Italian Grammar Essentials

italian grammarItalian grammar is the body of rules describing the properties of the Italian language. With a basic understanding of the core principles of Italian, learning the language becomes less daunting.

We will go over the essentials of Italian grammar: articles, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions. Approach learning a foreign language in steps, memorize the basics, and soon you will be on your way to becoming fluent in Italian!

Once you know the basics, it will be easier to build your Italian vocabulary, and to communicate in Italian. Let’s get started!

Italian Articles

In Italian grammar, articles identify the gender and the number of the nouns, and they are essential in order to recognize irregular nouns. Articles can be masculine or feminine, singular or plural and, except in some specific cases, they must always be used. The article serves to define the noun associated with it, and with which it must agree in gender and number.

Definitive articles

In Italian, we put the article before the noun, just like in English. However, in English, the definite article is only one – the.  In Italian, when the noun is masculine, there are three types of articles in the singular, and two types in the plural. For feminine nouns, there are two different articles for the singular, and one for the plural. Let’s take a look!

Masculine Articles                                                    Feminine Articles

Singular           Il          Lo        L’                                La        L’

Plural               I           Gli       Gli                               Le        Le

Now, let’s break down when to use which definitive article in Italian!

With masculine articles:

Il is used before a noun that begins with a consonant, except“s + consonant, ps, gn, z, y, and z. Examples: Il ragazzo, il libro, il vino.

I is the plural form of il. If you use il in singular, you have to use I in plural.

Examples: I ragazzi, i libri, i vini.

Lo is used before a noun that begins with s + consonant, ps, gn,z,y, and z.

Examples: Lo studente, lo sport, lo psicologo, lo yogurt.

Gli is the plural form of lo. If you use lo in singular, you have to use gli in plural. Examples: Gli studenti, gli sport, gli psicologi, gli yogurt.

L’ is used before a noun that begins with a vowel or with h; in Italian grammar, h is silent.  Examples: L’ orologio, l’amico, l’ufficio, l’hotel.

Gli is used for the plural form when l’ is used in the singular: Gli orologi, gli amici, gli uffici, gli hotel.

Now, let’s go over when to use feminine definite articles.

La is used before a noun that begins with a consonant: La casa, la ragazza, la bottiglia.

L’ is used before a noun that begins with a vowel: L’amica, l’alice, l’onda, l’aspirina.

Le is used with all feminine words in the plural: Le case, le ragazze, le bottiglie, le amiche, le alici, le onde, le aspirine.

Indefinite Articles

Indefinite articles in Italian grammar introduce a generic or not defined noun.

The masculine indefinite articles are un and uno, and the feminine forms are una and un’ – meaning a or an.

Un is used before masculine nouns starting with vowel or consonant: un uomo, un libro.

Uno isused before masculine nouns starting with s+ consonant, z, gn, x, y, ps, pn, i+vowel, such as in uno studente.

Una is used before feminine nouns starting with consonant, such as una donna.

Un’ is used before feminine nouns starting with vowel, such as in un’automobile.

When to Use Articles

In Italian grammar, articles are used in the following cases:

Before nouns: : il gatto, la donna, l’uomo, il libro, la casa.

Before a person’s profession : il dottore, il meccanico, il professore, la professoressa.

Before a title : il signore, la signora, l’onorevole.

Before dates: il 2 giugno 1990

Before hours: sono le 3, è l’una.

Before names of nations or associations in the plural: gli Stati Uniti, le Nazioni Unite.

Before the days of the week to indicate a repeated, habitual activity: la domenica studio italiano.

 Articles are not used before nouns in the following cases:

When they want to convey a very generic feeling of something indefinite: mangio pasta (“I eat pasta”), vedo amici (“I see friends”).

Before a name: Roberto, Maria, Stefano, Alice, Roma, Milano

Before the demonstrative adjective questo (“this”), quello (“that”): questa casa (“this house,” questo libro (“this book”), quel ragazzo (“that guy”).

Before a possessive adjective followed by a singular family noun: mia madre, mio padre, mio fratello, mia sorella.

With days of the week: domenica vado in montagna (“I am going to the mountains on Sunday”).

If this seems complicated, don’t fret! Learning a foreign language gets easier with practice. Learning Italian through an activity you enjoy, such as cooking, can also prove fun and helpful to becoming fluent in the language.

Italian Adjectives

Like in English, adjectives are words that describe a person or a thing. Let’s look at some examples of adjectives used to describe nouns. Unlike in English grammar, the adjectives here are places after the noun they are describing:

Un cappello rosso.                   A red hat

Un pranzo italiano                   An Italian meal

La camera è quadrata              The room is square.

Italian Nouns

All Italian nouns are masculine or feminine in gender.

With very few exceptions, nouns which end in -o, -ore, a consonant, or a consonant followed by -one, are masculine.  The names of the days of the week (except Sunday), lakes, months, oceans, rivers, seas, sport teams, and names which denote males are masculine. Words imported from other languages are regarded as masculine regardless of their spelling.

With a few exceptions, singular nouns which end in -a, -à, -essa, -i, -ie, -ione, -tà, -trice, or -tù are feminine.  The names of cities, continents, fruits, islands, letters of the alphabet, states, and names which denote females are feminine.

In Italian grammar, if a word refers to a group of people, the masculine form is used:

bambini           children

amici                friends

In a some cases, the gender of a noun is determined by its article.  For example, uno studente to denote a male student, or una studente to denote a female student.  All words which end in nte or -ista are treated in this way.

un cliente         a male client                            una cliente       a female client
un pianista       a male pianist                          una pianista     a female pianist

It may seem like a lot to learn at first, but you can do it! Using language learning tools while studying Italian may prove helpful. Give it a try!

Italian Pronouns

Pronouns are words that are used in place of a noun. They can stand in for the subject, Io mangio (I eat), the object, Paola mi ama (Paola loves me), or the complement, Io vivo perlei  (I live for her). There are many kinds of pronouns in Italian grammar, including personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, and indefinite.

Io mangio        I eat

Paola mi ama   Paola loves me

Io vivo per lei  I live for her

Italian Verbs

Verbs are the core of the Italian language, and they refer to an action (andare – to go; mangiare – to eat) or to a state (essere – to be; stare – to stay; esistere – to exist). In Italian grammar, there are three classes of verbs, five moods, and 21 verb tenses.

Here are some common verbs to get you started:

Andare             to go

Mangiare         to eat

Essere               to be

Stare                 to stay

Esistere           to exist

Italian Prepositions

Prepositions are words that show position in relation to space or time, or that introduce a complement. Some prepositions that are important to know in Italian are listed below:

Preposition     Italian                                   English

di:                    La casa di Paola                           Paola’s house

a:                     Io vado a casa                               I go (to) home

da:                   Il treno viene da Milano          The train comes from Milan

in:                    La mamma è in Italia                 The mother is in Italy

con:                 Io vivo con Paola                       I live with Paola

su:                    La penna è sul tavolo                The pen is on the table

per:                  Il regalo è per te                         The gift is for you

Italian Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words that link to other words or groups of words, and common ones in Italian grammar include e- (“and”), ma (“but”), and se (“if”).

Il cane e il gatto                                                   The dog and the cat

Sono stanco, ma vengo                                   I am tired, but I come

Se vuoi, puoi dormire qui                             If you want, you can sleep here

The Auxiliary Verbs: Essere and Avere

Essere (“to be”) and avere (”to have”) can be used common verbs, but they can also be auxiliary verbs, such as in io ho comprato (“I have bought”).

Because these verbs are central to know when communicating in Italian, it is important to know how to conjugate them. Incorporating language learning approaches may prove helpful in learning Italian quickly and easily.

Essere:

io sono                I am

tu sei                    you are

lui/lei/Lei è      he/she is

noi siamo           we are

voi siete              you are

loro sono            they are

Avere:

io ho                      I have

tu hai                     you have

lui/lei/Lei ha     he/ she has

noi abbiamo       we have

voi avete             you have

loro hanno          they have

Italian Grammar Rules Summary

  • In Italian grammar, adjectives and nouns have a specific form for the masculine and for the feminine, as well as for singular and plural.
  • Verbs are the core of the Italian language
  • Some prepositions can be contracted with the articles
  • Essere and avere are the Italian auxiliary verbs.

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