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 an 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 find them only in the singular.

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

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 relate to.

If the noun is masculine, you have to introduce it with a masculine indefinite article. If the noun is feminine, you will need to add a feminine indefinite article.

Before diving into each kind of article, let’s write down all possible Italian indefinite articles in a table.

Article
Masculineun, uno
Feminineuna, un’

Drago is a masculine noun, so we will need to use either un or uno as these are the masculine indefinite articles.

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

Find out why in the next section.


Masculine articles

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

You choose either depending on the beginning letter of the word following the article.

When to use “un”

UN is used before any masculine nouns or adjectives beginning with a vowel or 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

For example, a masculine noun such as gatto, cat, will become un gatto, a cat, because it begins with a g- and this consonant is not featured in our exceptions.

Un gatto gioca.
A cat plays.

The same thing applies to many other nouns beginning 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

And of course, all masculine nouns and adjectives beginning 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

A noun like specchio, however, will not become un specchio as it begins with 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’s up with these nouns? What article do we have to use? This is where “uno” comes into the picture.


When to use “uno”

UNO 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 “un” article!

That means specchio will become uno specchio. And yogurt, which is a word that begins with a semivowel (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 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 any of the Italian indefinite articles you have to take into account the beginning letters of any word following the article.

Stretto, narrow, begins with 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.

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

ArticleNoun
UNOspecchio
UNOzaino
UNOpsicologo
UNOyogurt
UNOstretto passaggio

All 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’s only two of them: UNA and UN’.

When to use “una”

UNA 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 una lampada, a lamp.

Compro una lampada.
I buy a lamp.

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

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

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 forth for all 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 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 contracted form of una.


When to use “un’ “

UN’ 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.

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

In academic writing, una is sometimes used even before nouns beginning with a vowel.

Una amica, una epica, una isola.

In everyday language, stick to un’.

NEVER use un’ in front of a masculine noun or adjective beginning with a vowel.

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

Phew! We saw all types of Italian indefinite 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 generic person or thing need an indefinite article, or can they do without it?

Keep reading and you’ll find out!


When to use the Italian indefinite articles

We already said that indefinite articles in Italian are used with a generic person or thing. Let me elaborate a bit more on this.

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


Italian indefinite articles and job positions

Unlike English, indefinite articles in Italian can be omitted before introducing a profession.

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 perfectly valid, too.

Sono un avvocato.
I’m a lawyer.

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

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

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


Indefinite articles and quantifiers

You don’t have 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 any article with cento, a hundred, and mille, a thousand.

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

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


Indefinite articles and what a…!

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

What a day!
Che giornata!

What a beautiful view!
Che bella vista!

These differences aside, Italian indefinite articles behave much like the English indefinite articles a/an. If you feel like using a/an 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 indefinite articles! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

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

Liked this lesson on the Italian indefinite articles? Don’t forget to share it with your friends who are also studying Italian! Help spread the Italian word!

Leave a Comment