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Articles, articles, articles! Posted by on Oct 30, 2008 in Grammar

In English there are only three forms for the definite and indefinite articles: “the, a, an”. But, being Italians, as usual we like to complicate our language and to have as many variations as possible on one little word.

Lets start with the articolo indeterminativo (indefinite article: a/an). This is not too bad; we have four different forms where in English there are two.

Masculine: un/uno. Un is used when preceding a masculine word E.g.: un tavolo (a table), un treno (a train), un orologio (a watch). However if a masculine word begins with z, ps, or s+consonant, we use uno E.g.: uno zaino (a backpack), uno psicologo (a psychologist), uno studente (a male student).

Feminine: una/un’. Una is used before a feminine word starting with a consonant or group of consonants. E.g.: una sedia (a chair), una zanzara (a mosquito), una studentessa (a female student). Un’ is used before a feminine word starting with a vowel. E.g.: un’arancia (an orange), un’estate (a summer).

OK. That was easy enough. Lets move to the articolo determinativo (definite article: the). In English there is only one form i.e. the. In Italian … well, we have eight variations!

Masculine singular: il/l’/lo. Il is used in the same way as “un” (E.g.: il tavolo, il treno) with the exception of words starting with a vowel in which case l’ is used E.g.: l’orologio, l’ago (the needle). Lo is used in the same way as “uno”, i.e. before masculine words starting with z, ps, or s+consonant. E.g.: lo zaino, lo psicologo, lo studente.

Masculine plural: gli/i. Both lo and l’ become gli (without an apostrophe this time). E.g.: gli zaini, gli psicologi, gli studenti, gli orologi, gli aghi. The plural of il is i. E.g.: i tavoli, i treni.

Feminine singular: la/l’. They follow they same rule as una and un’. E.g.: la sedia, la zanzara, la studentessa, l’arancia, l’estate.

Feminine plural. Both la and l’ become le (without an apostrophe, ever!). E.g.: le sedie, le zanzare, le studentesse, le arance, le estati.

Semplice, no? Simple, isn’t it? Now a little homework for you to do. You’ll have to write the correct articolo indeterminativo and determinativo in front of the following words. Then you’ll change the words into plurals (see blog on plurals) and write the correct articolo determinativo plurale. Buon lavoro!

Programma (masc. program); sciarpa (scarf); spillo (pin); capacità (capacity); ombrello (umbrella); cane (masc. dog); zoccolo (clog); orchestra; stazione (fem. station); animale (masc. animal); caffè (masc.); zuppa (soup).

P.S. For those of you who know Italian perfectly, you might have noticed that I’ve left out two groups of consonant from the lo rule: pn and gn. I did it on purpose, because about 70% of Italians do not follow that rule, but they say “il pneumatico (the tire)” and “i gnocchi”.

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Comments:

  1. Emily Vindeni:

    I am a little confused because you said you would use the article lo for the following nouns:

    Masculine singular: il/l’/lo. Il is used in the same way as “un” (E.g.: il tavolo, il treno) with the exception of words starting with a vowel in which case l’ is used E.g.: l’orologio, l’ago (the needle). Lo is used in the same way as “uno”, i.e. before masculine words starting with z, ps, or s+consonant. E.g.: lo zaino, lo psicologo, lo studente.

    And I was curious why then is it ‘lo cane’ when it doesn’t follow the rule you mentioned above?

    Thanks for your help, I am trying to learn Italian as I admire the language very much and have many Italian friends!

  2. Emily Vindeni:

    Please disregard my previous comment/question. I was incorrect. Thank you for the information you provided.

    Best,
    Emily Vindeni

  3. Serena:

    Salve Emily, I must admit that you had me a little confused with ‘lo cane’! I was going to reply to your comment but you beat me to it. If there is anything else that you’re not clear about please let me know.

    Serena

  4. Janice:

    Salve Serena! First of all, grazie mille from the bottom of my heart for dedicating this wonderful blog. I’ve learned so much from it and my Italian has been improved a lot. Today, my teacher asked an interesting question about the exception when changing from singular to plural which I couldn’t find a good answer after doing some research myself. So I’d be very glad if you help me. There are plural words such as brillii (singolare: brillio) or zii (singolare: zio) that are transformed from -o into -i. However, “uffici”, the plural form of “ufficio” does not work that way. Why does its ending have only 1 letter “i” instead of 2?
    Regards,
    Janice

    • Serena:

      @Janice Salve Janice! There is a rule for the plural of masculine words ending in -io:
      1. when the stress falls on the ‘i’ of -io, the plural is -ii, e.g. brillìo becomes brillìi, zìo becomes zìi N.B. we don’t write the accent, but I’ve used it in my examples to show the stress
      2. when the ‘i’ in -io is not stressed, the plural is -i, e.g. ufficio/uffici, studio/studi, figlio/figli.
      It’s recommended to use the double -ii or -Î (with the accento circonflesso) in those cases where there might be some confusions, e.g. assassinii or assassinÎ would be the preferred spelling for the plural of assassinio (assassination), while assassini would be the plural of assassino (assassin). However, this rule is more or less obsolete now.
      Saluti da Serena


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