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Mia Mamma o La Mia Mamma? Posted by on Sep 7, 2011 in Grammar

As promised in Wednesday’s blog, ‘La Famiglia – Part 2’, this article will explain when we use the articolo determinativo – definite article (the), i.e. il, lo, la, i, gli, le, when talking about family members.

The first thing to remember is that in Italian we always use the article before the possessive adjective (my, your,their, etc.), e.g. il mio libro – my book, la tua penna – your pen, le loro biciclette – their bicycles, etc. This rule is still valid when we talk about the family in the plural form, e.g.:

I miei genitori abitano a Pontremoli – (the) My parents live in Pontremoli

Le tue sorelle sono tutte sposate? – are (the) your sisters all married?

 

There is, however, an exception. If we are talking about a single member of the family we don’t use the article, e.g.:

mio marito è Inglese – my husband is English

mia cugina Francesca abita in Svizzera – my cousin Francesca lives in Switzerland

Che lavoro fa tuo padre? – What’s your father’s job?

 

Of course being Italian we have to have a few exceptions to the exception. We use the article if the word that describes the relative is in anyway modified, as in the following instances:

1. the word that describes the relative is modified by a suffix, (highlighted in blue) e.g.:

La mia nipotina Margherita ha i capelli biondi e ricci – My little niece Margherita has blond curly hair

la mia cuginetta Francesca abita in Svizzera – my little cousin Francesca lives in Switzerland

Questo è il nostro zione Luciano – this is our dear uncle Luciano

These suffix normally add a feeling of affection.

 

2. … the word that describes the relative is modified by a prefix, (highlighted in blue) e.g.:

la tua bisnonnna si chiamava Dirce – your great-grandmother was called Dirce

Giovanni è il suo pronipote – Giovanni is his/her great-grandchild

 

3. … there is a second adjective, (highlighted in blue) e.g.:

la mia nonna materna si chiamava Vincenza – my maternal grandmother was called Vincenza

il mio caro marito è inglese – my dear husband is English

Luciano è il nostro zio preferitoLuciano is our favourite uncle

 

4. Finally, we use the definite article when the possessive adjective is loro – their, e.g.:

questa è la loro figlia – this is their daughter

Giuseppe è il loro nonno – Giuseppe is their grandfather

 

When I was a child I was taught never to say la mia mamma – (the) my mum, il mio papà – (the) my dad, and its variation il mio babbo – (the) my dad, but mia mamma, mio papà, mio babbo. However, modern grammar books now consider mamma, papà and babbo as modified affectionate forms of madre (mother) and padre (father). Therefore these instances fall within exception 1. above. For this reason they can be used with or without the article. It is also quite common these days to hear people using la mamma, il babbo etc. e.g. ‘come sta la mamma?’ – literally: ‘how is the mother?’, meaning ‘how is your mother?’

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Comments:

  1. Guillermo Camoriano:

    you translated la tua bisnonnna si chiamava Dirce as my great-grandmother was called Dirce
    Shouldn’t it be your (instead of my)great-grandmother was called Dirce?

  2. Melissa:

    Erm, just to save me more confusion, when you wrote:
    la tua bisnonnna si chiamava Dirce – my great-grandmother was called Dirce

    did you mean:
    _your_ great-grandmother was called Dirce
    ??
    m
    ps, thanks for the great blog, I’ve been following for ages. I even got to practice today on a studio buddy, Massimo 😉

    • Serena:

      @Melissa Salve Melissa e Guillermo, grazie per avermi avvertito dello sbaglio. A volte il mio povero cervello non funziona più, e mi sembra di aver bisogno dell’aiuto dei miei bravi lettori!

      A presto, serena

  3. Massiomo:

    Buona Sera Ragazzi, io sono un studente americano e sto imparando italiano. Ho studiato per tre anni questa bella lingua del amore , così si chiama no ! haha comunque sono andato in Italia quest’anno è anche l’anno scorso ho scritto ogni parola qua senza aiuto del mio iPhone ,qua a New York quasi mai posso parlare il italiano perché tutti i italiani parlano inglese e no italiano fa ridere no ?lo so 😉 comunque arrivederci a tutti è una buona serata !

    • Serena:

      @Massiomo Salve Massiomo, quando vuoi mandarci qualche commento sei sempre il benvenuto.
      Saluti da Serena

  4. Boh:

    First of all, THANK YOU for the blog – very helpful to a beginning Italian learner.
    My problem.
    I read ” Loro hanno genitori molto vecchi”.
    Why no article??
    “Loro hanno i genitori molto vecchi”.
    OR, are both OK??
    thanks for your advice.

    • Geoff:

      @Boh Salve Boh!
      “Loro hanno genitori molto vecchi” and “Loro hanno i genitori molto vecchi” (with and without the article) are both correct.
      Saluti da Serena


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