

How to use BELLO

a) Bello is used to describe how people, animals or things look.




b) Bello is also used for something that is well-prepared, organised, or that gives a sense of gratification. In this case bello is always before the word it refers to.




c) Bello can be also used to denote a quantity, much as in English you would use considerable or quite. Once again, bello is before the word it refers to.



literally “quite a bit

d) Closely linked to points b) and c), bello can also be used sarcastically or emphatically in order to add a personal judgement on a certain matter.



Antonym of BELLO

The opposite of bello is brutto, which in Italian means both bad and ugly.





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