The Basics of Italian Sentence Structure and Word Order
The Italian sentence structure is similar to English, but with a few key differences. The good news isItalian follows the same sentence order as in English, which is:
SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT .
We call this pattern SVO, for simplicity.
The subject stands for who’s doing the action.
The verb is the action.
The object is who the action is being done to.
- Io compro una casa (I buy a house)
Io (I) is the subject, compro (buy) is the verb and casa (house) is the object.
- Tu parli italiano (you speak Italian)
Tu (you) is the subject, parli (speak) is the verb and italiano (italian) is the object.
Omitting the Subject Pronouns in Italian
And here’s where Italian differs from English.
The main difference with English is that Italian omits the subject pronouns.
What are the so-called subject pronouns?
In English, the subject pronouns are: I, you, he, she, it, they, and so on; in Italian, io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, loro.
In English, you’re compelled to use the subject pronouns when speaking.
For example, you would always say, “I work, she buys, we cook, etc.”
In Italian, however, we drop the subject pronouns that act as the subject in a sentence.
For example, in Italian we would say:
- Compro una casa , ([I] buy a house.) and not io compro una casa
- Cucina la pasta ([she/he] cooks the pasta) and not lui cucina la pasta
- Prendiamo una birra ([we] have a beer) and not noi prendiamo una birra
Omitting the subject pronouns is something you can’t do in English (you can’t just say “buy house,” or if you say so, it would simply become a command), but in Italian, it’s perfectly normal to omit the subject pronoun from the sentence.
That’s why we have to conjugate verbs. The conjugation is telling us who’s buying a house or cooking in the past, or, in general, who is carrying out an action in a sentence.
Conjugating a verb properly is the most important part when it comes to sentence building. In fact, the conjugation will give the direction of the sentence and will say who is carrying out the action and when and how the action is carried out (that’s why we have several verb forms).
If you don’t conjugate the verb correctly, it’s unclear who’s doing the action, don’t omit the pronoun. However, if the pronoun is essential to understanding the sentence, you should leave it in.
- Serena parla Italiano – Serena speaks Italian
The Position of Adjectives in Italian
Another main difference between English and Italian is that adjectives are placed before the noun in English, while in Italian they come after the noun. This means that when constructing sentences, it is important to remember to switch the word order.
- blu rose – rosa blu
- big house – grande case
- small table – piccolo tavolo
How to Make a Negative Sentence
To make a negative sentence in Italian, you can add the word “non” before the verb. For example, “parlo italiano” becomes “non parlo italiano” (I don’t speak Italiano).
The non is always placed at the beginning of a sentence.
- Non mangio carne – I don’t eat meat
- Non sono italiano – I’m non Italian
- Non mi piace – I don’t like it
How to Ask Questions in Italian
Where’s the station? How much is the coffee Where are you from? What’s time does the train leave?
These are all questions that you’ll likely need to ask when you are in Italy or speaking Italian, and so you’re going to need to understand the basics of how to ask questions.
In English, when it comes to asking a question, you either invert the verb and the subject or introduce the auxiliary Do, Did, Does at the beginning of the question. These patterns signal you’re asking a question and not making a regular statement.
- Are you from Rome? [inversion of the verb and subject]
- Do you live here? [questions starting with “do”]
In Italian, the way we ask questions is slightly different. First of all, we don’t invert the order of verb and subject, and we don’t have Do/Did/Does (so these bits are not translatable in Italian).
To ask a question in Italian, we simply raise the pitch of our voice toward the end and the order of the words in the questions is the same as in a regular statements
S+ V + O = subject + verb + object
- Do they speak Italian → [loro] parlano italiano?
- Do you come to dinner? – [tu] vieni a cena?
- Is she married? – [lei] è sposata?
Again, it’s crucial to conjugate the verbs correctly to get the direction of a question and to omit the subject object pronouns.
Asking Questions with the Interrogative Words
Sometimes we would introduce a question with an interrogative words such as Who/ What / When, etc..
In this case, we usually place the subject of the question at the end of the question. The pattern of this type of questions would be:
Interrogative word + Verb + Subject
- Com’è il cappuccino? – How is the cappuccino?
- A che ora parte il treno? – What time does the train leave?
- Quanto costa il biglietto? – How much is the ticket?
Common Italian Question Words
- Chi?- Who? Whom?
- Che?/Cosa?- What?
- Quando?- When?
- Dove?- Where?
- Perché?- Why?
- Come?- How?
- Qual/Quali?- Which?
- Quanto/a/i/e?- How much?
Master the Italian Word Order
What is a simple way to remember the order of sentence structure in Italian?
# 1 Keep in mind the S+V+O pattern.
# 2 Conjugate the verbs correctly; this is especially important for beginners. Real-life Italian sounds more complex than that, which is probably true, and the SVO is a simplified pattern of that language. All Italian sentences, though, have this structure, so if you choose the right verbs—even just those—your message will be understood. Other parts of the phrases run the risk of becoming redundant if the conjugation is incorrect because we are unsure of who is doing the action and who is receiving it.
#3 Read, read, read. Use Italian short stories or similar learning content. Reading will greatly improve your ability to construct sentences when speaking. Why? Easy Italian readers will expose you to the natural and fluid structure of words, verbs, and prepositions.