definite articles in italian lesson

Mastering Definite Articles in Italian: A Complete Grammar Guide

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Definite articles play an important role in Italian grammar when it comes to indicating whether a noun is referring to a specific person, place or thing. In the Italian language, definite articles communicate a noun’s gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural). This allows the listener to understand key details about the noun before even hearing it.

When you first start to learn Italian, remembering when to use articles and which article to choose can be confusing. Italian has seven definite articles – il, lo, la, l’, le, i, gli – used in specific situations based on a set of rules. However, don’t worry – while properly using articles in Italian will take some practice, this article breaks things down clearly for beginners.

We’ll cover the rules in a straightforward way that will have you mastering Italian definite article usage in no time. Soon it will become instinctual to know just from a noun’s gender and form whether it requires the singular article lo, the plural le, or no article at all.



Italian Articles Overview

Before focusing all this lesson on one type, I want to give you a quick overview of Italian articles, to help you understand things better.

In Italian, there are 3 types of articles:

For now, all you need to know is this:

  1. The first type is used to refer to a specific thing
  2. The second type is used to quantify something
  3. The third type is used to refer to an uncountable amount of something.



italian definite article vs indefinite article

Definite And Indefinite Articles In Italian

We already learned that definite articles in Italian are called articoli determinativi. 

In English, there’s only one definite article – the. It’s used with any type of word, including plural ones.

In Italian, there is a definite article for every noun gender – masculine and feminine and for both singular and plural forms. There’s even one for words starting with a vowel, and another article for words starting with specific consonants or groups of consonants.

We can say pretty much the same about indefinite articles, which we call articoli indeterminativi in Italian. In English, they are two – a and an; in Italian, we have 4 of them – all singular this time. Learn more about Italian indefinite articles here (coming soon).



The In Italian: 7 Ways To Say It With Rules

In total, there are seven definite articles in Italian. In this section, we’ll learn when and how to use each one. But before let’s see how to pronounce them correctly.

Gli Articoli Determinativi Pronunciation

Il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, le.

Click the audio below to listen to me pronounce all of them.


il in italian
Il libro che sto leggendo mi piace molto.

Il in Italian

Il it’s a singular and masculine indefinite article. Use it with singular masculine nouns, like in the following examples.


Il libro – The book

Il bambino – The kid

Il cugino – The cousin

Il cuscino – The pillow

Il biberon – The baby bottle

Il cruciverba – The crossword puzzle

Il fazzoletto – The tissue

Il neonato – The babu

Il papà – The dad

Il coccodrillo – The crocodile

Il falò – The bonfire


La in Italian

Use la for feminine words that are also singular. 


Examples:

La mamma – The mum

La zia – The aunty

La borsa – The handbag

La maglietta – The tshirt

La cucina – The kitchen

La sedia – The chair

La cena – The dinner

La porta – The door

La scuola – The school

La chiesa – The church

La maestra – The teacher

La dottoressa – The doctor


l in italian
L’aeroporto era proprio affollato.

L in Italian

For words that start with a vowel, we use l’ regardless of whether they are masculine or feminine. That’s because in Italian we try to avoid two consecutive vowels so that words sound clear and flow smoothly.


Look at the examples below:

L’aereo (aereo is masculine) – The airplane

L’atmosfera (atmosphere is feminine) – The atmosphere

L’albicocca (apricot is feminine) – The apricot

L’albergo (albergo is masculine) – The hotel

L’orto (orto is masculine) – The vegetable garden

L’arte (arte is feminine) – The art


Lo in Italian

Lo is a special definite article Italians use with words starting with these consonants or consonant groups: i, j, s, z, x, y, gn, ps, pn, sc.


Examples:

Lo struzzo – The ostrich

Lo zaino – The backpack

Lo xilofono – The xylophone

Lo yogurt – The yogurt

Lo gnocco – The dumpling

Lo pseudonimo – The pseudonym

Lo pneumatico – The tire


You might have noticed that all those words are masculine. That’s correct. Indeed, we use lo only with masculine words that start with those consonants.


Let’s now look at the plural of the definite articles in Italian.


I in Italian

The article I is the plural of lo, and we use it with plural masculine words.

To make things easier to grasp, I am using the same examples we saw in the singular form, but this time we’ll learn their plural article combination.


I libri – The books

I bambini – The kids

I cugini – The cousins

I cuscini – The pillows

I biberon – The baby bottles

I cruciverba – The crossword puzzles

I fazzoletti – The tissues

I neonati – The babies

I papà – The dads

I coccodrilli – The crocodiles

I falò – The bonfires


le in italian
Le nuove maestre sono molto carine.

Le in Italian

Le is the plural of la. Use that with feminine words in the plural.


Examples:

Le mamme – The mums

Le zie – The aunties

Le borse – The handbags

Le magliette – The t-shirts

Le cucine – The kitchens

Le sedie – The chairs

Le cene – The dinners

Le porte – The doors

Le scuole – The schools

Le chiese – The churches

Le maestre – The teachers

Le dottoresse – The doctors


Gli in Italian

Those words that take lo in the singular take gli in the plural. I am referring to masculine words that start with i, j, s, z, x, y, gn, pn, ps, sc.


Examples:

Gli struzzi – The ostriches

Gli zaini – The backpacks

Gli xilofoni – The xylophones

Gli yogurt – The yogurts

Gli gnocchi – The dumplings

Gli pseudonimi – The pseudonyms

Gli pneumatici – The tires


What happens to L’ in the plural?

Look at the plural of the examples we saw earlier in singular form.

Gli aerei – The airplanes

Le atmosfere – The atmospheres

Le albicocche – The apricots

Gli alberghi – The hotels

Gli orti – The vegetable gardens

Le arti – The arts


Each one took a different article. So you might be wondering what’s the rule behind that.

It’s very simple when you think that l’ is simply the truncation of the article lo o la.

So take examples 3, 4 and 6 above: l’atmosfera is the truncation of la atmosfera. Hence, the plural is le.


What about the others? Why are we using gli when the plural wasn’t lo?

That’s because of some special rules we’ll discuss in the next section.


italian definite articles special rules
L’hamburger sembra molto buono.

Special Rules You Need to Learn About The Articoli Determinativi

The general rules we saw earlier have some exceptions. Let’s look at these.

1. Use gli for plural masculine words that start with a vowel.

Examples: gli orti (the vegetable gardens), gli idraulici (the plumbers).

2. Use le for plural feminine words that start with a vowel. There’s no truncation in the plural.

Examples: le età(the ages), le amiche (the female friends).

3. After dei (plural of god) we use gli not i.

Il dio > Gli dei

4. Uovo takes the singular masculine l’ and the plural feminine le.

L’uovo > Le uova

5. Whisky takes lo in singular form and gli in plural.

Lo whisky > Gli whisky

You can also say il whisky, both are correct.

6. Words starting with an h take the singular l’ and the plural gli, if they are masculine.

L’hamburger > gli hamburger

L’harem > Gli harem

7. The article before abbreviations (in Italian called sigle) changes depending on the gender but also the way the word sounds.

Gli UFO, L’ASL, La NATO, La RAI, L’FMI.



when to use articoli determinativi in italian
We use definite articles to refer to something.

When To Use Definite Articles In Italian

In general, we always use a definite article in Italian if we want to refer to something specific, like the car is red – La macchina è rossa. 


Here are all the uses of the definite article:

– to indicate specific objects or people:

  This is the house I like. – Questa è la casa che mi piace.


– with possessive adjectives and pronouns:

  I like my car. – Mi piace la mia auto.


– with abstract nouns or those of general meaning, including colors:

  Love has no age. – L’amore non ha età. 

  I like blue. – Mi piace il blu.


– with body parts and clothing:

  I wash my hair once a week. – Mi lavo i capelli una volta alla settimana. 

  Put on the jacket! – Mettiti la giacca.


– with dates, if not preceded by the day of the week:

  Today is March 12. – Oggi è il 12 Marzo. 

  Today is Thursday, November 26. – Oggi è Giovedì, 12 Marzo.


– with a temporal value:

  It’s eight twenty. – Sono le otto e venti.

  In the morning, I go to school. – La mattina, vado a scuola.


– with days of the week to indicate repeated and habitual actions:

  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I go to the gym. – I martedi e i giovedi, vado in palestra.


– in physical descriptions, with the verb “have”:

  Maria has blonde hair. – Maria ha i capelli biondi.


– with titles of rank or professions followed by a name:

  Dr. Paolini is an excellent doctor. – Il Dottor Paolini e’ un dottore eccellente.


– with most geographical names (but NOT with city names):

  Italy is a peninsula. – L’italia è una penisola.


– with language names:

  I understand French, but not Spanish. – Io capisco il Francese, ma non lo Spagnolo.

  Ryan speaks Italian quite well. – Ryan parla l’Italiano molto bene.


– sometimes with names of famous people:

  Botticelli painted The Birth of Venus. – Botticelli dipinse La Nascita di Venere.


Do you know that in North of Italy, especially in Lombardia, they often use the definite article before the name of a person? This is done when referring to a third person, usually not present? For example, they say La Paola, Il Marcello.


When not to use them

If you’d rather say that one car is red, then you would use the indefinite article instead. One car is red – Una macchina è rossa.


Other than that, don’t use the definite article in these situations:

– with possessive adjectives before singular family names;

  My sister is 20 years old. – Mia sorella ha venti anni.

  My little sister is 20 years old. – La mia sorellina ha venti anni.

The exception lies when you modify those nouns. Sorella became sorellina (little sister). In that case, we can use the definite article la.


– in descriptions and enumerations:

In the city, there are shops, bars, restaurants, theaters, and cinemas. – In città ci sono negozi, bar, ristoranti, teatri e cinema.

Notice how we didn’t put an article before each noun (i negozi, i bar, i ristoranti, etc)


– with city names, except for some exceptions like La Spezia, L’Aquila.

Milan is a very urban city. – We don’t say La Milano è una città molto urbana. The correct way is Milano è una città molto urbana.



Let’s Revise: Italian Definite Articles Chart

Before we start our practice and quiz time, here’s a quick chart for you to practice quickly.

Italian Definite ArticleWhen to useExample
IlBefore a singular and masculine nounIl libro – the book
LaBefore a singular and feminine nounLa mamma – the mum
LoWith singular nouns starting with i, j, s, x, y, z, gn, pn, ps, sc.Lo zaino – the backpack
L’Before singular masculine and feminine nouns starting with a vowel.L’aereo – the airplane
IBefore plural and masculine nouns.I libri – the books
LeBefore plural and feminine nouns.Le mamme – the mums
GliWith plura nounts that start with i, j, s, x, y, z, gn, pn, ps, sc.Gli zaini – the backpacks
Italian Definite Articles Chart



Italian Definite Articles Practice Time

Before we test what you have learned today about the definite articles in Italian, we are going to practice with more examples.

Singular Form

Il ragazzo sta leggendo un libro. (The boy is reading a book.)

Abbiamo le lezioni di italiano ogni settimana. (We have Italian lessons every week.)

Il giornale è sulla tavola. (The newspaper is on the table.)

Guarda gli uccelli nel cielo. (Look at the birds in the sky.)

La mia sorellina è un insegnante di matematica. (My sister is a math teacher.)


Plural Form

Gli amici sono simpatici. (The friends are nice.)

Ho comprato pantaloni nuovi. (I bought new pants.)

libri sono sulla mensola. (The books are on the shelf.)

Guarda le ragazze là fuori. (Look at the girls out there.)

Abbiamo biglietti per il concerto. (We have tickets for the concert.)



italian quiz time

Italian Definite Articles Quiz

Here’s a quiz that tests your knowledge of definite articles in Italian. The questions cover both theory and practice. Let’s go!


Theory:

1. How many types of articles are there in Italian?

   a. 1

   b. 2

   c. 3

   d. 4

2. What is the main function of definite articles in Italian?

   a. To indicate quantity

   b. To refer to specific things

   c. To express uncertainty

   d. To describe emotions

3. Which definite article is used with masculine nouns starting with specific consonants or groups of consonants?

   a. Il

   b. Lo

   c. L’

   d. Gli

4. What is the plural form of “La”?

   a. I

   b. Le

   c. Gli

   d. L’

5. When do you use “L’” in Italian?

   a. Before masculine nouns starting with a vowel

   b. Before feminine nouns starting with a vowel

   c. Before masculine and feminine nouns starting with a vowel

   d. Before masculine and feminine nouns starting with a consonant


Practice:

6. Fill in the blank with the correct definite article: ___ gatto è sul tetto. (The cat is on the roof.)

   a. Il

   b. La

   c. Lo

   d. I

7. Translate the following sentence into Italian: “She is a doctor.”

   a. Lei è un dottoressa.

   b. Lei è un dottore.

   c. Lei è una dottoressa.

   d. Lei è una dottore.

8. Identify the correct plural definite article for the word “zaino” (backpack).

   a. Gli

   b. Le

   c. I

   d. Lo

9. Which special rule applies to masculine words starting with “h” when using definite articles?

   a. Use “La” for singular and “Le” for plural.

   b. Use “L’” for singular and “Gli” for plural.

   c. Use “Il” for singular and “I” for plural.

   d. Use “Lo” for singular and “Gli” for plural.

10. In which situations would you not use definite articles?

    a. When referring to specific objects or people.

    b. In descriptions and enumerations.

    c. Before city names.

    d. All of the above.


Answers:

1. c. 3
2. b. To refer to specific things
3. b. Lo
4. b. Le
5. a. Before masculine nouns starting with a vowel

6. a. Il
7. c. Lei è una dottoressa.
8. a. Gli
9. b. Use “L’” for singular and “Gli” for plural.
10. d. All of the above.



Final Thoughts

As you continue to learn Italian, keep in mind these rules for when to use articles in the Italian language. Pay attention to whether the noun is singular or plural, masculine or feminine – this will guide you to the correct article to use.

There are some instances where you don’t use definite articles in Italian, but overall grasping the grammar related to definite articles is key for mastering the Italian language. With regular practice, determining the appropriate article will become second nature, allowing you to focus on further enhancing your Italian skills.



Articoli Determinativi FAQ

What are the 7 articles in Italian?

The 7 definite articles in Italian are:

What are the rules for indefinite articles in Italian?

The rules for indefinite articles (un, uno, una) depend on the gender and number of the noun. Un is used before masculine nouns starting with z, s+consonant, gn, pn, x, y. Uno is used before most other masculine singular nouns. Una is used before feminine singular nouns.

How do you know what article to use in Italian?

You know which article to use based on:

What is the definite article gli in Italian?

Gli is the masculine plural definite article used before vowels i, j, and consonants s, sc, gn, pn, ps, x, y, z. For example, gli amici (the friends).

Do you always have to use a definite article in Italian?

No, you do not always have to use a definite article in Italian. There are cases where the article is omitted, like in descriptions/enumerations.

When should I use a definite vs indefinite article in Italian?

Use definite articles when referring to a specific, known person/thing. Use indefinite when you want to quantify things.

What is the difference between il and la in Italian?

Il is masculine singular, la is feminine singular. Il ragazzo = the boy, la ragazza = the girl.

Why is it lo zucchero and not il zucchero?

It’s lo zucchero because zucchero starts with z, and lo is used before z in singular masculine nouns.

What are the rules for Lo in Italian?

The rules for Lo: Use before masculine singular nouns starting with s, sc, gn, pn, ps, x, y, z and i, and y.

What is the difference between Gli and I?

The difference between gli and i is that gli is used before vowels, s, sc, etc while i is the masculine plural article for most other nouns.

Is it gli ragazzi or i ragazzi?

It’s i ragazzi. I is used because ragazzi is a masculine plural noun with no special rule.

What is the definite article for Amica in Italian?

The definite article for amica (female friend) is l’ (before the vowel). The plural is le amiche.

What is the definite article for Casa in Italian?

The definite article for casa (house) is la. The plural is le case.

What is the definite article for Zaino?

The definite article for zaino (backpack) is lo in the singular, gli in the plural.

What is the definite article for ristorante?

The definite article for ristorante (restaurant) is il in the singular, i in the plural.

What is the definite article for hotel in Italian?

The definite article for hotel is l’ (before the h) in the singular, gli in the plural.

What is the definite article for Aula in Italian?

The definite article for aula (classroom) is l’ in the singular, le in the plural.

What are the different words for the in Italian?

The different words for “the” in Italian are: il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, le.

What is the masculine word for the in Italian?

The masculine words for “the” in Italian are: il, lo, l’ in singular form and i, gli in plural form.

Alessia
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