Surprise trip to Italy!
Articles of clothing? Check.
Indefinite supply of sunglasses? Check!
And what about brushing up on those travel phrases? Double check!
But wait! While you’re reviewing those travel phrases, why not review some Italian, too? I’m not talking about getting deep into complicated tenses, but perhaps you should review the most commonly used aspect of Italian grammar.
Am I talking about articles? Definitely!
Unpacking Italian Articles: Everything You Need to Know
In Italian, like in many languages, there are two types of articles.
Indefinite articles denote a noun but don’t refer to a specific noun (think of “a” or “an” in English).
Definite articles denote a specific noun (think of “the” in English).
In addition to these two types of articles, Italian further categorizes articles in a way that English doesn’t: grammatical gender and number. In Italian, both types of articles (indefinite and definite) change depending on the gender and number of the noun that follows them.
That means that there are separate articles for masculine and feminine nouns as well as for whether a noun is singular or plural.
If you’re confused by any of this, read on! You can also get a better understanding of the concept by seeing it in use with authentic videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable.
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Italian articles!
Italian Indefinite Articles
First thing’s first: indefinite articles are used to refer to a non-specific noun. For example, this is the equivalent to saying “a duck” or “an apple” in English. It can be any duck and any apple.
In contrast to English’s two indefinite articles, Italian has three indefinite articles:
- Un is used for masculine singular nouns (generally, words that end in -o).
- Uno is also used for masculine singular nouns; however, these masculine nouns must start with a z, ps, pn, x, y, gn or s + consonant.
- Una is used for feminine singular nouns (generally, words that end in -a). Do note, however, that una shortens to un’ before a vowel.
Unlike certain other languages, there’s no plural, indefinite article in Italian.
Check out these examples to see the indefinite articles in action!
Un uomo viene a casa mia. (A man comes to my house.)
Ho fatto uno sbaglio. (I made a mistake.)
Uso una penna per scrivere. (I use a pen to write.)
Ha parlato per un’ora. (She talked for an hour.)
Italian Definite Articles
Unlike an indefinite article, definite articles are used to refer to a specific noun. For example, this would be like saying “the duck” or “the apple” in English, which implies that you’re speaking about a specific duck or apple.
While there’s only one of these in English, there are actually seven definite articles in Italian. I know that’s a pretty big number, but don’t panic. Their use is pretty logical and pretty regular.
Let’s break them down:
- Il is used for masculine singular nouns (generally, words that end in -o). In the plural form, however, these same nouns take i.
- Lo is used for masculine singular nouns that start with a z, ps, pn, x, y, gn or an s + consonant. In the plural, these same nouns take gli.
Note that these words are also the same masculine words that take uno when using the indefinite article. Further, gli is also used with masculine plural nouns that start with a vowel.
- La is used for feminine nouns. In the plural, la becomes le.
- L’ is paired with nouns that start with a vowel, both masculine and feminine.
Check out these definite articles in action!
Il cane mangia. (The dog eats.)
I ragazzi giocano il calcio. (The boys play soccer.)
Ho visto lo specchio. (I saw the mirror.)
Lei ha mangiato gli gnocchi. (She ate the gnocchi.)
La ragazzo balla. (The girl dances.)
Abbiamo toccato le farfalle. (We touched the butterflies.)
Dov’è l’uomo? (Where’s the man?)
L’isola è bella. (The island is pretty.)
Using Italian Definite Articles with Prepositions
In addition to the masculine, feminine and plural forms of the definite articles in Italian, definite articles also combine with certain Italian prepositions. Since this post focuses on articles, we won’t go into many details about prepositions here, so be sure to check out more information about Italian prepositions to get a fuller understanding of them.
Here, we’ll just see how prepositions interact with articles.
When you use an article after a preposition in Italian, you make something similar to a contraction in English. For example, when placed together, the word “they” and the word “are” combine to become “they’re” in English. A similar process happens between prepositions and definite articles in Italian, too.
However, be careful! Unlike in English, most of these article and preposition contractions in Italian aren’t optional: they’re obligatory, and you must make such combinations when you use the two words beside each other.
Check out the most common combinations.
Ho dato la mela al cane. (I gave the apple to the dog.)
Ha dato la penna allo studente. (He gave the pen to the student.)
Lei non crede alla speranza. (She doesn’t believe in hope.)
Abbiamo fatto un regalo all’uomo. (We gave a gift to the man.)
Non tengo ai biscotti. (I don’t care about the cookies.)
Lui fa vedere agli zaini. (He shows the backpacks.)
Abbiate pensato alle case? (Did you think about the houses?)
Ho bisogno del computer. (I need the computer.)
C’è lo zaino dello scrittore. (It’s the writer’s backpack.)
Guarda la macchina della ragazza. (Look at the girl’s car.)
Quell’alveare è la casa dell’ape. (That hive is the bee’s home.)
Lei a paura dei maiali. (She’s scared of pigs.)
È un regalo degli angeli. (It’s a gift of the angels.)
Ho trovato le stivale delle donne. (I found the women’s boots.)
Ho preso la zaino dal ragazzo. (I took the backpack from the boy.)
Sono tornato dallo sport. (I returned from sport.)
Lei viene dalla Francia. (She comes from France.)
Torno dall’Italia domani. (I return from Italy tomorrow.)
Andiamo dai signori Ferrari. (Let’s go to the Ferraris’ house.)
Noi siamo tornati dagli zii. (We returned from our aunt’s and uncle’s.)
Quando tornate dalle vacanze? (When do you return from vacation?)
La gomma è nel astuccio? (Is the eraser in the pencil case?)
La penna è nello zaino. (The pen is in the backpack.)
Trovo il vino nella bottiglia. (I find the wine in the bottle.)
La scrivania è nell’ufficio. (The desk is in the office.)
Ci sono i fiori nei giardini. (There are flowers in the gardens.)
Vedi gli uccelli negli alberi? (Do you see the birds in the trees?)
Ci sono le sostanze chimiche dannose nelle sigarette. (There are harmful chemicals in cigarettes.)
La bottiglia è sul tavolo. (The bottle is on the table.)
La ragazza riflette sullo sbaglio. (The girl reflects on the mistake.)
Ho trovato i documenti sulla scrivania. (I found the documents on my desk.)
Dove sono i libri sull’amore? (Where are the books about love?)
Il ragazzo pese sui quaranta chili. (The boy weighs 40 kilograms.)
Concentri sugli alberi! (Concentrate on the trees!)
Abbiamo studiato sulle sei ore. (We studied for six hours.)
Ho camminato col professore. (I walked with the professor.)
La donna ha giocato coi cani. (The woman played with the dogs.)
Keep in mind that the combinations con + il = col and con + i = coi are optional. This means you can make this contraction if you’d like, but not making it is also acceptable in Italian.
More Rules and a Few Exceptions!
While the above rules for using indefinite and definite articles hold true in the majority of circumstances, there are a few exceptions that you should be aware of.
For starters, our rules for the grammatical gender aren’t as clear-cut as I made them seem—but the exceptions are pretty easy to remember.
In addition to nouns ending in -o, the following words are masculine and take the articles un and il:
- Words that end in -è, like caffè (coffee),
- Words that end in -ì, like tassì (taxi)
- Words that end in -amma, like programma (program)
- Words that end in -ema, like problema (problem)
- Words that end in -ore, like colore (color)
In addition to the nouns ending in -a, the following words are feminine and take the articles una and la:
- Words that end in -ù, like virtù (virtue)
- Words that end in -ione, like presentazione (presentation)
- Words that end in -si, like tesi (thesis)
You should also keep in mind that the definite article is used quite a bit more than in English.
For example, in English, we might be able to say “I like bread” with the definite article “the” missing from the phrase before the word “bread.” However, in Italian, we must add that definite article, to make mi piace il pane (I like bread).
Even things like days of the week and the months of the year get the definite article. So, to say “I play soccer every Sunday,” we’d say la domenica gioco il calcio.
Further, unlike English, we need to add the definite article in addition to the possessive pronoun in Italian. For example, to say “my book” in Italian, we’d get il mio libro where il is the masculine, singular definite pronoun and mio is the possessive pronoun.
However, this rule doesn’t apply when using the possessive to talk about one’s family. For example, to say “my mother,” we’d say mia madre and not la mia madre.
Where to Practice Italian Articles Online
Now that we’ve mastered the Italian articles, we should practice them! Here are a few places where you can do this:
- Lezioni di Italiano has a pretty comprehensive quiz of the indefinite and definite articles.
- Take a more in-depth look at the indefinite articles with this quiz from SoftSchools.com.
- To practice Italian articles with prepositions, try a quiz from the Online Italian Club.
- Lastly, you can practice choosing Italian articles “in the wild” (i.e. in context) in a quiz from One World Italiano.
Whew! That was definitely a close one.
I can’t articulate how much of the good time you’ll have on your Italy trip now. Buon viaggio! (Have a good trip!)
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