Italian Grammar in a Pistachio Nutshell: How to Crack It
When I decided to learn to speak Italian, I was nervous about learning the grammar.
I quickly learned, though, that my trepidation was all for nothing. And you will realize this soon, too.
So, let’s crack that Italian grammar nut, shall we?
- The Best Way to Tackle Italian Grammar
- Subject Pronouns
- Object Pronouns
- How Simple Sentences Are Structured
- Resources for Italian Grammar Practice
The Best Way to Tackle Italian Grammar
The best way to get comfortable with Italian grammar rules and their applications is to break down this beautiful language into parts of speech.
That may sound daunting, but it really is not all that complicated.
The best part of this grammar lesson is that the parts of speech in Italian are identical to those used in English!
See? You already know more about Italian grammar than you thought!
Adverbs are words that provide details about verbs. In other words, they tell how something is happening or has happened.
Italian adverbs generally end in -mente.
Lou guida lentamente. (Lou drives slowly.)
Some common adverbs include:
Adverbs can also describe time and place.
Some common adverbs of time and place are:
Adjectives are descriptive words that modify nouns. They give details about the nouns they describe—which makes any language much more vivid and interesting!
Adjectives must agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the nouns they modify.
Rosa ha comprato un vestito verde. (Rosa bought one green dress.)
Rosa ha comprato tre abiti verdi. (Rosa bought three green dresses.)
Leo ha un vecchio cappotto. (Leo has an old coat.)
Leo ha due vecchi cappotti marroni. (Leo has two old brown coats.)
Some common adjectives are:
Articles are handy words that tell us number and gender in regards to nouns. Since every Italian noun can either be masculine or feminine and singular or plural, the article that precedes the noun cues us to these important distinctions.
In English, we use the word “the.”
In Italian, the masculine singular articles are il (the) and lo (the).
Italian masculine plural articles are i (the) and gli (the).
il libro (the book)
i libri (the books)
lo studente (the student)
gli studenti (the students)
The feminine singular article is la (the).
The Italian feminine plural article is le (the).
la barca (the boat)
le barche (the boats)
la spiaggia (the beach)
le spiagge (the beaches)
The Italian indefinite article is used in place of the English “a” or “an” when referencing singular nouns.
When referring to singular masculine nouns, you use un (a) or uno (an).
Una (an) is used for a feminine noun.
È un treno veloce. (It is a fast train.)
È una bicicletta rossa. (It is a red bicycle.)
Conjunctions are like little bridges that connect clauses.
Clauses are separate ideas that can be connected to form a larger statement.
There are many conjunctions in Italian. As your Italian vocabulary grows, you will naturally learn the less common ones.
Some of the more popular and useful conjunctions include:
Se hai fame, allora mangeremo. (If you are hungry, then we will eat.)
Vorrei pasta e un bicchiere di vino. (I would like pasta and a glass of wine.)
Andremo al ristorante dopo essere andati al negozio. (We will go to the restaurant after we go to the store.)
Comprerò l’abito o le scarpe. (I will buy the dress or the shoes.)
Mi piacciono le scarpe, ma mi piacciono di più gli stivali. (I like shoes, but I like boots more.)
Mi piace la torta perché è dolce. (I like cake because it is sweet.)
Andremo al negozio prima di andare al ristorante. (We will go to the store before we go to the restaurant.)
In any language, nouns refer to people, places or things.
Italian nouns can be masculine or feminine and singular or plural.
The vast majority of Italian masculine nouns end in -o when they are singular. When they are plural, most of them end in -i.
Most feminine nouns end in -a when they are singular. When they are plural they take the -e ending.
Subject pronouns are used for the subject of a sentence. They tell us who is doing something—eliminating the need to use a proper name to identify the subject.
Italian subject pronouns are:
The pronoun precedes the conjugated verb, like this:
Io mangio. (I eat.)
Tu mangi. (You eat.)
Lui mangia. (He eats.)
Lei mangia. (She eats.)
Noi mangiamo. (We eat.)
Voi mangiate. (You eat.)
Loro mangiano. (They eat.)
Object pronouns show who is the object of a verb’s action.
Italian object pronouns are:
vi (you all)
li (them, masculine)
le (them, feminine)
They are placed before the verb, like this:
Me vedi. (You see me.)
Lo vedi? (You see him.)
Prepositions are short words, usually just a few letters long, that link words.
The most common prepositions are:
a (in or to)
Lavoro a Roma. (I work in Rome.)
Vado al lavoro. (I go to work.)
Mangiamo spaghetti con le polpette. (We eat spaghetti with meatballs.)
Vengo da Roma. (I come from Rome.)
Ho comprato una camicia di seta. (I bought a silk shirt.)
È per te. (It is for you.)
Verbs are action words that tell us what is happening.
Italian verbs end in -are, -ere or -ire.
Verb endings change depending on who is doing the action. This is called conjugation.
In the subject pronoun section above, we conjugated the verb mangiare (to eat). The endings changed according to who was eating.
Conjugated -are verb endings are:
An example of a conjugated -are verb looks like this:
Cantare (to sing)
Io canto. (I sing.)
Tu canti. (You sing.)
Lui canta. (He sings.)
Lei canta. (She sings.)
Noi cantiamo. (We sing.)
Voi cantate. (You sing.)
Loro cantano. (They sing.)
Conjugated -ere verb endings are:
An example of a conjugated -ere verb looks like this:
Vincere (to win)
Io vinco. (I win.)
Tu vinci. (You win.)
Lui vince. (He wins.)
Lei vince. (She wins.)
Noi vinciamo. (We win.)
Voi vincete. (You win.)
Loro vincono. (They win.)
Conjugated -ire verb endings are:
An example of a conjugated -ire verb looks like this:
Partire (to leave)
Io parto. (I leave.)
Tu parti. (You leave.)
Lui parte. (He leaves.)
Lei parte. (She leaves.)
Noi partiamo. (We leave.)
Voi partite. (You leave.)
Loro partono. (They leave.)
How Simple Sentences Are Structured
Learning Italian sentence structure is a snap!
It is wonderfully straightforward and uncomplicated. As long as you know your parts of speech and have a basic vocabulary, you will be competent enough to formulate simple Italian sentences.
Basic sentences follow the formula subject, verb and then object.
Rosa studia matematica. (Rosa studies math.)
Louis mangia la torta. (Louis eats the cake.)
Si arrampicano sugli alberi in estate. (They climb trees in the summer.)
Lei scia in inverno. (She skis in the winter.)
Rosa legge un buon libro. (Rosa reads a good book.)
Dominic guida un’auto veloce. (Dominic drives a fast car.)
Una bella donna mangia il gelato. (A beautiful woman eats ice cream.)
Resources for Italian Grammar Practice
Italian Encounter offers a series of exercises intended to help learners master all points of grammar.
The topics are divided so it is easy to practice one area exclusively.
They also separate beginner exercises from intermediate.
FluentU is an immersive language-learning platform. With FluentU, you can watch authentic Italian videos with interactive captions.
The program lets you learn grammar in context, as native speakers use it. As you watch, if you find new words, you can save them to personalized flashcards or review them immediately with quizzes after each video. You can also check the grammar information for any specific word as it’s used in the video by clicking on it in the subtitles.
Italian to Learn Free
This is an excellent place to practice and learn all parts of Italian grammar.
You can browse 200 different headings to find a particular topic that you would like to practice.
You will find quizzes on nouns, pronouns, prepositions, definite articles, conjugation and more on this easy-to-use site.
The quizzes are fast and fun! The quizzes are also scored immediately, so you will know right away which topics you might need to give a bit more attention.
Online Italian Club
Online Italian Club has a substantial index that cover all aspects of Italian grammar. This site is especially helpful for learners who have limited time to devote to practice. Each exercise section is short so it is possible to complete one or two without a major time commitment.
Lo Studio Italiano
The grammar section here gives you the opportunity to practice grammar using clear, uncomplicated exercises. The topics cover plurals, prepositions, articles and more. They provide instant answers—a nice feature!—so you will know immediately how you are doing.
See, that was not so bad, right?
Once you familiarize yourself with the rules of Italian grammar as they apply to the parts of speech, all you have to do next is start using them in your everyday Italian.
Remember, practice makes progress—so keep at it to see your Italian fluency emerge!