Italian Definite Articles

Use il, la, le, lo, gli and l’

Couple walking on sidewalk in Rome
Couple walking on sidewalk in Rome. CAphoto / Getty Images

In English, the definite article (l'articolo determinativo) has only one form: the. In Italian, on the other hand, l’articolo determinativo has different forms according to the gender, number, and even the first letter of the noun or adjective it precedes. It’s meant to indicate a precise, quantifiable object or person.

This makes learning definite articles a bit more complicated, but once you know the structure, it’s relatively simple to get used to.

  • il quaderno e la penna - the notebook and pen: In this example, the definite articles are “il” and “la.”

  • i ragazzi e le ragazze - the boys and girls: In this example, the definite articles are “i” and “le.”

Here's a table with the definite articles.

 

Singular

Plural

Masculine

il, lo, l'

i, gli

Feminine

la, l'

le

Sometimes the articles can be tricky to pronounce (especially “gli”), how each is pronounced.

 

When do you use definite articles?

Here is a list of general rules for when to use definite articles.

1. Lo (pl. gli) is used before masculine nouns beginning with s + consonant or z, like “lo zaino - the backpack” or “gli scoiattoli - the squirrels”.

You will also see “lo” being used with masculine nouns that begin with “gn,” like “lo gnomo.”

Here are some examples.

  • l'orologio—gli orologi >> watch—watches

  • l'amico—gli amici >> friend—friends

  • lo yoga - yoga

  • lo yogurt - yogurt

  • lo specchio—gli specchi >> mirror—mirrors

  • lo stadio—gli stadi >> stadium—stadiums

  • lo psicologo—gli psicologi >> psychologist—psychologists

  • lo zero—gli zeri >> zero—zeros

NOTE: there are a few exceptions:

  • il dio—gli dèi >> god—gods

  • per lo meno - at least

  • per lo più - mostly

2. Il (pl. i) is used before masculine nouns beginning with all other consonants, like “il cibo - the food” or “i vestiti - the clothes.”

3. L’ (pl. gli) is used before masculine nouns beginning with a vowel, like “l’aeroporto - the airport,”

4. La (pl. le) is used before feminine nouns beginning with any consonant, like “la borsa - the purse” or “le scarpe - the shoes.”

Here are some examples:

  • la stazione—le stazioni >> train station—train stations

  • la zia—le zie >> aunt—aunts

  • l'amica - her friend

  • l'automobile - the car

5. L’ (pl. le) is used before feminine nouns beginning with a vowel, like “l’amica - the friend” or “le donne - the women.”

The article agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies and is repeated before each noun.

  • la Coca–Cola e l’aranciata - the Coke and orangeade

  • gli italiani e i giapponesi - the Italians and the Japanese

  • le zie e gli zii - the aunts and uncles

  • le zie e il nonno - the aunts and the grandfather

The first letter of the word immediately following the article determines the article’s form.

Compare the following:

  • il giorno (the day) → l’altro giorno (the other day)

  • lo zio (the uncle) → il vecchio zio (the old uncle)

  • i ragazzi (the boys) → gli stessi ragazzi (the same boys)

  • l’amica (the girl friend) → la nuova amica (the new girl friend)

 

Tips When Using Definite Articles

In Italian, the definite article must always be used before the name of a language, except when the verbs parlare (to speak) or studiare (to study) come before the name of the language; in those cases, it's up to you whether you want to use it or not.

  • Studio l’italiano. - I study Italian.

  • Studio italiano e arabo. - I study Italian and Arabic.

  • Parlo italiano. - I speak Italian.

  • Parlo l’italiano e il russo. - I speak Italian and Russian.

  • Parlo bene l’italiano. - I speak Italian well.

The definite article is also used before to indicate a repeated, habitual activity.

  • Domenica studio. - I’m studying on Sunday. → Marco non studia mai la domenica. - Marco never studies on Sundays.

  • Il lunedì vado al cinema (ogni lunedì). - On Mondays, I go to the movies.

  • On Monday I go to the movies. (Every Monday)

  • Cosa fai di solito il giovedì? - What do you usually do on thursday evenings?
    Di solito vado a giocare a carte con i miei nonni -  On thursday, usually I go and play cards with my grandparents.

Finally, another common situation where the definite article is used is with telling the time.

Notice here though that the article is combined with a preposition making something called an articulated preposition.

  • Mi sono svegliato all’una. - I woke up at one.

  • Vado a scuola alle dieci. - I’m going to school at ten.

You can use it to indicate a category or a species in a generic sense:

  • Il cane è il miglior amico dell'uomo (tutti i cani). - Dog is man's best friend (all dogs).

  • L'uomo è dotato di ragione. - Man is endowed with reason. (To talk about “every man”)

Or to indicate a particular thing or an object:

  • Hai visto il film? (quel film) - Have you seen the movie? (that movie)

  • Hai visto il professore? - Have you seen the professor?

  • Mi hanno rubato il portafogli. - They stole my wallet.

  • Non trovo più le scarpe. - I can’t find my shoes.

You’ll also want to use it when preceding possessive pronouns:

  • L'auto di Carlo è nuova, la mia no. - Charles's car is new, but mine isn't.

Or with geographical destinations, like:

  • continents: l'Europa

  • countries: l'Italia

  • regions: la Toscana

  • large islands: la Sicilia

  • oceans: il Mediterraneo

  • lakes: il Garda

  • rivers: il Po

  • mountains: il Cervino (the Matterhorn)

And finally, with parts of the body:

  • Mi fa male la testa..—My head hurts.

 

Definite Articles with Names

Use definite articles with the last names of famous female celebrities:

  • la Garbo

  • la Loren

With all surnames in the plural:

  • i Verri

  • gli Strozzi

With nicknames and pseudonyms:

  • il Barbarossa

  • il Griso

  • il Canaletto

  • il Caravaggio

With proper names used without any specification:

Mario but: il signor Mario

With the last names of famous or well-known male characters, if not preceded by an adjective or title:

Mozart but: il grande Mozart

NOTE: There are instances in which the definite article is used, especially when referring to Italian writers:

  • il Petrarca

  • il Manzoni