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Irregular Italian nouns Posted by on Dec 13, 2019 in Grammar, Italian Language

Ciao a tutti!

I’m sure many of you know the basics of Italian grammar when it comes to nouns. Masculine singular usually is represented by an ‘o’ at the end of the noun, masculine plural with an ‘i’, feminine singular with an ‘a’ and feminine plural with an ‘e’. Simple, right? Now if only it stayed that simple, but as for those who learn languages, you know there tends to always be exceptions. Today, let’s look at some of those exceptions, specifically some nouns that seem to change gender in the plural.

l’uovo – le uova (egg, eggs)

il paio – le paia (pair, pairs)

il miglio – le miglia (mile, miles)

il centinaio – Le centinaia (hundred, hundreds)

il migliaio – le migliaia (thousand, thousands)

il braccio – le braccia (arm, arms)

il ginocchio – le ginocchia (knee, knees)

il labbro – le labbra (lip, lips)

l’osso – le ossa (bone, bones)

il ciglio – le ciglia (eyelash, eyelashes)

il sopracciglio – le sopracciglia (eyebrow, eyebrows)

Il dito – le dita (finger, fingers)

il cervello – le cervella (brain, brains)

il corno – le corna (horn, horns)

il lenzuolo – le lenzuola (bed sheet, bed sheets)

il budello – le budella (bowel, bowels)

il fondamento – le fondamenta (foundation of a house, foundations)

il membro – le membra (member of a body part, members)

You may have noticed that all of these nouns end in ‘a’ in the plural, and not the expected feminine plural ‘e’ to agree with the feminine plural definite article. Well, there is a reason for that, and if you guessed it was because of Latin – you are right!

These examples are derivative from the Latin 2nd declension neuter endings, where in the nominative, accusative, and vocative form, the plural ends in ‘a.’ The neutral gender has been lost in Italian, yet these grammatical rules remain, and eventually the plural feminine definite article was assigned to them.

Let’s look at the word leisure in Latin:

Another example is the latin word “ossum” or bone, which becomes “ossa” in the plural. The singular -um became -o, yet the plural form remained!

Alla prossima!

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Comments:

  1. Leila Carlyle:

    Very helpful! These are the words that always trip me up and it’s great to have found a list like this: thanks. For anyone who is interested in similar historical anomalies in English (of which there are plenty) a hugely entertaining podcast is ‘Lexicon Valley’ by John McWhorter. https://slate.com/podcasts/lexicon-valley

    • Bridgette:

      @Leila Carlyle Leila, thanks for the podcast suggestion! I LOVE learning about these quirky language anomalies, so I’m totally going to tune in to this!

  2. Gert Schwaner:

    It is explanations like this that makes it easier to remember. Thanks a lot.

  3. Bent J Skjoldborg:

    Un piccolo commento: Vokative non si vede nel neutro.

  4. Pauly D.:

    Ciao Brigette,
    Molto interessante. Ho visto qualche queste parole, ma non mai insieme. Era una buona spiegazione. Guardò queste parole in miei studi. Grazie.
    Paulo


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