5 most common mistakes beginners make when speaking Italian

Here is a list of the 5 most common grammatical mistakes that beginners/intermediate students tend to make when speaking Italian.

1- The use of the definite masculine articles  IL – LO and I – GLI.

LO is used instead of IL before singular nouns starting with s + consonant, ps, gn, x, y, z.

GLI is used instead of I before plural nouns starting with a vowel or s + consonant, ps, gn,x, y, x.

2- The definite articles and family names. Family names in the singular do not need the definite articles. However, they do in the plural.

Example: Mia sorella Martina – Le mie sorelle Martina e Lavinia.

There are a few exceptions to the rule though. The family names in the singular take the definite article with/when:

  • The pronoun loro -> il loro nonno
  • the noun is accompanied by an adjective -> la mia cara mamma
  • a modified noun -> la mia sorellina, il mio figliolo

3- The preposition of place A and IN and the verb ANDARE. This is one of the more confusing grammar aspects of the Italian language, however, there are a few tricks to help you opt for the correct preposition. E.g. when it comes to names of cities you need to use the proposition A, whilst it comes to countries you need to use the preposition IN. Islands have its own rule: big islands take the preposition IN (vado in Sicilia) whilst smaller island would take the proposition  A (vado a Cuba, vado a Porto Rico). Check out my post about this topic to find out more about the use of In and A.

4- Choosing the correct auxiliary when it comes to using a compound tense.

verbs of movement take the auxiliary essere (partire, uscire, tornare, venire…)

reflexive and pronominal verbs (svegliarsi, alzarsi, arrabbiarsi..)

stative verbs (tare, rimanere, restare…)

verbs of transformation (nascere, morire, diventare…)


5 – The use of the Imperfect Tense (Imperfetto) vs the use of the Present perfect (Passato Prossimo)

The imperfect is used:

  • to describe the ongoing status of people, object and places or a habit or repetitive action in the past (in English you could use ‘used to’ or ‘would’) -> Da bambina ero brava in matematica .
  • to discuss two things at the same time -> Mentre studiavo, ascoltavo musica
  • to describe how a person was feeling -> Ieri mi sentivo male

The imperfect tense is often used with the following expressions: da bambino, da piccolo, mentre, quando ero..

The Present Perfect is used:

  • To describe a NON-repetitive action happened in a specific time in the past.-> Ieri sera sono andata al cinema.

It is often accompanied by the following adverbs of time or expressions: una volta, due anni fa questa mattina, ieri sera, qualche giorno fa…