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How do possessives work in Italian?

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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:

Example:
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. . . 

Screen Shot 2021-07-13 at 1.56.11 PM

It becomes a pronoun when the noun disappears!

1 - Are Italian possessives different from English?

A bit! 
If in English only the “owner” matters, in Italian your choice is like picking two coordinates in a battleship: 

  1. “the owner” (1–6 in the table below), the person or thing the noun belongs to; 

  2. “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.  

Example:
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:

Screen Shot 2021-07-13 at 1.56.40 PM

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.”

Example:
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.

Example:
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.

Example:
Il tuo motorino è nuovo, il suo è vecchio.
Your scooter is new, his/hers is old.

 Exception:

If someone asks the question Di chi è. . . ? [Who does it belong to?], the answer does not require the article.

Example:
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.

 IMPORTANT:

In Italian the articles lo and gli appear before masculine words that start with: 
zs+consonant+vowel, such as sterzo (steering wheel); a vowel, like in l’olio (oil); gn, ps, and pn, like pneumatico (tire). To refresh your memory on definite/indefinite articles, see “Unpacking the grammar.”

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.

Example:

Screen Shot 2021-07-13 at 1.57.42 PM

 
  Exception: 

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.

Example:
Lo stereo è mio!
The stereo is mine!

⤷TIP:  The following common phrases always have  the possessive at the end:

    Piacere mio!                             My pleasure!
    a casa mia/tua/sua                 at my/your/his (her) house
    È colpa mia/sua etc.                It’s my/his (her) etc. fault

 

 IMPORTANT:

Indefinite articles (un, una, uno, etc.) precede possessive adjectives (not pronouns) when talking about “one of many.”

Example:
Un suo caro amico è meccanico.
A dear friend of his is a mechanic.

3 - Family matters: are articles used with family members?

For family members, consider that. . . 

NO article is needed before possessive adjectives.

Example:
Mia zia guida il trattore.
My aunt drives the tractor.

  • UNLESS . . . 
  a) . . . other adjectives + the possessive qualify the family member:

La mia zia intraprendente guida il trattore. 
My resourceful aunt drives a tractor.

  b) . . . the family noun is plural:

Le mie zie fanno una crociera.
My aunts are on a cruise.

 IMPORTANT:

Possessives + genitori [parents], which is plural, come with the definite article:

I miei genitori prendono il treno ogni mattina.
My parents take the train every morning.

⤷TIP: In Italy, there is a short form for i miei genitori [my parents]: i miei.
We also say i tuoi (your parents) and i suoi (his/her parents), but not i nostri, i vostri, i loro.

Examples:
I miei/i tuoi/i suoi non hanno la patente. 
My/your/his/her parents don’t have a driver’s license.

but. . . 

I loro genitori hanno il mal d'auto.
Their parents are carsick.


YES, articles are needed for possessive pronouns referring to family members:

Example:
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:

Example:
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?

Remember:

  • 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. 

Now, click here to master them! 💪 🧠

 

Also, check out these articles to read more about possessives:

https://italianpills.com/blog/2020/04/25/5-ways-to-use-the-italian-word-proprio/ 

https://grammar.collinsdictionary.com/italian-easy-learning/possessive-pronouns 

https://www.lifeinitaly.com/italian/possessive-pronouns-adjectives/ 

https://italianpills.com/blog/2019/12/27/how-to-use-the-italian-possessives/ 

https://www.theitalianexperiment.com/learn-italian/possessive-adjectives 

https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/its-mine-talking-possessive-adjectives-italian

Unpacking the grammar

  • Gender represents categories in which nouns/pronouns are split based on endings. In Italian, there are two: masculine and feminine.

il ragazzo (m.)                     the boy
la ragazza (f.)                     the girl

  • Number represents the quantity the noun/pronoun refers to, meaning if it is singular or plural.

il ragazzo (s.), i ragazzi (pl.)             the boy, the boys
la ragazza (s.), le ragazze (pl.)        the girl, the girls

  • Definite articles in Italian are the equivalent of the English article “the” and are words that are used to make nouns specific.

      • Definite articles in Italian are il, la, l’, lo, i, le, gli.

  • Indefinite articles in Italian are the equivalent of the English article “a/an” and are words that suggest that a noun is more generic. 

      • Indefinite articles in Italian are un, uno, una, un’.

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Miriam Muccione

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How to use the Italian possessives 'proprio' and 'altrui'?
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