Italian Nouns: Gender and Number

Learn how to choose the correct gender and number for nouns

View of beach umbrellas in Tropea, Calabria, Italy
View of beach umbrellas in Tropea, Calabria, Italy. Marco Casse' / Getty Images

When you start learning Italian grammar, you’ll hear one concept repeated over and over again and that’s: Everything in Italian must agree in gender and number.

Before you can do that though, you have to know what gender and number are in Italian.

All nouns in Italian have a gender (il genere); that is, they are either masculine or feminine, even those referring to things, qualities, or ideas.

This can be a strange concept to native English speakers as cars are often not thought of as being feminine (except to car aficionados) and dogs are not thought of as being masculine, like in Italian.

Generally, singular nouns ending in -o are masculine while nouns ending in -a are feminine. There are a number of exceptions, like il poeta - the poet, being masculine, but you can stick to the rule above when in doubt.

TIP: Most Italian nouns (i nomi) end in a vowel. Nouns that end in a consonant are of foreign origin.

Here are some examples of masculine and feminine nouns.

Masculine Nouns

  • Amico

  • Treno

  • Dollaro

  • Panino

Feminine Nouns

  • Amica

  • Bicicletta

  • Lira

  • Studentessa

The most important element to look for in order to determine the gender is the definite article, but you’ll notice that nouns ending in -e may be masculine or feminine, and like many of the lovely things you need to learn, the gender of these nouns must be memorized.

For example...

Masculine Nouns to Memorize

  • Studente

  • Ristorante

  • Caffè

Feminine Nouns to Memorize

  • Automobile

  • Notte

  • Arte

Nouns ending -ione are generally feminine, while nouns ending in -ore are almost always masculine.

televisione (f.)

television

attore (m.)

actor

nazione (f.)

nation

autore (m.)

author

opinione (f.)

opinion

professore (m.)

professor

What about the words like “bar” that end in a consonant?

Those nouns are usually masculine, like autobus, film, or sport.

Why Is “Cinema” Masculine?

You’ll start to notice that there are some words that would seem to be feminine, like “cinema”, since it ends in an -a, are actually masculine.

Why is that?

This happens because abbreviated nouns retain the gender of the words from which they are derived. In our example above, “cinema” comes from cinematografo, making it a masculine noun.

Other common words this affects are:

  • foto f. (from fotografia)

  • moto f. (from motocicletta)

  • auto f. (from automobile)

  • bici f. (from bicicletta)

Is It Singular or Plural?

Similar to English, Italian has a different ending when a noun is singular or plural. Unlike English, there are four possible endings instead of English’s one.

 

SINGOLARE

 

PLURALE

 

Nouns ending in:

-o

change to:

-i

 
 

-a

 

-e

 
 

-ca

 

-che

 
 

-e

 

-i

 

amico (m.) friend →

amici friends

studentessa (f.) → student

studentesse students

amica (f.) friend →

amiche friends

studente (m.) → student

studenti students

TIP: Nouns ending with an accented vowel or a consonant do not change in the plural, nor do abbreviated words.

  • Un caffè (one coffee) —> due caffè (two coffees)

  • Un film (one movie) —> due film (two movies)

  • Una foto (one photo) —> due foto (two photos)

Learning the gender and number of each noun takes practice, so don’t stress if you still make mistakes. Usually Italians will still be able to understand you, so just focus on expressing yourself and don’t worry about having perfect grammar.

The goal of learning a foreign language will always be connection instead of perfection.