Italian articles are of 2 types: determinativi (definite) and indeterminativi (indefinite). Some language schools include improperly in this topic a third type of articles called partitivi (partitives), but they have a very precise and different function and we’ll discuss them separately.
All Italian articles agree in gender and number with a noun. As explained already, there are only 2 genders in the Italian language: maschile (masculine) and femminile (feminine). There is no neuter (neutro) gender.
- The articolo determinativo, in Italian, is used to introduce nouns which refer to specific items. They are equivalent to the English “the”, but as mentioned they change according to the noun’s gender and number
- Same for the articolo indeterminativo, equivalent to the English “a”, referring generally, not specifically, to an object. It agrees with genders and it’s only singular.
For example, we can say, La casa è grande, the house is big, using the article LA, singular feminine, because the noun casa is singular feminine. We are sure to be referring to a specific house, that house we are talking about, because LA is an articolo determinativo.
If we say, Vorrei una casa grande, I want a big house, we use the article UNA, singular feminine because, again, casa is singular feminine. In this case though, we use UNA, articolo indeterminativo, because we are not talking about a house we see and know, but a house I have in mind. Any big house is a potential candidate!
Let’s see them all in detail
Articoli determinativi maschili
- il and its plural i are the most used
- lo, the truncated version l’ and its plural gli are exceptions, used in the following cases: masculine nouns beginning with: a vowel, s + consonant, z, gn, ps, pn.
A classic example is lo spaghetto, gli spaghetti. In case of a vowel we use L’amico
The great majority of masculine nouns not beginning with a vowel use simply il singolare and i plurale.
Articoli determinativi femminili.
Feminine nouns, are less complicated,
- we have la singolare and le plurale. La mamma, le mamme. In case of a noun beginning with a vowel we use L’ because of the smoother sound. Take for example, ACQUA, femminile singolare, water. Try to say l’acqua (correct form) and la acqua to feel the difference.
- Articolo indeterminativo maschile UN, is used for all masculine nouns beginning with a vowel and a consonant, except for the ones using UNO as explained below.
- Articolo indeterminativo maschile UNO exceptions using this article correspond roughly to the same using the determinative lo and l’ so they are used with: s + consonant, z, gn, ps, pn. So, we can say uno zaino, a backpack, uno psicologo a psychologist. For nouns beginning with a vowel though, we use UN.
- Articolo indeterminativo femminile UNA, is used for all feminine nouns, except when they begin with a vowel, in which case we use the truncated form UN’. So, we can say una maratona, a marathon, but un’amica , a female friend
We hope we have provided a clear picture of the Italian articles and the way they are used. They look like a very boring and repetitive set of rules, but in fact they are at the base of the spoken language and a bit of repetitive drills will help you to speak naturally using a correct grammar. Please leave a comment or a question if you wish.
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