Most common mistakes beginners make when speaking Italian

While coaching my students over the years, there are some mistakes that I keep hearing all the time, despite the Italian level of my students. If it is true that “one learns, by making mistakes”, it is also true repeating all the time the same errors might transform them in automated mistakes, aka called by me fossils. 

There is a shortlist of 6 of the most “popular” errors I hear all the time. Use it to review some of the fundamentals topics of Italian grammar! 

1. The use of the definite masculine articles il – lo and i – gli

Mixing “il” with “lot” or “i” with “gli” or even not using lo/gli, al all is a typical mistake amongst beginners learners of Italian.

Let’s refresh on the topic: 

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 use of definite articles with family names

Singular family names, such as, madre, sorella, cugino, nonna,  don’t use the definite articles. However, they do when they are used in their plural version.

  • Mia sorella  le mie sorelle
  • Mio cugino – i miei cugini
  • Mio nonno – i miei nonni 

There are a few exceptions to the rule, though. Some singular family names do use the definite articles. The usage of the possessive loro and an altered noun make an exception. 

Family names + loro

  • il loro nonno – their grandfather 
  • la loro cugina – their cousin 
  • la loro madre – their mother 

Family names +  altered nouns

  • la mia sorellina. – my little sister
  • il mio fratello – my little brother

3. Interchanging the prepositions A and IN with ANDARE

This is one of the most confusing grammar aspects of Italian. However, there are some easy rules to help you to opt for the correct preposition, the most evident ones are: 

WHEN TO USE THE PREPOSITIONS “A”

✔️with names of cities use the proposition A, 

✔️with names of small islands

✔️with nouns of places ending in – ia, e.g. pizzeria, macelleria, pasticceria, use the preposition IN 

WHEN TO USE THE PREPOSITIONS “IN”

✔️with names countries, regions, or states

✔️with names of big island

4. Choosing the correct auxiliary in compound tenses

The vast majority of the Italian verbs, use the auxiliary avere. However, a very limited amount of them, use the auxiliary essere. The best way to avoid any confusions is to memorize the list of the most common Italian verbs using essere as a helping verb, without thinking too much about why they use essere.

LIST OF VERBS USING “ESSERE” AS AN AUXILIARY 
  • venire
  • andare
  • tornare
  • rimanere
  • restare
  • arrivare
  • uscire
  • diventare
  • nascere 
  • morire
  • salire
  • scendere
  • cadere 

Don’t forget that all the reflexive verbs use essere in compound tenses.

5. Mixing the Imperfect Tense with the Present Perfect 

HOW TO USE THE IMPERFETTO IN ITALIAN 

✔️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” – “would” – “I was -ing” ) – Da bambina ero brava in matematica 

✔️to discuss two things at the same time –  Mentre studiavo, ascoltavo musicato

✔️to describe how a person was feeling – Ieri mi sentivo male, ieri avevo mal di test

✔️with the following time expressions when talking about a past action: da bambino, da piccolo, mentre, solitamente, ogni volta che

HOW TO USE THE PRESENT PERFECT IN ITALIAN

✔️to describe a non-repetitive action happened in a specific time in the past – Ieri sera sono andata al cinema

✔️when the action is concluded and you know exactly when it happened – Nel 2006 sono andata in vacanza ai Caraibi

6. The difference between GENTE and PERSONE

Both gente and persone mean people. The typical grammar mistake occurs with the usage of the word gente, which despite of its meaning, is a singular noun.

What does it mean?

It means that saying la gente sono gentili is wrong and saying that la gente è gentile, is correct.

The rule here is that the verb following  gente in always conjugated  the 3rd person singular, while if you use the word persone the verb can be  conjugated  the 3rd person plural. 

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I’m Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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