Italian Definite Article Forms

Forme dell'Articolo Determinativo

The Italian definite article (articolo determinativo) indicates something well defined, which is assumed to be already acknowledged.

If, for example, someone asks: Hai visto il professore? (Have you seen the professor?) they are alluding not to any professor, but to one in particular, that both the speaker and listener know.

The definite article is also used to indicate a group (l'uomo è dotato di ragione, that is, "ogni uomo"—man is endowed with reason, "every man"), or to express the abstract (la pazienza è una gran virtù—patience is a great virtue); to indicate parts of the body (mi fa male la testa, il braccio—my head hurts, my arm), to refer to objects that belong strictly to oneself mi hanno rubato il portafogli, non trovo più le scarpe—they stole my wallet, I cannot find my shoes), and is also used with nouns that signify something unique in nature (il sole, la luna, la terra—the sun, the moon, the earth) and the names of materials and matter (il grano, l'oro—wheat, gold).

In certain contexts the Italian definite article functions as a demonstrative adjective (aggettivo dimostrativo): Penso di finire entro la settimana—I think I'll finish by the end of the week (or "later this week"); Sentitelo l'ipocrita!—Listen to him the hypocrite! (this hypocrite!) or a demonstrative pronoun (pronome dimostrativo): Tra i due vini scelgo il rosso—Between the two wines I choose the red, (the one that's red); Dei due attori preferisco il più giovane—Of the two actors I prefer the younger (the one that's younger).

The Italian definite article may also refer to individual members of a group: Ricevo il giovedì—I receive it Thursday (every Thursday); Costa mille euro il chilo (or al chilo)—It costs a thousand euro a kilogam (per kilogram), or time: Partirò il mese prossimo.—I'm leaving next month (in next the month).

Italian Definite Article Forms
Il, i
The form il precedes masculine nouns beginning with a consonant except s + consonant, z, x, pn, ps, and the digraphs gn and sc:

il bambino, il cane, il dente, il fiore, il gioco, il liquore
the child, the dog, the tooth, the flower, the game, the liquor

The corresponding form for the plural is i:

i bambini, i cani, i denti, i fiori, i giochi, i liquori
the children, the dogs, the teeth, the flowers, the games, the liqueurs

Lo (l'), gli
The form lo precedes masculine nouns that begin:

  • with s followed by another consonant:

lo sbaglio, lo scandalo, lo sfratto, lo sgabello, lo slittino, lo smalto, lo specchio, lo studio
the mistake, the scandal, the evicted, the stool, the sled, the enamel, the mirror, the office

  • with z:

lo zaino, lo zio, lo zoccolo, lo zucchero
the backpack, the uncle, the clog, the sugar

  • with x:

lo xilofono, lo xilografo
the xylophone, the engraver

  • with pn and ps:

lo pneumatico, lo pneumotorace; lo pseudonimo, lo psichiatra, lo psicologo
the tire, the collapsed lung, the pseudonym, the psychiatrist, the psychologist

  • with the digraphs gn and sc:

lo gnocco, lo gnomo, fare lo gnorri; lo sceicco, lo sceriffo, lo scialle, lo scimpanzé
the dumpling, the gnome, to play dumb; the sheikh, the sheriff, the shawl, the chimpanzee

  • with the semivowel i:

lo iato, lo iettatore, lo ioduro, lo yogurt
the hiatus, the evil eye, the iodide, the yogurt

NOTE: Nevertheless, there are variations, especially before the consonant cluster pn; for example, in contemporary spoken Italian il pneumatico tends to prevail over lo pneumatico. Also, before the semivowel i the use is not constant; in addition to lo iato there is l'iato, but the elided form is less common.

When preceding the semivowel u, it's necessary to distinguish between Italian words, which take the article lo in the elided form (l'uomo, l'uovo), and words of foreign origin, which take the form il:

il week-end, il whisky, il windsurf, il walkman, il word processor
the weekend, the whiskey, the windsurfer, the Walkman, the word processor.

With plural nouns the forms gli (gli uomini) and i (i walkman, i week-end) are used respectively.

For words starting with h use lo (gli, uno) when preceding an aspirated h:

lo Hegel, lo Heine, lo hardware
the Hegel, the Heine, the hardware.

And use l' when preceding a non-aspirated h:

l'habitat, l'harem, l'hashish
the habitat, the harem, the hashish.

NOTE: In contemporary colloquial Italian there is a preference for the elided form in all cases, since even foreign words with an aspirated h (for example the aforementioned hardware, as well as hamburgers, handicap, hobbies, etc.) usually have an Italianized pronunciation in which the h is muted.

However, in adverbial phrases the form lo (instead of il) is common: per lo più, per lo meno, corresponding to the use of the definite article in early Italian.

  • The form lo also precedes masculine nouns that begin with a vowel, but in this instance it is elided to l':

l'abito, l'evaso, l'incendio, l'ospite, l'usignolo
the dress, the fugitive, the fire, the guest, the nightingale.

As previously noted, before the semivowel i there is typically no elision.

  • The form corresponding to lo in the plural is gli:

gli sbagli, gli zaini, gli xilofoni, gli (or also i) pneumatici, gli pseudonimi, gli gnocchi, gli sceicchi, gli iati, gli abiti, gli evasi, gli incendi, gli ospiti, gli usignoli

NOTE: Gli can only be elided before i: gl'incendi (but more frequently the entire form is used). The gli form is used instead of i before the plural of dio: gli dèi (in obsolete Italian gl'iddei, plural of iddio).

La (l'), le
The form la precedes feminine nouns starting with a consonant or the semivowel i:

la bestia, la casa, la donna, la fiera, la giacca, la iena
the beast, the house, the woman, the fair, the jacket, the hyena.

Before a vowel la is elided to l':

l'anima, l'elica, l'isola, l'ombra, l'unghia
the soul, the propeller, the island, the shadow, the fingernail.

The form corresponding to la in the plural is lei:

le bestie, le case, le donne, le fiere, le giacche, le iene, le anime, le eliche, le isole, le ombre, le unghie
the animals, the houses, the women, the fairs, the jackets, the hyenas, the souls, the propellers, the islands, the shadows, the nails.

Le may be elided only before the letter e (but this happens rarely, and almost always as a stylistic device in poetry): l'eliche—the propellers.

With nouns starting with h, unlike the masculine form, the non-elided form predominates: la hall—the hall, la holding—the holding company.

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Filippo, Michael San. "Italian Definite Article Forms." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, Filippo, Michael San. (2020, January 29). Italian Definite Article Forms. Retrieved from Filippo, Michael San. "Italian Definite Article Forms." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).