One thing I was totally confused by when I first started learning Italian was the comparative.
In fact, who am I kidding – I still get confused by adjectives and adverbs of all types in Italian. But one word in particular kept tripping me up. Meglio.
You’d use meglio just as you’d use ‘better’ in English. So I started doing just that, and sometimes I was getting it right. But other times… not so much.
Turns out you can also use migliore to mean better – sometimes. But then, migliore sometimes also means ‘the best’… and so do some other words. Yikes.
No wonder I was confused.
What’s the difference?
Let's go back to bene vs buono.
Buono (good) is an adjective, and the comparative form of buono is migliore.
Bene (well) is an adverb, and the comparative form of bene is meglio.
See the different usages in these two food-related examples:
La pizza è buona ma il risotto è migliore
The pizza is good but the risotto is better
Ho mangiato bene, ma hai mangiato meglio
I have eaten well, but you have eaten better
When you want to compare two things, you can use migliore in cases where the basic form of the adjective would be buono (good)
Questa pizza e migliore di quella
This pizza is better than that one
But you’ll need meglio instead when you want to compare actions, or in any case where the basic form of the adjective would be “bene” (well)
Lucia suona il violino meglio di Laura
Lucia plays the violin better than Laura
In modern Italian you will often hear meglio used instead of the more grammatically correct migliore after the verb e’ (it is)
e’ meglio partire domani
It’s better to leave tomorrow
Migliore is also used as a superlative form of buono.
Questa è la migliore pizza in città
This is the best pizza in town
Ottimo (the best) is usually listed as the grammatically correct superlative form of buono but in reality it’s usually used to mean something more like ‘great’
Questa è un'ottima pizzeria
This is a great pizzeria
And the superlative form of the adverb bene is benissimo (very well)
But don’t worry if you only manage to remember one or two of these words. It’s meglio di niente (better than nothing)
And meglio obviously comes in most useful when discussing your Italian language-learning progress:
È meglio parlare un po 'di italiano che niente!
It's better to speak a little italian than none at all!