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Everywhere in the world after a successful performance like a live music show or theater play, you can hear audience yelling "Bravo!" to the performers regardless of their gender or number. Is this also true in Italy? Given the existence of the distinguished feminine form "brava", wouldn't it sound queer or even impolite to a female Italian performer if I say bravo to her, especially if she doesn't know that I'm not a native speaker?

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I think it would help you to think of Bravo ("brah-vooh") as an English word borrowed from Italian, but still English nonetheless and thus genderless. An English speaking group of females would still expect to hear "bravo", not "brave". – badp Apr 13 '14 at 17:50
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If the performer is female and is one (singular), then you could simply yell Brava! – MattAllegro Nov 22 '14 at 23:06
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It's been an year since the last time you came here, but if you ever come here again please accept DaG's answer or any other answer (which as of now are all correct), since this question is very popular. – kos Jul 20 '15 at 8:35

10 Answers 10

In Italian, saying “Bravo!” rather then “Brava!” to a female would sound mostly funny, so you'd better use the latter, and “Bravi!” when addressing, say, a band or a performing group.

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Actually this is not quite correct; it depends on the context. In a classic concert, and in any educated circle, "bravo!" will be understood as it is, an international exclamation of appreciation; certainly not funny nor impolite. – Pietro Majer Mar 6 at 14:09
    
I have never, ever heard “Bravo!” usato by Italians to refer to a female performer or a group of more than one. Where did you hear it? – DaG Mar 6 at 14:33
    
Some times. Classic music, Opera, Theatre. But didn't you already ask for a reference? You claimed that saying "bravo!" to a woman performer in a concert in Italy would always sound funny: shouldn't be you who need to prove his claim? :) – Pietro Majer Mar 6 at 15:22
    
We both are claiming something: each one of us should prove it. :-) As for oral occurrences, I should be present when some Italian shout “bravo” to a woman; perhaps it will happen and I'll by happy to acknowledge it! – DaG Mar 6 at 17:00
    
/brɑːˈvəʊ/ is different from /ˈbravo/ ... – Markon Mar 20 at 1:14

Well, this isn't obvious, so I'll try to give you some explanations.

Like others have pointed out, you can't always say bravo. This is a normal adjective used to describe people, and so you'll have to use the proper ending depending on who you're talking about. The feminine singular form is brava. The plural forms are bravi and brave for masculine and feminine respectively.

Saying bravo to a woman is incorrect. Although it's not really impolite, it may make you sound as if you were mocking the performer for addressing her like a man, so don't make fun with it.

So why do all non-Italian speakers always say bravo? I can point out at least two reasons for this.

First of all, most languages treat loanwords as invariant, especially if they can't be assimilated to fit the typical inflection rules.

Furthermore, speakers of many languages will feel that they're talking about the performance rather than the performers. They may think of bravo as a way to say "great show!" or "good job!". In this sense, bravo would be used as an interjection rather than an adjective. But even when bravo is perceived as an adjective in the speaker's own language, declension would not apply. The best example is probably Spanish where you always say bravo for a good performance, despite the fact that singular endings -a/-o for adjectives are the same as in Italian.

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No! To speak correct and polite Italian you would have to say:

  • "Brava" to a single female performer,
  • "Bravo" to a single male performer,
  • "Brave" to many female performers (not even one male performer among them),
  • "Bravi" to many performers if there is at least one male performer among them.
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I am italian, if you have to say it to a female you must say "brava", with the final "a"! "Bravo" is for a man. Bye!

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Se la domanda è 'Can I say bravo to a female performer?' la risposta è no, altrimenti, in Italia, saresti percepito irrispettoso del genere femminile.


English version

If you are asking 'Can I say bravo to a female performer?' then the answer is no.

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The Italian word "bravo" is used in English, French and many others. These languages take only the masculine form of the italian adjectives and apply it to both genders. In Italian "bravo" is an adjective and its gender must agree with the noun. So for a woman you should say "brava". In a concert we say "brava" to a female performer, not "bravo". And this is what we do in, Italy too, at a concert.

Other than that, "bravo" in Italian is something we say often to kids for something they did well and it may not be the most appropriate way of paying a compliment to someone. Personally, if speaking directly to a music performer, I would say "complimenti" or something more complex like "La tua interpretazione mi ha molto emozionato".

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“Bravo” is often used when clapping hands, and cheering, and perhaps during a standing ovation. In such circumstances saying «La tua interpretazione mi ha molto emozionato» would risk to go unnoticed. – DaG May 2 '14 at 7:33
    
@randomatlabuser I meant they do not declense the italian word. – Paolo May 5 '14 at 12:34
    
@DaG I said "if speaking directly" – Paolo May 5 '14 at 15:06

As clami219 said:

No! To speak correct and polite Italian you would have to say:

"Brava" to a single female performer,

"Bravo" to a single male performer,

"Brave" to many female performers (not even one male performer among them),

"Bravi" to many performers if there is at least one male performer among them.

I just want to add that really everyone in italy use the above, so if an italian hear a "BRAVO!" instead of "BRAVA!" immediately think to a foreign person that doesn't know the correct way to say that, and for this it's difficult to be offended for a "BRAVO!"

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short answer: NO!

long answer: you should use either bravO or bravA or bravE or bravI, it depends on the gender and the number of persons:

  • single male person: bravO
  • single female person: bravA
  • many male persons: bravI
  • many female persons: bravE
  • many male and female persons: bravI
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Premise: "Bravo", as an exclamation (hence indeclinable) came into use in French, English and other European languages from the (declinable) Italian adjective through the Italian Opera, since around the half of 18° century (there has been a little issue of priority about it: yet it seems the term is documented in French since 1738, while in English it dates 1761. The use in German is only documented since 1854).

In Italian , while of course "bravo" is a declinable adjective, and should be used as such, the artistic and theatre jargon may borrow, and does, the French- English term, so it is perfectly correct and polite (yet not very common) to express appreciation to a female performer yelling "bravo" , or writing it in an art review, especially in a context of classic music and opera. In this case it would be understood as a foreign term, and not Italian, though.

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I never found a use of “bravo” for a female performer in Italian. Could you please provide some text where this happens? – DaG Mar 5 at 15:52
    
As I said, the exclamation "bravo" can be used and understood in the proper context in Italy as it is, namely an international term of appreciation and admiration, both in written and spoken language. Already googling between quotation marks "un bravo alla" (alle /agli /ai /per la /per le /per i) will provide some hundreds of examples of this use in Italian. – Pietro Majer Mar 5 at 16:48
    
Oh, I see what you mean in the written case (“un bravo a XXX”), but I still find it quite funny that an Italian would shout “bravo” to, say, Angela Hewitt. – DaG Mar 6 at 16:58
    
Maybe... Actually what is really funny is this controversy ;) – Pietro Majer Mar 6 at 17:54
    
Indeed... Bravo to us, if we amused someone. :-) – DaG Mar 6 at 18:15

Can you say bravo to a female performer? Yes.

Should you say bravo to a female performer? No. As you observed, it might be perceived as queer or even mocking/disrespectful, even if non-native speakers can get a free pass.


The correct form in Italian is "brava" ("brave" for a plurality of females, "bravo" for a male, "bravi" for the mixed case).

That said, when you say bravo to a female performer, this may fall in two categories:

  • you are clearly an Italian, or can be mistaken for Italian, i.e., it will be expected of you that you use the proper Italian form - which you didn't. People will either re-evaluate you as non-Italian and point out to you with a smile that you should have said brava, assume that you're using the English invariant form (see below) and say nothing, or politely rebuke you by congratulating for your otherwise flawless Italian (it might also be a genuine congratulation, though); or they will assume that you're mocking the performer or accusing her of something (in this case, however farfetched, it might be of being a closed lesbian, of taking male hormones - it may happen at a sporting event -, or even to be a transvestite).
  • you are clearly not an Italian: your appearance, accent, or context (e.g. in a group of English persons) shows that Italian is not your native language. In that case, intelligent people will assume that you're using the English term 'bravo', which while borrowed from Italian, is invariant. This will be even more apparent if there's more than one performer, so that 'bravo' matches neither sex nor number. There's still a risk of some slow-witted person not 'getting it', but then it will be more clearly his fault.

Since you do know the difference, I'd go for the Italian correct form in all cases. At worst, some non-Italian speaker will politely enquire on why you don't say bravo, and you will be able to educate him at no loss for you, and some gain for him.

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