HOW TO USE THE (DEFINITE) ARTICLES IN ITALIAN
Building solid foundations is key in every foreign language you learn. Mastering the nitty-gritty of the basics will be your pathway to fluency, promise. That’s why today, we’ll cover the Italian definites (articoli determinativi) and especially, when using them and when not, and key difference with the English “the”
That’s one of those topics to master, and you know why? Because Italian throws in articles all the time with a few exceptions along the way.
Gli articoli indeterminativi (definite article)
The so-called articoli determinativi or definite articles is what in English is “the”.
In Romance languages and Italian, “the” takes different forms depending on the gender and number of the noun the article is preceding.
In Italian, all nouns (with few exceptions) use articles before. It’s a general rule.
- Il gatto – the cat
- La casa – the house
- I giardini – the gardens
- Gli amici – the friends
Articles can be masculine or feminine, singular or plural.
Articles can take different forms depending on the noun they are preceding.
Read the chart to understand how to use what.
When to use the definite articles
Italian puts articles in front of most of the nouns, with few exceptions, as in the following list.
When articles are not used in Italian
We don’t use articles in front of names of cities
- Palermo, Napoli, Roma, Venezia
We don’t use definite articles in front of singular nouns of family preceded by possessive adjectives. However, you should use them for the plural nouns family.
- mio fratello – i miei fratelli
- mia cugina – le mie cugine
- mio zio – i miei zii
We don’t use definite articles before names of people (Anna, Maria, Marco). However, in the North of Italy, it’s common to use them in a colloquial form of Italian.
- Anna (standard Italian)
- La Anna (colloquial northern Italian, northern dialects)
We don’t use definite articles in front of names of famous people.
- Dante è padre fondatore della lingua italiana
We don’t use articles in front of small islands. Instead, we use them in front of big islands or for groups of islands.
- Capri (small island)
- Malta (small island)
- La Sicilia (big island)
- La Sardegna (big island)
- Le Eolie (the Aeolian Islands)
- Le Canarie (the Canary Islands)
When definite articles are used in Italian but NOT in English
Unlike English, we use articles with possessive adjectives:
- la mia famiglia – my family
- la mia casa – my house
- il mio cane – my dog
Unlike English, Italian uses articles in front of abstract nouns.
- l’amore – love
- l’amicizia – friendship
- la pace – peace
Unlike English, definite articles are used with titles
- La Professoressa Rossi – Professor Rossi
- Il signor Franchi – Mr. Franchi
However, you should omit the article if you are speaking to someone directly. For instance,
- Buongiorno, Dottor Rossi!
Unlike English, we use definite articles when saying the time
- sono le 8 e mezza – it’s 8.30
Unlike English, we use articles with clothes and parts of the body or, in other words, we don’t use the definite article if you are using reflexive verbs before.
- Mi pettino i capelli – I brush my hair
- Mi metto le scarpe – I put on shoes
Unlike English, Italian uses the articles in dates.
- Oggi è il 14 aprile 2021 – today is April 14th
However, we don’t use it if we mention the day of the week
- Oggi è mercoledì 14 aprile 2021
Unlike English, Italian uses the article in front of geographic terms, such as countries, islands, seas, lakes, mountains, volcanos or rivers.
- L’Italia – Italy
- La Sicilia – Sicily
- Il Lago di Como – Lake Como
- L’Etna – Etna Mt.
- Il Monte Bianco – Mont Blanc
- Il Tevere – the Tiber
However, definite articles are omitted when the prepositions IN or DI precede the name of the country or islands and the like. You should also omit the article if you are using the verb andare with names of places.
- Abito in Sicilia and NOT abito in la Sicilia
- Vado in Italiia and NOT vado in la Itala