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What are the Italian articles?

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!

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in this post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.

What are the articles in Italian? Definite, indefinite, and partitive articles?

The articles in Italian are definite, indefinite, and partitive articles; these are used alongside a noun or an adjective, which the articles agree with in gender and number. 

  • 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]. 

In this post we will discuss their forms, but stick around for part two to see how they are used.

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! 

What are the definite articles?

The definite articles in Italian are il, l’, lo, i, gli, la, and le.

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

See the table below for the masculine definite articles in Italian: il, l’, lo, i, and gli:
SingularExamplePluralExample
before a consonant ilil treno the train i i treni the trains
before a vowel l’l’amico the friend gli gli amici the friends
before h l’hotel the hotel gli hotel the hotels
before s + consonant lo lo studente the student gli studenti the students
before z lo zero the zero gli zeri the zeros
before gn lo gnomo the gnome gli gnomi the gnomes
before ps lo psicologo the psychologist gli psicologi the psychologists
before y lo yogurt the yogurt gli yogurt the yogurts
before x lo xilofono the xylophone gli xilofoni the xylophones
before pn lo pneumatico the tire gli pneumatici the tires
before i + vowel lo iato the hiatus gli iati the hiatuses

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

SingularExamplePluralExample
before a consonant la la borsa i the bag le le borse the bags lthe bags
before i + vowel la iena the hyena le iene the hyenas
before a vowel l’ l’ora the hour le ore the hours

What to keep in mind

Every time you choose which article to use, you need to keep the following three points in mind: 

  • 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

The indefinite articles in Italian are un, uno, una, un’.

Indefinite articles — masculine: ‘un,’ ‘uno’

See the table below for the masculine indefinite articles in Italian: un and uno:
SingularExample
before a consonant unun telefono a telephone
before a vowel un orologio a watch
before h un hotel a hotel
before s + consonant uno uno studente a student
before z uno zaino a backpack
before gn uno gnomo a gnome
before ps uno psichiatra a psychiatrist
before y uno yeti a yeti
before x uno xilofono a xylophone
before pn uno pneumologo a pulmonologist
before i + vowel uno iettatore a jinx

Indefinite articles — feminine: una, un’

See the table below for the feminine indefinite articles in Italian: una and un’:
SingularExample
before a consonant una una ragazza a girl
before i + vowel una iena a hyena
before a vowel un’ un’amaca a hammock

What to keep in mind

When using indefinite articles, keep the following 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. 

Below are our tables.

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

See the table below for the masculine singular partitive articles in Italian: del, dell’, and dello:
SingularExample
before a consonant Di + il deldel succo some juice
before a vowel Di + l’dell’ dell’aglio some garlic
before s + consonant Di + lo dello dello speck some smoked ham
before z dello zinco some zinc
before gn dello gnocco some dumpling
before y dello yogurt some yogurt
before x dello xilema some xylem
before i + vowel dello iodio some iodine

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

See the table below for the feminine singular partitive articles in Italian: della and dell’:
SingularExample
before a consonant Di + la delladella yucca some yucca
before i + vowel della iuta some jute
before a vowel Di + l’ dell’ dell’arancia some orange

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

See the table below for the masculine plural partitive articles in Italian: dei and degli:

PluralExample
before a consonant Di + i deidei pianeti some planets
before a vowel Di + glidegli degli orologi some watches
before s + consonant degli scolari some pupils
before z degli zeri some zeros
before gn, pn, and ps degli gnocchi some dumplings
before y degli yacht some yachts
before x degli xilofoni some xylophones
before i + vowel degli ioni some ions

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

See the table below for the feminine plural partitive articles in Italian: delle:

PluralExample
before a consonant Di + le delledelle amiche some friends
before i + vowel delle iene some hyenas
before a vowel delle api some bees

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? 

Now it is time to practice with our exercises! Proviamo! [Let’s try!]

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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