Italian Language Blog

The human body Posted by on Mar 17, 2009 in Italian Language

Today we are going to study anatomy: il corpo umano (the human body)! The human body in fact presents an incredible array of irregular words in the Italian language, which can be very confusing for a non-Italian speaker when constructing sentences. This is not a comprehensive list of the parts of the body however as I want to concentrate mainly on those that cause the most confusion. 

OK, let’s start with the limbs, in particular the hands and arms:

La mano, le mani (the hand, the hands). Having the typical masculine ending of o and i  ‘hand’ looks like a masculine word, but is in fact feminine, therefore we say la mano destra (the right hand), and Giovanni ha le mani piccole (Giovanni has small hands).

Attached to the hand there are le dita. Firstly we have il primo dito, (the first finger) which is called il pollice (the thumb), followed by il secondo dito, or l’indice (the second finger, or the index), then il terzo dito, or il medio (the third finger, or the middle finger), il quarto dito, or l’anulare (the fourth finger, or the ring finger), and last but not least il quinto dito, or il mignolo (the fifth finger, or the little finger). Two or more fingers are le dita (the fingers, feminine plural): Laura ha le dita lunghe (Laura has long fingers). However just to confuse matters il dito (the finger) is masculine singular!

la mano of course is attached to il braccio (the arm, masculine singular) but, as with ‘the fingers’, in the plural form ‘arms’ becomes feminine: le braccia e.g. Mario si e’ rotto il braccio sinistro (Mario broke his left arm), but Giovanni ha le braccia corte (Giovanni has short arms).

Now we move up to la testa (the head, which is regular i.e. le teste, the heads, if you happen to have more than one!), on the side of which we will find l’orecchio (the ear, masculine singular; the feminine form orecchia is a regional variation). Once again this word changes gender in the plural:  le orecchie (the ears; the regular masculine form gli orecchi is less used): Pinocchio ha le orecchie lunghe come l’asino (Pinocchio has long ears like a donkey).

At the front of la testa is la faccia (the face, plural le facce). On la faccia we find l’occhio (the eye, plural gli occhi) surrounded by le ciglia (the eyelashes, feminine plural): Giulia ha le ciglia folte (Giulia has thick eyelashes), which in the singular form becomes masculine, il ciglio (the eyelash): ahi! mi e’ andato un ciglio nell’occhio (Ah! I’ve got an eyelash in my eye).

Above each eye there is il sopracciglio (eyebrow, literally ‘over the eyelashes’, masculine singular) which, guess what, becomes feminine in the plural, le sopracciglia. The English word ‘supercilious’ comes from the same root, and implies the notion of raising the eyebrows to express haughtiness or contempt. 

Below il naso (the nose) there is la bocca (the mouth, a regular feminine word), which is formed by il labbro superiore (the upper lip, masculine singular), il labbro inferiore (the lower lip), or le labbra (the lips, feminine plural): Mario ha il labbro inferiore pronunciato (Mario has a prominent lower lip), and Laura ha le labbra rosse (Laura has red lips).

Finally, down to the legs and we have il ginocchio (the knee, masculine singular), which can take both forms in the plural, i ginocchi (masculine plural) and le ginocchia (feminine plural). Moving inside the body we find le ossa (the bones, feminine plural) or l’osso (the bone, masculine singular): Mario si e’ rotto l’osso del braccio sinistro (Mario has broken the bone of his left arm), but mi sono rotta le ossa del polso sinistro (I’ve broken the bones of my left wrist). The masculine form ossi is used to describe animal bones: ho dato gli ossi delle bistecche al cane (I gave the bones from the stakes to the dog). As a kid I used to confuse the two words and whenever I had the flu I used to complain: mi fanno male gli ossi (my bones are hurting), to which my mother would reply: sei una persona o un animale? (are you a person or an animal?).

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  1. arun:

    Nice articles , Good blog . . Really these things are very new and unique .

  2. Marie Hodge:

    I love these blogs! I am an Italian American and am trying to learn the various customs that my parents mamma e’ papa’ ( one Siciliano and the other Napolitano) taught us (kids). Unfortunately, we never learned to speak Italian and now when we’re old-er! we wish we had learned it.
    Thank you for the chance to read these blogs.
    Marie (Giuggio) Hodge
    Originally from Salem, Mass. now in Florida

  3. Serena:

    Gentile Signora Marie, I’m pleased that my blogs are helping you to learn about Italian customs and hopefully a bit of the language. In Italian we say “non e’ mai troppo tardi” (it’s never too late).
    Cordiali saluti.

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