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What are the Italian articles?

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There are three different types of articles in Italian: 

  • the definite (“the” in English), 

  • the indefinite (“a” and “an” in English), and 

  • the partitive articles (“some” or “any” in English). 

Unlike the English ones, the Italian articles can be masculine or feminine, singular or plural. Read on to see how they work!

Definite, indefinite, and partitive articles

Definite, indefinite, and partitive articles are generally followed by a noun or an adjective which they agree with in gender and number. To review the meanings of adjectives, gender, and number, head to “Unpacking the grammar” at the end of the post.

  • The definite articles are the most commonly used articles in Italian and they are mainly used to introduce nouns which refer to a specific person or thing: il ragazzo [the boy],

  • The indefinite articles are used to denote an undetermined or not previously mentioned person or thing: un ragazzo [a boy],  

  • The partitive articles can indicate an indefinite part of a whole: del pane [some bread] or an indefinite quantity or number: dei ragazzi [some boys]. 

The three categories of articles do not have one form: the definite article for example, could be il or l’ or lo. The following complete tables of definite, indefinite, and partitive articles will help you understand these forms and apply them like a native!

Definite articles

Definite articles — masculine: il, l’, lo & i, gli

Screen Shot 2021-10-19 at 4.46.35 PM

Definite articles — feminine: la, l’, & le

Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 11.02.21 AM

What to keep in mind

Every time you choose which article to use, you need to consider the following 3 points: 

  • if the word following it is masculine or feminine,

  • if it is singular or plural, and

  • if it starts with a vowel, a consonant, or a group of consonants. Some of the groups above only have a few nouns: check out our table.

Moreover, be particularly careful with singular words, both feminine and masculine, which start with a vowel or h: lo and la drop their vowel and are written with an apostrophe in these cases. For example, l’aria [the air] and not la aria, l’olio [the olive oil] and not il olio, and l’hotel [the hotel] and not il hotel. Why so? Simply to facilitate pronunciation and avoid having two vowels together: in fact when you use an apostrophe the two words are linked together and are pronounced as a single word. Proof of the musicality of Italian!

Indefinite articles

Indefinite articles — masculine: un, uno

Screen Shot 2021-10-19 at 4.40.25 PM

Indefinite articles — feminine: una, un’

Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 11.09.05 AM

What to keep in mind
  • all masculine nouns beginning with s + consonant, z, gn, ps, pn, y, x, i + vowel need an article ending in -o: lo/uno to facilitate pronunciation.

  • while only the indefinite article una drops the a before a vowel and becomes un’:

    un amico/un’amica [a male/female friend], the definite articles lo and la drop the o or a when they precede a masculine or feminine word beginning with a vowel or h: l’amico/l’amica [the male/female friend],

  • indefinite articles do not have plural. So, how can we express an indefinite quantity or number in the plural? How can we say in Italian, “some boys”? The answer is simple, just read on.

  Exception!

One word in Italian presents an exception:

  • the singular masculine noun il/un dio [the/a god] becomes gli/degli dei [the/some gods] in plural.

⤷Did you know? Why do we say gli/degli dei instead of i/dei dei [the/some gods]? The word dei comes from the old Italian word iddei. Because iddei was a plural masculine noun beginning with a vowel, it took the plural masculine definite/partitive article gli/degli. When the old Italian word iddei changed into standard Italian dei, it maintained the old articles gli/degli.

Partitive articles

Partitive articles (del, dello, dell’, della, dell’, dei, degli, delle) [some/any] combine the preposition di [of], which changes to de-, with a definite article (il, lo, l’, la, and i, gli, le [the]). In order to decide how to form them, follow the same rules as for the definite articles: check if the word they precede is singular or plural, masculine or feminine along with the letter it starts with.
As for their meaning:

  • in the singular, they express a part of the whole when referring to food or substances, 

  • in the plural, they indicate an undetermined quantity or number of a plural noun. For example: la penna/delle penne [the pen/some pens], and can therefore be used as the plural indefinite articles.

Here are our tables.

Partitive articles — masculine (singular form: Di + il, l’, lo)

Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 11.26.12 AM

Partitive articles — feminine (singular form: Di + la, l’)

Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 11.28.01 AM

Partitive articles — masculine (plural form: Di + i, gli)

Screen Shot 2021-10-19 at 4.48.26 PM

Partitive articles — feminine (plural form: Di + le)

Screen Shot 2021-09-20 at 11.32.34 AM

Summary

In conclusion, for each type of article, definite, indefinite, and partitive, let’s keep in mind that there are three questions you need to ask yourself to help you decide which article to use in Italian:

  • Is the noun they precede masculine or feminine?

  • Is it singular or plural?

  • Does the word they precede begin with a consonant, a vowel, an h, with s + another consonant, z, gn, pn, ps, x, y, or i + vowel? 

Unpacking the grammar

  • Adjectives are words that are used to describe something, including people, animals, things, places, or ideas. Adjectives are used to make many types of descriptions, such as stating the color, amount, category, appearance, or possession of something or someone.

una ragazza simpatica             a nice girl

  • Gender represents categories in which nouns are split. In Italian, there are two: masculine and feminine.

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

  • Number represents the quantity the noun 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

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