Italian Language Blog

How To Use The Italian Definite Article Posted by on Jan 15, 2018 in Grammar

Whereas English has only one definite article (the), in Italian we have six! As a new learner, this can be difficult to get to grips with, and can continue to be a problem even for more advanced learners.

Let’s begin by breaking down the articolo determinativo (definite article) into its two main categories: masculine and feminine:

il = the singular
i = the plural
lo = the singular
gli = the plural

la = the singular
le = the plural

Now let’s look at the rules governing which specific article we use:

for masculine nouns beginning with a consonant, apart from x, z,ย  gn, ps, and s followed by another consonant, we use il (singular) and i (plural).
il cane = the dog, i cani = the dogs
il coltello = the knife, i coltelli = the knives
il fagiolo = the bean, i fagioli = the beans
il fucile = the rifle, i fucili = the rifles
il cucchiaio = the spoon, i cucchiai = the spoons

Geoff e Serena con i fucili!

for masculine nouns beginning with x, z,ย  gn, ps and s followed by another consonant we useย lo (singular) and gli (plural).
lo xenofobo = the xenophobe, gli xenofobi = the xenophobes
lo zoo = the zoo, gli zoo = the zoos
lo gnomo = the gnome, gli gnomi = the gnomes
lo psicologo = the psychologist, gli psicologi = the psychologists
lo scarponeย = the boot, gli scarponi = the boots
lo sci = the ski, gli sci = the skis
lo specchio = the mirror, gli specchi = the mirrors

for masculine nouns beginning with a vowel lo becomes l’ (singular) and gli (plural) remains the same.
l’uomo = the man, gli uomini = the men
l’albero = the tree, gli alberi = the trees
l’orologio = the watch, gli orologi = the watches
l’ombrello = the umbrella, gli ombrelli = the umbrellas
l’italiano = the Italian, gli italiani = the Italians

For feminine nouns, you’ll be relieved to hear, things are much simpler.

For feminine nouns beginning with a consonant we use la (singular) and le (plural).
la casa = the house, le case = the houses
la ragazza = the girl, le ragazze = the girls
la farfalla = the butterfly, le farfalle = the butterflies
la macchina = the car, le macchine = the cars
la spalla = the shoulder, le spalle = the shoulders

for feminine nouns beginning with a vowel la becomes l’ (singular) and le (plural) remains the same
l’arancia = the orange, le arance = the oranges
l’attrice = the actress, le attrici = the actresses
l’idea = the idea, le idee = the ideas
l’amica = the female friend, le amiche = the female friends
l’estate = the summer, le estati = the summers

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

Alla prossima!

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  1. cat:

    Che bella foto! Cosa cacciate?

  2. Vincent Konzal:

    Molto grazie!

  3. Richard:

    Grazie ma ce ne sono sette articoli determinativi:
    il, i, la, le, lo, gli, l’. Perche’ voi dite ‘sei’??

    • Geoff:

      @Richard Salve Richard,
      Come ho scritto nell’articolo, ci sono sei articoli determinativi. La l’ รจ un abbreviazione di lo o la che si usa davanti a una vocale.
      l’albero (non lo albero)
      l’orologio (non lo orologio)
      l’arancia (non la arancia)
      l’amica (non la amica)

      Tutto chiaro?
      A presto, Geoff

      P.S. I’ve updated my article to clarify this point.

  4. Bonnie Melielo:

    Per favore – do a lesson on using the articles with prepositions! Also, sentences showing the use of articles. I was taught you must always use an article but I do not think that is correct. Grazie!!

    • Geoff:

      @Bonnie Melielo Ciao Bonnie, don’t worry, you haven’t heard the last of the article! Stay tuned for more article articles. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Alla prossima, Geoff

      • Steve:

        @Geoff Doesn’t the masculine article change based on the word that follows the article? For example:
        lo specchio
        il terzo specchio

        • Geoff:

          @Steve Giusto!

          Alla prossima, Geoff ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Jimbo:

    Hello. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for 2 weeks now, and the thing that confuses me is the masculine and feminine forms of nouns which are inanimate objects. I don’t quite get it. Sure, I understand that nouns (which refer to people) should follow the right masculine and feminine forms, but I’m confused with nouns (which refer to inanimate objects) that follow this same rule. Is this normal in Italian grammar?

    For example:

    la casa – le case

    Why is “la casa” a feminine noun? I’m really confused. Can someone help me, please?

    • Geoff:

      @Jimbo Salve Jimbo, e benvenuto nel nostro blog!

      I’m afraid that there’s no magic formula to tell you whether an inanimate object is masculine or feminine. You will have to learn them by heart. This seems tedious at first, especially if your mother tongue is neutral (such as English). Try to make a habit of always associating the article with any noun that you learn and you’ll find that it will gradually get much easier.

      Now, as you’re a new learner, perhaps you can help me out by giving me an idea of the main difficulties that you’re having with the Italian language. The majority of our blogs are aimed at more advanced learners, but I intend to start writing more articles suited to beginners, or advanced learners who need to revise the basics.

      A presto, Geoff.

      P.S. I corrected your comment for you ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Marie-Louise Gerla:

    l always enjoy your very useful articles! Both to revise what I have learned before as to learn new things. Right now I could do with some exercises on the more difficult uses of the verb forms, especially on what in English is called modality , like could, would, should, might
    Kind regards,

    Marie Louise

  7. Tony:

    Whilst the definite article is used before countries, viz; La Spagna, if one says ‘in Spain’ is the article still use ,i.e ‘in la Spagna’?

    • tony:

      @Tony Thank you so much for your prompt reply, it was my belief, too. but I came across its use without the article, hence my question.
      It does beg another question, though, Is it optional when using a preposition?
      Thanks again.

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