Italian definite articles

What are the Italian definite articles? English only has one: the. Italian has… well, a few.

How many definite articles are there in Italian? How and when do you use them? In this lesson you will find an answer to all these questions.

Il cane
The dog

La donna
The woman

I tavoli
The tables

Le sedie
The chairs

italian definite articles - corgi dog smiling

Let’s start with the explanation right away!


Definite articles in Italian

Italian definite articles are used to talk about a specific person or thing or groups of people/things, be it singular or plural.

All definite articles in Italian go before the noun. If there’s already an adjective before the noun, they are placed before that.

Il gatto dorme.
The cat sleeps.

La bambina guarda la TV.
The little girl watches the TV.

I cani abbaiano.
The dogs are barking.

La vecchia signora riposa.
The old lady takes a rest.

dog barking at its owner

Italian definite articles can be either masculine or feminine depending on the gender of the noun they precede. Definite articles in Italian can also be either singular or plural.

Remember: all Italian articles agree with the gender and number of the noun.

This means that there are four possible groups of articles in total:

  • masculine singular articles
  • masculine plural articles
  • feminine singular articles
  • feminine plural articles

Before diving into each group, let’s write down all possible Italian definite articles in a table.

SingularPlural
Masculineil, lo, l’i, gli
Femininela, l’le

This is why we say il gatto and la bambina, because gatto is a singular noun of masculine gender while bambina is a feminine singular noun. Gatto then needs a masculine singular article (il), and bambina needs a feminine singular article (la).

All clear? Tutto chiaro? Perfetto! Now let’s take a closer look at these groups of articles one by one.


Masculine singular articles

As you can see in the table above, Italian has 3 masculine singular definite articles (that’s a mouthful!): IL, LO and L’.

When to use “il”

IL is used before any masculine nouns or adjectives beginning with a consonant. There are few exceptions to this rule:

  • s+consonant (st-, sp-, sb-, sv-, sc- etc.)
  • “sh” sound (sci-, scia-, scio- etc.)
  • z-, gn-, ps-, pn-, semivowel i and x
  • h

For example, a masculine noun such as serpente, snake, will become il serpente, the snake.

Il serpente sibila.
The snake hisses.

The same thing applies to many other nouns beginning with a consonant, such as topo, libro or divano.

Il topo mangia.
The mouse eats.

Il libro è breve.
The book is short.

Il divano è bianco.
The sofa is white.

Il weekend è lontano.
The weekend is far away.

Il grande giorno è arrivato.
The big day has arrived.

ArticleNoun
ILserpente
ILtopo
ILlibro
ILdivano
ILweekend
ILgrande giorno

A noun like studio, however, will not become il studio as it begins with with s+consonant (st-), which is one of the exceptions to our rule. The same goes for sciroppo (sh- sound), zoo (z) and psicologo.

What’s up with these nouns? What article do we have to use? This is where “lo” comes into the picture.

Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!


When to use “lo”

LO is used in front of any masculine nouns or adjectives beginning with:

  • s+consonant (st-, sp-, sb-, sv-, sc- etc.)
  • “sh” sound (sci-, scia-, scio- etc.)
  • z-, gn-, ps-, pn-, semivowel i and x

You got that right: these are the same exceptions to the “il” article rule minus nouns beginning with h-! (We still have to cover all vowel sounds, I’ll get to those in a minute.)

That means studio will become lo studio. And iodio, which is a word that begins with a semivowel (i/y/j+vowel), will become lo iodio and so on.

Lo studio è sporco.
The study is dirty.

Lo sciroppo è dolce.
The syrup is sweet.

Lo zoo è grande.
The zoo is big.

Lo psicologo lavora.
The psychologist works.

Lo xilofono è qui.
The xylophone is here.

Lo yogurt è magro.
The yogurt is low-fat.

Lo stretto passaggio è nascosto.
The narrow pathway is hidden.
(Il passaggio —> Lo stretto passaggio)

zoo animals: elephant, lion, giraffe and a panda

You would normally say il passaggio because passaggio begins with a p-, but we’ve seen that for any of the four groups of Italian definite articles you have to take into account the beginning letters of any word following the article.

Stretto, narrow, begins wih s+consonant.

If there’s an adjective before a noun, you’ll have to consider the beginning letter of the adjective itself, not the beginning letter of the noun.

ArticleNoun
LOstudio
LOsciroppo
LOzoo
LOpsicologo
LOxilofono
LOyogurt
LOstretto passaggio

Now how do masculine Italian definite articles work with vowels?


When to use “l’ “

L’ is used in front of any masculine nouns or adjectives beginning with… you guessed it, a vowel. It’s also used for nouns beginning with h-.

With one caveat:

  • nouns that begins with a semivowel (i+vowel, j+vowel or y+vowel) take on lo instead

What does the apostrophe ‘ stand for in l’?
It’s the contracted form of lo. But it’s really awkward to say lo albero or lo elefante, so l’ is used instead.

Now, what are some masculine nouns that begin with a vowel? Albero, tree. Which becomes l’albero, the tree! Or orso, bear, which becomes l’orso, the bear.

You don’t say: lo albero, lo orso.

There are 5 vowels in Italian: A, E, I, O, U. Let’s see an example for all of them.

L’albero è alto.
The tree is tall.

L’elefante beve.
The elephant drinks.

L’indirizzo è sbagliato.
The address is wrong.

L’orso gioca.
The bear plays.

L’uomo vive a Londra.
The man lives in London.

L’hotel è enorme.
The hotel is huge.

ArticleNoun
L’albero
L’elefante
L’indirizzo
L’orso
L’uomo
L’hotel
ILgiovane albero

Now that we’ve seen how the Italian definite articles behave in the singular, let’s see how they work in the plural.


Masculine plural articles

There’s only two definite articles in Italian for masculine plural nouns: I and GLI.

Once you get accustomed to how the singular articles work you will have no problems deciding when to use i or gli for plural nouns, because…

  • nouns or adjectives that use il in the singular use i in the plural
  • nouns or adjectives that use either lo or l’ in the singular use gli in the plural

Remember!
IL > I
LO/L’ > GLI

Now let’s make some examples. The singular noun is provided in brackets.

I serpenti sibilano.
The snakes hiss.
(Il serpente)

I topi mangiano.
The mice eat.
(Il topo)

I libri sono brevi.
The books are short.
(Il libro)

Gli studi sono sporchi.
The studies are dirty.
(Lo studio)

Gli zoo sono grandi.
The zoos are big.
(Lo zoo)

Gli psicologi lavorano.
The psychologists work.
(Lo psicologo)

Gli alberi sono alti.
The trees are tall.
(L’albero)

Gli elefanti bevono.
The elephants drink.
(L’elefante)

Gli hotel sono enormi.
The hotels are huge.
(L’hotel)

I giovani alberi sono caduti.
The young trees have fallen.
(Gli alberi –> I giovani alberi)

brown snake hissing and baring its fangs
ArticleNoun
Iserpenti
Itopi
GLIzoo
GLIpsicologi
GLIelefanti
GLIalberi
Igiovani alberi

Il dio, which means the god, is irregular in the plural: gli dèi, the gods, instead of i dèi.

It’s now time to look at the Italian definite articles for feminine nouns. Let’s see them right away!


Feminine singular articles

The definite articles in Italian for feminine nouns are easy to learn. In the singular there’s only two of them: LA and L’.

When to use “la”

LA is used for any feminine nouns or adjectives beginning with:

  • a consonant
  • semivowel i/y/j
  • h
  • w

For example, a feminine noun such as lampada, lamp, will become la lampada, the lamp.

La lampada è accesa.
The lamp is on.

The noun iena translates to hyena and it begins with a semivowel i+vowel. So we’ll say la iena instead.

You don’t say: l’iena. It sounds hideous!

La iena ride.
The hyena laughs.

Hall is feminine, so we’ll say la hall.

La hall è affollata.
The hall is crowded.

And so forth for all other consonants: sedia, coperta, porta.

La sedia è rotta.
The chair is broken.

La coperta è di lana.
The blanket is made of wool.

La porta è aperta.
The door is open.

ArticleNoun
LAlampada
LAiena
LAhall
LAsedia
LAcoperta
LAporta

Now let’s see when you use l’, which is the contracted form of la.


When to use “l’ “

L’ is used in front of any feminine nouns or adjectives beginning with… you guessed it again, a vowel.

Always remember that the semivowel i/y/j behaves like a consonant!

Let’s see a few examples with A, E, I, O and U.

L’arancia è matura.
The orange is ripe.

L’erba è verde.
The grass is green.

L’isola è grande.
The island is big.

L’orma è profonda.
The footprint is deep.

L’unghia è ben curata.
The nail is well kept.

La migliore amica che abbia mai avuto!
The best female friend I’ve ever had!
(L’amica –> La migliore amica)

definite articles in italian - big islands - hawaii with turtles and dolphins

As always, remember that any Italian article needs to agree with the letter of the following word, be it a noun or an adjective.

ArticleNoun
L’arancia
L’erba
L’isola
L’orma
L’unghia
LAmigliore amica

Now for the easiest Italian definite article of all, le.


Feminine plural articles

You can’t really go wrong with these, as there’s only one article to choose from: LE.

When to use “le”

LE is used in combination with all plural feminine nouns and adjectives, no matter what letter they begin with.

Yes, it’s that simple.

So you have la lampada which becomes le lampade, la iena that turns into le iene. Or l’orma, the footprint, that becomes le orme, the footprints.

Le lampade sono accese.
The lamps are on.

Le coperte sono di lana.
The blankets are made of wool.

Le hall sono affollate.
The halls are crowded.

Le orme sono profonde.
The footprints are deep.

Le unghie sono ben curate.
The nails are well kept.

Le migliori amiche che abbia mai avuto!
The best friends I’ve ever had!

ArticleNoun
LElampade
LEcoperte
LEhall
LEorme
LEunghie
LEmigliori amiche

Phew! We saw all four types of Italian definite articles!

But knowing what articles are there is not that useful if you don’t know when to use them in a sentence. Do all nouns that are addressing a specific person or thing need a definite article, or can they do without it?

Keep reading and you’ll find out!


When to use the Italian definite articles

We already said that definite articles in Italian are used with a specific person or thing and groups of people/things. Let me elaborate a bit more on this. Consider the example:

Dogs are cute.

If you don’t already know, the Italian translation for dogs is cani.

Now, how would you translate dogs in this sentence? With or without a definite article?

Remember what you learned: Italian definite articles are also used for groups of things. Generic classes of people and things.

English nouns don’t need an article in this case. Italian nouns do.

I cani sono carini.
Dogs are cute.

You can’t say: cani sono carini.

Other examples are:

Non mi piacciono i gatti.
I don’t like cats.
(“I don’t like the cats“)

Gli ippopotami sono aggressivi.
Hippos are aggressive.
(“The hippos are aggressive“)

Gli Italiani sono allegri.
Italians are happy.
(“The Italians are happy“)

hippo with mouth wide open

These sentences don’t address a specific group of cats or hippos or Italian people, but all cats and hippos and Italian people as a general class.


Italian definite articles and possessives

Another BIG difference between the two languages is that Italian possessive adjectives and pronouns need to be preceded by an article. This is unheard of in English.

Il mio cane è carino.
My dog is cute.

That literally says The my dog is cute.

Questo è il mio cane.
This dog is mine.

And this says This is the my dog.

Other examples are:

La mia amica si chiama Giorgia.
My friend is called Giorgia.
(“The my friend“)

I tuoi genitori vivono a Roma.
Your parents live in Rome.
(“The your parents“)

Le nostre scarpe sono nere.
Our shoes are black.
(“The our shoes“)

One popular exception is relatives as a singular noun.

Mia zia ha 66 anni.
My aunt is 66 years old.

Mia mamma ha 42 anni.
My mom is 42 years old.

Mio cugino si chiama Andrea.
My cousin is called Andrea.

two children, one male and one female, playing

This exception doesn’t apply to plurals: i miei genitori, the my parents, i miei zii, the my uncles, i miei fratelli, the my brothers, and so on.


Italian definite articles with countries and geographical locations

Contrary to English, definite articles in Italian precede names for countries, regions and other places.

L’America è un continente.
America is a continent.

La Germania è una nazione.
Germany is a country.

La Lombardia si trova nel Nord Italia.
Lombardy is in North Italy.

Strangely enough, you won’t need to add an article with the preposition IN.

Mio cugino vive in America.
My cousin lives in America.

Quante persone vivono in Germania?
How many people live in Germany?


Italian definite articles with the days of the week

Like in English, weekdays don’t need an article before them.

In case you’re talking about one day in particular, however, you need to add an article when there’s an adjective before the day.

Sono andato al mare lunedì scorso.
I went to the seaside last Monday.
(No article, adjectives comes after)

Sono andato al mare lo scorso lunedì.
I went to the seaside last Monday.
(Needs an article, adjective comes before)


Telling the time

Italian definite articles are also used for telling the time.

Sono le tre del pomeriggio.
It’s 3 in the afternoon.
(“They are the 3 of the afternoon“)

Sono le nove di mattina.
It’s 9 in the morning.
(“They are the 9 of morning“)

Sono le otto di sera.
It’s 8 in the evening.
(“They are the 8 of evening“)

È l’una di notte.
It’s 1 am.
(“It’s the 1 of night“)

bridge at night

Italian definite articles for describing appearance

Definite articles in Italian are used to describe body parts.

Ho gli occhi marroni.
I have brown eyes.
(“I have the eyes brown“)

Ho i capelli biondi.
I have blonde hair.
(“I have the blonde hair“)

These differences aside, Italian definite articles behave much like the English definite article the. If you feel like using the in English, you should do so in Italian too. Just make sure you pick the correct article in Italian.

And that’s it with the Italian definite articles! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

Now that you know everything about the Italian definite articles, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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