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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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