- the definite (“the” in English),
- the indefinite (“a” and “an” in English), and
- the partitive articles (“some” or “any” in English).
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’
|before a consonant||il||il 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’
|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 — masculine: ‘un,’ ‘uno’
|before a consonant||un||un 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’
|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.
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 (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)
|before a consonant||Di + il||del||del 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’)
|before a consonant||Di + la||della||della 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:
|before a consonant||Di + i||dei||dei pianeti some planets|
|before a vowel||Di + gli||degli||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:
|before a consonant||Di + le||delle||delle amiche some friends|
|before i + vowel||delle iene some hyenas|
|before a vowel||delle api some bees|
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!]
- 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