Possessive adjectives precede a noun to express relationships of ownership and belonging.
They are words like “my,” “your,” “his,” etc. and in Italian they look like il mio, il tuo, il suo, etc. Differently from English, Italian possessive adjectives need the article and they are a “learn one, get one for free” deal: once you know them, you also know possessive pronouns (words like “mine,” “yours,” “his/hers”) because they look exactly the same. Here is how to recognize which is which:
La mia bici è blu, la tua è rossa.
My bike is blue, yours is red.
La mia and la tua look the same, but. . .
It becomes a pronoun when the noun disappears!
1 - Are Italian possessives different from English?
If in English only the “owner” matters, in Italian your choice is like picking two coordinates in a battleship:
“the owner” (1–6 in the table below), the person or thing the noun belongs to;
“what is owned” (A–D), what is its gender and number. (To brush up on your understanding of gender and number, see “Unpacking the grammar” at the end of the post.) For pronouns, this info is in a previous (part of the) sentence, since with a pronoun the noun disappears.
il mio motorino my scooter
la mia macchina my car
While in English you say “my scooter” or “my car,” in Italian you also need to look at “what is owned”: _mi_ stays the same but the article + ending depends on “what is owned”: motorino is masculine singular, so you use il mio, while macchina is feminine singular, so you use la mia.
Consult this table to figure out the appropriate possessive:
Did you notice. . .?
a) In Italian there is no difference between “his” and “her.” That’s because il suo, la sua, i suoi, and le sue change only according to “what is owned.”
Il suo treno arriva presto.
His/her train is coming soon.
It doesn't matter if it's Maria’s train or Mario’s train, _ su_ stays the same. Then you look at the gender + number of “what is owned” (treno) and add the article and ending accordingly: il suo treno.
b) Loro does not change in gender or number.
Il loro garage è spazioso.
Their garage is spacious.
Since loro stays the same, all you need is the article of “what is owned,” garage here: It is masculine and singular, therefore the article will be IL.
2 - Article first?
Yes! Often possessive adjectives and pronouns are introduced by a definite article (il, lo, la, le, etc), which takes the gender and number of the noun.
Il tuo motorino è nuovo, il suo è vecchio.
Your scooter is new, his/hers is old.
If someone asks the question Di chi è. . . ? [Who does it belong to?], the answer does not require the article.
Di chi è questa moto? ⇨ È mia / è tua / è sua / è nostra / è vostra
Whose motorcycle is this? ⇨ It’s mine / it’s yours / it’s his/hers / it’s ours / it’s yours
but . . . È la loro. It’s theirs.
In Italian the articles lo and gli appear before masculine words that start with:
However, since with a possessive the article is no longer before those letters, there is no reason to use lo and gli, and we can use il and i.
When emphasizing that something belongs to someone and no one else, you move the possessive to the end.
In that case, articles are again before the noun, so masculine words that begin with z, s+consonant+vowel, etc. need lo and gli.
Lo stereo è mio!
The stereo is mine!
⤷TIP: The following common phrases always have the possessive at the end:
Piacere mio! My pleasure!
Indefinite articles (un, una, uno, etc.) precede possessive adjectives (not pronouns) when talking about “one of many.”
3 - Family matters: are articles used with family members?
For family members, consider that. . .
NO article is needed before possessive adjectives.
Mia zia guida il trattore.
My aunt drives the tractor.
- UNLESS . . .
La mia zia intraprendente guida il trattore.
My resourceful aunt drives a tractor.
Le mie zie fanno una crociera.
My aunts are on a cruise.
Possessives + genitori [parents], which is plural, come with the definite article:
I miei genitori prendono il treno ogni mattina.
⤷TIP: In Italy, there is a short form for i miei genitori [my parents]: i miei.
but. . .
I loro genitori hanno il mal d'auto.
YES, articles are needed for possessive pronouns referring to family members:
Mio zio ha una Fiat 500 , il tuo ha una Ferrari.
My uncle has a Fiat 500, yours has a Ferrari.
4 - Mind the comparisons
Use possessive adjectives and pronouns when drawing comparisons:
La nostra moto è più/meno veloce della vostra.
Our motorbike is faster/less fast than yours.
Instead of the article, you will need the articulated preposition di+definite article (della, dello, dei, etc) to express comparisons.
5 - Ready to practice?
Italian possessive adjectives and pronouns look similar but have different functions;
Possessives often come with an article;
Figure out “the owner” + gender and number of “what’s owned”;
Family members behave weirdly :)
One more thing: instead of the possessive adjectives, you can use the words proprio and altrui. Read this post to find out when.
Also, check out these articles to read more about possessives:
Unpacking the grammar
il ragazzo (m.) the boy
il ragazzo (s.), i ragazzi (pl.) the boy, the boys
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