Definite Article

Italian definite articles
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Articolo definito

The Italian definite article indicates either a particular noun or, contrarily, the general sense of a noun.

Per esempio…

Vedo i koala.   I see the koalas.
L’auto è dietro la casa.   The car is behind the house.

Characteristics of definite articles

  1. Used with countable and uncountable nouns
  2. Placed directly in front of a noun or an adjective + noun
  3. Agree with the noun in gender and number
  4. Contract with many prepositions

Italian definite articles

    Masculine   Feminine
singular   il, lo, l’   la, l’
plural   i, gli   le

+ There are four singular definite articles:

  1. Masculine: il
  2. Masc + complex sound: lo
  3. Feminine: la
  4. Contracted (masc or fem + vowel): l’

+ There are three plural definite articles:

  1. Masculine: i
  2. Masc + impure consonant*: gli
  3. Feminine: le

When definite articles follow certain prepositions, the words must contract – more about this in a future lesson.

Using definite articles

Italian definite articles are used similarly to their English counterpart, "the," to talk about specific, identified nouns.

Per esempio…

La strada è bloccata.   The road is blocked.
Ho visitato il museo.   I visited the museum.
I nuovi libri sono fantastici.   The new books are great.

  However, there are many instances where a definite article is required in Italian but not English.

1) Multiple nouns

When there’s more than one noun, Italian requires a definite article in front of each one.

Il cane e il gatto vanno d’accordo.   The dog and cat get along well.
Ho comprato le penne e le matite che ti piacciono.   I bought the pens and pencils you like.

2) General sense

Definite articles are used to talk about a noun or group of nouns in a general sense:

L’acqua è essenziale per la vita.   Water is essential to life.
Mi piacciono le cipolle ma non l’aglio.   I like onions but not garlic.
Gli insegnanti lavorano molto.   Teachers work a lot.

3) Topics and Issues

Abstractions, politics, school subjects, languages* – all need a definite article in Italian:

I soldi non possono comprare la felicità.   Money can’t buy happiness.
L’ecologia è un argomento importante.   Ecology is an important subject.
Non mi piace la matematica.   I don’t like math.
Sto imparando il greco.   I’m learning Greek.

* Except after the verbs parlare, studiare, and insegnare, when the definite article is optional: Parlo greco / Parlo il greco.

4) Geography

Continents, countries, regions

Voglio visitare l’Italia.   I want to visit Italy.
Ho familiarità con l’Alsazia.   I’m familiar with Alsace.

5) Possession

Several possessive constructions require the definite article in Italian.

a) In front of the owned noun in the possessive di construction

I figli di Daniel   Daniel’s kids
Il libro di mamma   Mom’s book

b) With possessive adjectives and pronouns

I miei genitori vivono a Mentone, e i tuoi?   My parents live in Menton, what about yours?
Ecco la sua borsa, ma sto ancora cercando la mia.   Here’s his bag, but I’m still looking for mine.

c) With parts of the body

The definite article is used instead of possessive adjectives with parts of the body.

Mi sto lavando i capelli.   I’m washing my hair.
Ti fa male la testa?   Does your head hurt?

6) Time and Date

Some references to time and date need a definite article.

a) Specific dates

È il 5 maggio.   It’s May 5.
Lo visiteremo il 17 ottobre.   We’re going to visit it on October 17.

b) Vague periods of time

Li ho visti la scorsa settimana.   I saw them last week.
Visiteremo Napoli il prossimo anno.   We’re going to visit Naples next year.

c) Habitual actions with days of the week and times of day

Cucino il venerdì.   I cook on Fridays.
Non lavora la mattina.   He doesn’t work in the morning(s).

 However, one-time actions with days of the week or times of day do not take a definite article.

Ho cucinato venerdì.   I cooked on Friday.
Non lavora stamattina.   He’s not working this morning.

7) Title and name

When talking about a person using a title and name, the title needs an article:

Conosco il ministro Rossi.   I know Minister Rossi.
La presidente Moretti è arrivata.   Chairwoman Moretti has arrived.

However, when addressing a person, there’s no article:

Salve, ministro Rossi.   Hello, Minister Rossi.
Grazie, presidente Moretti.   Thank you, Chairwoman Moretti.

8) Fare with professions

Faccio lo scrittore.   I’m a writer.
Vuole fare l’avvocato.   He wants to be a lawyer.

 Related lesson

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Definite articles in Italian