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The Easy Guide to Italian Articles

Articles in Italian are small words that precede nouns to indicate their gender and number.

Italian has 11 articles divided into two types:

  • Definite articles (il, l’, lo, la, i, le, gli)
  • Indefinite articles (un, una, uno, un’)

Definite articles in Italian are used to specify known nouns, while indefinite articles specify unknown or unspecified nouns.

Think about this same idea in English. “The dog” would refer to a dog that’s known to you, and “a dog” would refer to any old dog. It’s the same in Italian.

I know it sounds intimidating at first. All that work just to say “the” and “a/an”? 

Well it’s not as confusing as it looks!

Read on to learn all about Italian articles, with lots of examples and all the necessary grammar rules, so you’ll never make an article mistake again.

Contents

What Are Italian Articles?

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 change depending on the gender and number of the noun that follows them.

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 (“a” and “an”), Italian has four indefinite articles:

1. un

Un is usually the go-to indefinite article for singular masculine nouns. It is used before words that begin with a vowel and most (but not all) consonants.

Examples:

2. uno

Uno, on the other hand, is used in more specific (but still non-specific) circumstances. It is used before words that start with s + a consonant or words that start with z, x, y, gn, ps, or pn.

Examples:

3. una

With feminine nouns starting with a consonant, you use una.

Examples:

4. un’

If the feminine noun in question starts with a vowel, you use un’ instead. That apostrophe replaces the “a” on the end, almost like when you take out a letter to form a contraction like “don’t” from “do not.”

Examples:

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 (“the”), there are seven definite articles in Italian. 

4. il

You use il for masculine and singular nouns.

Benito Mussolini, during his time, was called Il Duce (The Leader), referring to his position in government. The Cathedral in Florence is called Il Duomo (The House).

Il is the go-to article for those regular masculine and singular nouns. Think of buff, single guys.

Examples:

5. l’

The definite article l’ is used when a vowel is involved. When your masculine, singular word starts with a vowel, you pair it with l’.

Native speakers of any language try to find ways to make their interactions smoother and help words naturally roll off the tongue. An opportunity arises when a noun starts with a vowel. Italians simply save energy and skip a few movements of the tongue: Instead of using the article il for these words, they just use l’ and simply slide into the noun.

Examples:

6. lo

For masculine, singular nouns that start with the following letters, we use the article lo: s (followed by a consonant), z, y, sp, pn and gn.

You’ll notice that this group is a special case. Any other word that begins with a consonant uses il, but these six require a lo.

7. i

The article i is the general identifier for masculine, plural nouns.

Turning things plural in Italian is a pretty straightforward affair. You change the ending of the noun and tag it with the proper definite article.

To form a masculine plural noun, two things need to happen. First, drop the l in il so it becomes the definite article i. Then convert the –o found at the ends of masculine nouns (libro, tavolo, terrazzointo an -i.

So you now have two i’s, one as the definite article, and the other one at the end of the noun. In other words, for plural forms of masculine nouns, you’re making it rain i’s.

Examples:

8. gli

The article gli is used as the plural form of the lo. That means you use it before the plural versions of words that begin with s (followed by a consonant), z, y, sp, pn and gn. You also use gli before nouns that begin with vowels.

Just like the previous category, in order to make the nouns plural, you change the ending from -o to -i.

Examples:

9. la

Now, let’s get to “la la land”! La is used for singular words that begin with a consonant.

It’s actually the go-to identifier for anything grammatically feminine and single (like a potential girlfriend). For example, when you want to say “the good life,” you say la dolce vita.

Examples:

10. l’

For any feminine, singular word that starts with a vowel, you use l’.

This, again, is an example of how native speakers game the language and make it easier on themselves. When a feminine noun begins with a vowel, instead of using la, just drop the -a and use l’.

So, instead of saying la acqua, which sounds a bit redundant and takes a bit longer, you simply say l’acqua and go on with your busy day.

We’ve talked about using l’ earlier using masculine nouns. Here, let’s see examples for feminine nouns.

Examples:

11. le

Le is the article for feminine, plural nouns. It replaces the la or l’ of the singular noun.

Can you guess what happens to the -a at the end of the singular noun (maestra, mesa, finestra)? You turn it into an -e. So this time, you’re making it rain e’s!

Examples:

Example Sentences Using Italian Articles

Example sentences with indefinite articles

Example sentences with definite articles

Important Rules About Italian Indefinite Articles

  • DO use them when you would use “a” or “an” in English
    In general, it is appropriate to use an indefinite article in Italian in the same situations you would use it in English: when you want to say “a” or “an.” As you saw earlier, it isn’t always a direct one-to-one translation of “an” to “un,” for example, but the idea is the same. If you are referring to something indefinite, you usually use the indefinite article.
  • DON’T use them with some numbers
    There are some cases where we might use an indefinite article in English, but not in Italian. With some Italian numbers, for example (but not all of them!), you would leave out the indefinite article and just use the word as-is. This is most commonly done with cento (hundred) and mille (thousand).

    cento miglia — a hundred miles
    mille volte — a thousand times

  • DON’T use them in an expression that starts with che
    There are several expressions in Italian that start with the word “che.” These are usually an exclamation of some sort, and they never take the indefinite article, even if it would be present in the English translation. For instance:

    Che peccato! — What a shame!
    Che idiota! — What an idiot!

  • DON’T use them when saying “few” or “a lot”
    In English, we don’t think twice about using the phrase “a few” or “a lot.” We always take it for granted that the “a” is in there, but in Italian, that poor “a” goes away:

    qualche mela — a few apples
    molti libri — a lot of books

Important Rules About Italian Definite Articles

  • DO 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).
  • DO use the definite article with days of the week and the months of the year. So, to say “I play soccer every Sunday,” we’d say la domenica gioco il calcio.
  • DO 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.
  • DO combine 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.

    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 next to one another.

    Check out the most common combinations:

(to)

di (of)

da (from)

in (in)

su (on)

con (with)

Where to Practice Italian Articles

Now that we’ve mastered the Italian articles, we should practice them! Here are a few places where you can do this:

The Italian Article Quiz: Test Your Knowledge!

0%
Choose the correct indefinite article for the noun "libro" (book).
Correct! Wrong!

Which definite article should be used with the noun "ragazzo" (boy)?
Correct! Wrong!

What is the correct indefinite article for the word "amica" (friend, female)?
Correct! Wrong!

Select the appropriate definite article for the noun "computer."
Correct! Wrong!

Which indefinite article is suitable for the noun "uomo" (man)?
Correct! Wrong!

Identify the correct definite article for the noun "scuola" (school).
Correct! Wrong!

What is the indefinite article for the word "ragazza" (girl)?
Correct! Wrong!

Choose the correct definite article for the noun "amici" (friends, plural).
Correct! Wrong!

Which indefinite article is appropriate for the word "zaino" (backpack)?
Correct! Wrong!

What is the correct definite article for the noun "amore" (love)?
Correct! Wrong!

 

So there you have it: Italian articles demystified and explained. Practice using articles today in Italian and see how impressed the locals are on your next trip to Italy.

Buon viaggio! (Have a good trip!)

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