Italian indefinite articles

What are the Italian indefinite articles? English has two: a and an. Italian has four.

Un anello
A ring

Uno specchio
A mirror

Una bottiglia
A bottle

Un’ascia
An axe

italian indefinite articles - fantasy dwarf holding a double axe

How and when do you use the indefinite articles in Italian? In this lesson, you will find the answer to all these questions.

Let’s start with the explanation right away!


Indefinite articles in Italian

Italian indefinite articles are used to talk about a generic person or thing, or groups of people/things, and you will only find them in the singular.

All indefinite articles in Italian must be placed before the noun. If there is already an adjective before the noun, they go before it.

Un drago vola.
A dragon flies.

Una lepre salta.
A hare jumps.

Uno strano animale nuota.
A strange animal swims.

a blue dragon flying with its mouth open

Italian indefinite articles can be either masculine or feminine, depending on the gender of the noun they introduce.

If the noun is masculine, you must introduce it with a masculine indefinite article. If the noun is feminine, you must introduce it with a feminine indefinite article.

Before diving into each type of article, let’s look at all the possible Italian indefinite articles.

Article
Masculineun, uno
Feminineuna, un’

Drago is a masculine noun, so we have to use either un or uno, which are are the masculine indefinite articles.

Which article do you have to choose between these two? It depends on the noun.

You will find out why in the next section.

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Masculine articles

As you can see in the table above, Italian has 2 indefinite masculine articles: UN and UNO.

You choose one or the other depending on the first letter of the word that follows the article.

When to use “un”

UN is used before any masculine noun or adjective that begins with a vowel or a consonant. There are a few exceptions to this rule:

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

For example, a masculine noun like gatto, cat, becomes un gatto, a cat, because it begins with a g- and this consonant is not among our exceptions.

Un gatto gioca.
A cat plays.

The same thing holds true for many other nouns that begin with a consonant, such as topo, libro or divano.

Un topo squittisce.
A mouse squeaks.

Questo è un libro.
This is a book.

Vedo un divano.
I see a sofa.

Gestisco un hotel.
I manage a hotel.

Questo è un grande giorno.
This is a big day.

ArticleNoun
UNgatto
UNtopo
UNlibro
UNdivano
UNhotel
UNgrande giorno
dark grey mouse

Of course, it also holds true for all masculine nouns and adjectives that begin with one of the fine Italian vowels: A, E, I, O and U.

Vedo un asino.
I see a donkey.

Un orso dorme.
A bear sleeps.

Un uccello cinguetta.
A bird chirps.

ArticleNoun
UNasino
UNorso
UNuccello

However, a noun like specchio does not become un specchio because it begins with s+consonant (sp-), which is one of the exceptions to our rule. The same goes for scivolo (sh- sound), zaino (z) and pneumatico.

What about these nouns? Which article should we use? This is where “uno” comes in.


When to use “uno”

UNO is used in front of any masculine noun or adjective that begins with:

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

That’s right: these are the same exceptions to the “un” article!

That means specchio becomes uno specchio. And yogurt, which is a word that begins with a semi-vowel (i/y/j+vowel), will become uno yogurt and so on.

Ho rotto uno specchio.
I broke a mirror.

Ho uno zaino rosso.
I have a red backpack.

Conosco uno psicologo.
I know a psychologist.

Mangio uno yogurt.
I eat (a) yogurt.

Questo è uno stretto passaggio.
This is a narrow pathway.
(Un passaggio —> Uno stretto passaggio)

a silver mirror reflecting a figure

You would normally say un passaggio because passaggio begins with a p-, but we’ve seen that for each of the Italian indefinite articles you have to take into account the first letters of any word immediately following the article.

Stretto, narrow, starts with s+consonant. An adjective is still a word, right? 😉

If there is an adjective before a noun, you have to take into account the first letter of the adjective itself, not the first letter of the noun.

This is why we say: Un passaggio and uno stretto passaggio.

ArticleNoun
UNOspecchio
UNOzaino
UNOpsicologo
UNOyogurt
UNOstretto passaggio

Everything clear? Tutto chiaro? Perfetto! Now let’s see how the Italian feminine indefinite articles work.


Feminine articles

The indefinite articles in Italian for feminine nouns are easy to learn. Again, there are only two of them: UNA and UN’.

When to use “una”

UNA is used for any feminine noun or adjective that begins with:

  • a consonant
  • semi-vowel i/y/j
  • h
  • w

For example, a feminine noun like lampada, lamp, becomes una lampada, a lamp.

Compro una lampada.
I buy a lamp.

The noun iena translates to hyena and it begins with a semi-vowel i+vowel. So we’ll say una iena.

You don’t say: un’iena. It sounds terrible!

Una iena ride.
A hyena laughs.

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

L’hotel ha una hall gigantesca.
The hotel has a huge hall.

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

Mi siedo su una sedia.
I sit on a chair.

Mi serve una coperta.
I need a blanket.

Sono davanti a una porta.
I’m standing in front of a door.

ArticleNoun
UNAlampada
UNAiena
UNAhall
UNAsedia
UNAcoperta
UNAporta
italian indefinite articles - hyena approaching

Now let’s see when you use un’, which is basically the shortened form of una.


When to use “un’ “

UN’ is used in front of any feminine noun or adjective that begins with… you guessed it again, a vowel.

Always remember that the semi-vowel i/y/j behaves like a consonant!

Let’s look at some examples with A, E, I, O and U.

Un’arancia
An orange

Un’epoca
An age

Un’isola
An island

Un’orma
A footprint

Un’unghia
A nail

Una migliore amica
A best female friend
(Un’amica –> Una migliore amica)

ArticleNoun
UN’arancia
UN’epoca
UN’isola
UN’orma
UN’unghia
UNAmigliore amica

NEVER use un’ before a masculine noun or adjective that begins with a vowel.

Un amico, un elefante, un orco.
It’s never un’amico, un’elefante, un’orco.

Phew! We have seen all kinds of Italian indefinite articles!

But knowing which articles there are isn’t much use if you don’t know when to use them in a sentence. Do all nouns that refer to a generic person or thing need an indefinite article, or can they get by without one?

Read on and you’ll find out!


When to use the Italian indefinite articles

We have already said that indefinite articles in Italian are used with a generic person or thing. Let me explain this in more detail.

You use Italian indefinite articles to talk about things that haven’t been mentioned before.

Una bambina giocava in giardino.
A little girl was playing in the garden.

Qualcuno mi disse che la bambina si chiamava Anna.
Someone told me that the little girl was called Anna.

In the first sentence, we use the indefinite article because we are introducing an unknown element: a little girl. In the last sentence, we are talking about something we have already mentioned, the little girl, so we use a definite article instead. This behavior is also reflected in English.


Italian indefinite articles and job titles

Unlike English, you can omit the indefinite articles in Italian before a job title.

Sono avvocato.
I’m a lawyer.

Mio padre è contabile.
My father is an accountant.

employee working at a computer

Forms with an indefinite article are also valid.

Sono un avvocato.
I’m a lawyer.

Mio padre è un contabile.
My father is an accountant.

Beware of sentences with fare. You have to use a definite article with these!

Faccio il pilota per una compagnia aerea.
I’m a pilot for an airline company.


Indefinite articles and quantifiers

You don’t need to use any articles to translate the quantifiers a few (alcuni/qualche) and a lot of (molti).

La polizia arrivò alcuni minuti più tardi.
The police arrived a few minutes later.

Abbiamo bevuto molta birra ieri sera.
We drank a lot of beer last night.


Indefinite articles with numbers

Unlike English, Italian doesn’t use articles with cento, a hundred, and mille, a thousand.

La tazza si sfracellò in mille pezzi.
The mug shattered into a thousand pieces.

Neanche cento persone sono andate al concerto.
Not even a hundred people went to the concert.


Indefinite articles and what a…!

You don’t have to use an article in Italian with what a…! exclamations.

Che giornata!
What a day!

Che bella vista!
What a beautiful view!

Aside from these differences, the Italian indefinite articles behave very much like the English indefinite articles a/an. If you should use a/an in English, you should do so in Italian too. Just make sure you choose the correct article in Italian.

And that’s the end of our guide to the Italian indefinite articles! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

Now that you’ve seen how the Italian indefinite articles work, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

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