Plurals: what a nightmare! Posted by Serena on Oct 13, 2008 in Grammar
Unlike most Western European languages, the Italian language pluralizes by changing the final vowel. But as we Italians are very creative and chaotic, we are not happy with just a couple of changes. Here I’ll try to make sense of the various possible plural forms which you might encounter whilst studying Italian:
- 1. The most common group of nouns is the one ending in –a in the feminine singular and in –o in the masculine singular. They respectively change to –e and –i. E.g.: la casa/le case; il cappuccino/i cappuccini.
- 2. Another main group of nouns presents only one ending in the singular (-e) and one in the plural (-i). The difficulty with this group is that it includes both masculine and feminine nouns. E.g.: il padre/i padri; la madre/le madri. As you can see from the examples these nouns look exactly the same but they have their own gender, so articles and adjectives have to agree with the noun gender: il padre buono/i padri buoni; la madre buona/le madri buone.
- 3. The third group behaves very strangely because it changes gender as it moves from singular to plural. Names of parts of the human body form the bulk of this group. E.g.: il braccio/le braccia; il dito/le dita; l’uovo/le uova.
Is this confusing? Well, we haven’t finished yet!
- 4. There is another group of nouns that have their origins in Greek and these are characterized by the ending –ma in the singular, but the gender is masculine. E.g.: il problema/i problemi; il teorema/i teoremi.
- 5. A similar group to number 4 is composed of nouns ending in –ista and it mainly describes professions. These nouns have the same ending in the singular for both the feminine and the masculine, while in the plural they follow the rule of group 1. E.g.: il dentista/i dentisti; la dentista/ le dentiste.
- 6. Finally, there are nouns that do not change when they become plural. Within this class of nouns we can distinguish 3 main groups:
- A. Words ending in –tà. E.g.: la città/le città; l’università/le università.
- B. Foreign words. E.g.: il bar/i bar; il computer/i computer.
- C. Abbreviations of nouns that were originally longer. E.g.: la foto/le foto (from fotografia); il cinema/i cinema (from cinematografo).
Oh dear! There are still a few mischievous nouns that do not fit in any of these groups: la mano/le mani; l’orecchio/le orecchie; il poeta/i poeti.
I hope I haven’t confused you too much. I certainly need a nice espresso after this!
P.S. If you find other Italian nouns that do not fit in this classification system, please let me know.