Nouns and gender
All nouns have a specific gender (masculine and feminine) and number
(singular and plural). You need to know what those are in order to create
(and understand) sentences, have verb agreement, and add on articles and
adjectives. The good news is that nouns follow a predictable pattern.
The following shows you how to form the singular and plural of masculine and
feminine nouns. See if you can infer the rules just by looking at the chart.
Feminine nouns singular a
(ah) una casa (ooh-nah kah-zah) (one house)
Feminine nouns plural e
(eh) due case (dooh-eh kah-zeh) (two houses)
Masculine nouns singular o
(oh) un libro (oohn lee-broh) (one book)
Masculine nouns plural i
(ee) due libri (dooh-eh lee-bree) (two books)
e (eh) un esame (m) (oohn eh-zah-meh)
i (ee) due esami (dooh-eh eh-za-mee) (two
exams)/una lezione (f.) (ooh-nah lets-yohneh)
due lezioni (dooh-eh lets-yoh-nee)
So the rules are:
✓ Feminine nouns usually end in a
in the singular and e
in the plural.
✓ Masculine nouns usually end in o
in the singular and i
in the plural.
✓ There are masculine and feminine nouns that end in e
in the singular
end in i
in the plural. You need to memorize their gender the first time
you encounter them.
Here’s a tip. Anything ending in –ione
[nahts-yoh-neh]) is feminine
That was pretty painless, wasn’t it? Are you ready for some exceptions in the
way of invariable nouns? These nouns only have one form: that is, they are
the same in both the singular and plural forms. See if you can guess the rules
for these as you go through the following bullets.
✓ un caffè
(m) (oohn kahf-feh) due caffè
one coffee, two coffees
✓ un bar
(m) (oohn bahr) due bar
one bar, two bars
✓ una bici
(f) (ooh-nah bee-chee) due bici
one bike, two bikes
✓ uno zoo
(m) (ooh-noh zoh) due zoo
one zoo, two zoos
The rules for the three main types of invariable nouns follow:
1. Nouns that end in an accented final vowel, such as caffè and città
(cheet-tah) (city), are invariable.
2. Nouns that end in a consonant (these are rare!), such as bar and film
(feelm) (film, movie) are invariable.
3. Nouns that are abbreviations, such as zoo, bici, radio (rah-dee-oh) and
cinema (chee-neh-mah) (cinema, movie-house) are invariable.
The indefinite articles
Did you happen to notice the indefinite articles for “one” or “a/an” that
precede all of the previously mentioned nouns? They are always singular.
Also, Italian indefinite articles agree in gender. And the one you choose also
has to take into account the first letter of the noun that it precedes.
Table 2-1 shows you the indefinite articles plus some examples.
Table 2-1 Indefinite articles (Gli articoli indeterminativi)
(lyee ahr-tee-koh-lee een-deh-tehr-meen-ah-tee-vee)
(fehm-meen-ee-lee) Masculine Maschili
(a girl )
(a boy )
(oohn-ah-mee-kah) (a (girl )
(oohn ah-mee-koh)(a (boy)
(ooh-nah dzee-ah) (an aunt ) uno zio
(ooh-noh dzee-oh) (an uncle)
sah) (a (female) student)
(a (male) student )
Did you make a special note of the letters that the nouns begin with? So the
rules for indefinite articles go something like this:
una before all feminine nouns beginning with a consonant
un’ before all feminine nouns beginning with a vowel
un before all masculine nouns beginning with vowels and consonants
uno before all masculine nouns beginning with the s impura (s+ consonant),
z, gn, ps, st: zio
(dzee-oh) (uncle); gnomo
(nyoh-moh) (gnome); psicologo
Of course, you don’t go around talking about singular things all the time.
Italian is one of those languages that require a definite article before the noun
in most cases. For example, if you want to say “Sicily is interesting,” you need
to precede Sicily with an article, such as “La Sicilia è interessante”
lee-ah eh een-tehr-ehs-sahn-teh). The same goes for the following noun:
“Love is blind” (L’amore è cieco)
(lah-moh-reh eh cheh-koh).
Table 2-2 shows a list of articles that you should try to commit to memory.
Italian definite articles agree in number and gender with the nouns they
precede. Just like with the indefinite articles, the letter that heads the noun
also determines what article to use.
Table 2-2 Definite Articles (Articoli determinative)
Feminine Masculine “the”
Singular Plural Singular Plural
(leh) l’ gli
Here are some examples of definite articles. Can you identify a pattern?
la casa/le case
(lah kah-zah/leh kah-zeh) (house, houses)
(lah-mee-kah, leh ah-mee-keh) (friend, friends)
il libro/i libri
(il lee-broh, ee lee-bree) (book, books)
lo zio/gli zii,
(loh dzee-oh, lyee zee) (uncle, uncles) lo studente, gli
(loh stooh-dehn-teh, lyee stooh-dehn-tee) (student, students
Here are two examples: Note how the article does not appear in the translation,
but is necessary in Italian:
Gli amici vengono a cena
(lyee ah-mee-chee vehn-goh-noh ah cheh-nah)
(Friends are coming for dinner.)
Mi piacciono le lasagne!
(mee pyahch-choh-noh leh lah-zah-nyeh)
(I like lasagna.)
The gender feature of nouns extends to other grammatical categories,
including pronouns and adjectives. First, I take a look at the adjectives.
An adjective is a word that describes a noun — whether a person, a thing, or
whatever — with a quality or characteristic. (You can read more about these
in Chapters 3, 8 and 16.) There are two types of adjectives in Italian: The first
type has four endings, and the second type has two.
The first type matches in both number and gender with the noun it is modifying,
and, therefore, ends in o, a, i, e, as follows with the adjective italiano (ee-tahlee-
✓ il ragazzo italiano
(il rah-gahts-tsoh ee-tah-lee-ah-noh) (the Italian boy)
✓ i ragazzi italiani
(ee rah-gahts-tsee ee-tah-lee-ah-nee) (the Italian boys)
✓ la ragazza italiana
(lah rah-gahts-tsah ee-tah-lee-ah-nah) (the Italian girl)
✓ le ragazze italiane
(leh rah-gahts-tseh ee-tah-lee-ah-neh) (the Italian girls)
Other typical adjectives with the four endings include spagnolo (spahn-yohloh)
and giallo (jahl-loh) (yellow).
The second type only agrees in number (and not gender), and ends in e in
the singular and i in the plural. The adjective grande (grahn-deh) (big) is one
of those adjective
s. Theseadjectives are valid for both feminine and masculine
nouns. In the plural of both genders, change the -e to an -i — for example,
grandi (grahn-dee) (big). Other adjectives that only agree in number include
francese (frahn-cheh-zeh) (French) and verde (vehr-deh) (green).
✓ l’esame facile
(leh-zah-meh fah-chee-leh) (the easy exam)
✓ gli esami facili
(lyee eh-zah-mee fah-chee-lee) (the easy exams)
✓ la prova facile
(lah proh-vah fah-chee-leh) (the easy test)
✓ le prove facili
(leh proh-veh fah-chee-lee) (the easy tests)
In Italian, the position of the adjective is not as rigid as it is in English. In
most cases, the adjective follows the noun. Nevertheless, there are some
adjectives which can stand before the noun, such as bello
(bwoh-noh) (good), and cattivo
Words to Know
(m) eh-zah-meh exam
(f) proh-vah test
(m/f) rah-gats-tsoh boy
(m) stooh-dehn-teh student (male)
(f) stooh-dehn-tehs-sah student (female)
(f) kah-zah house
(m) lee-broh book
(f/sing.) ah-mee-kah girl-friend
(f/pl.) ah-mee-keh girl-friends
(m/sing) ah-mee-koh friend (male)
(m/pl) ah-mee-chee male friends or
(m) kahf-feh coffee
(f) bee-chee bike
Talking about Pronouns
A pronoun replaces, as the word itself says, a noun. When you talk about Jim,
for example, you can replace his name with he. You often use pronouns to