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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
If the performer is female and is one (singular), then you could simply yell Brava! – MattAllegro Nov 22 '14 at 23:06
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

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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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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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

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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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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