Forming the Plural of Italian Nouns

The Italian Sostantivi Plurali

Wine bottles in Val d'Orcia
Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

As you know, all nouns or sostantivi in Italian have an implicit gender—masculine or feminine, depending on their Latin root or other derivation—and that gender, together with their number—whether they are singular or plural—colors nearly everything else in the language, except, perhaps, for some verb tenses.

Of course, it is essential that you learn which nouns are feminine or masculine—or how to recognize them—and how to correctly make a singular noun into a plural.

How Does One Know?

Mostly—and you will see that there are some exceptions—nouns ending in -o are masculine and nouns ending in -a are feminine (and then there is the vast world of sostantivi in -e, which we discuss below). You know about -a and -o from proper names, if nothing else: Mario is a guy; Maria is a girl (though there are some exceptions there, too).

Vino, gatto, parco, and albero are masculine nouns (wine, cat, park, and tree); macchina, forchetta, acqua, and pianta are feminine (car, fork, water, and plant). Interestingly, in Italian most fruits are feminine—la mela (the apple), la pesca (the peach), l'oliva (the olive)—but fruit trees are masculine: il melo (the apple tree), il pesco (the peach tree), and l'ulivo (the olive tree).

This is not something you or anyone else decides or chooses: It just is.

Singular feminine nouns are accompanied by the definite article la, and singular masculine nouns by the definite article il or lo (those that get lo are those that begin with a vowel, with s plus a consonant, and with gn, z, and ps), and when you pluralize the noun, you must also pluralize the article: la becomes le, il becomes i, and lo becomes gli. The article, together with a series of other parts of speech in a sentence such as adjectives and pronouns, tell you if a noun is masculine or feminine. Alternatively, you need to look it up.

Pluralizing Masculine Nouns Ending in -O

Regularly, masculine nouns ending in -o become, in the plural, masculine nouns ending in -i.

Singolare Plurale  
l(o)'amico  gli amici  the friend/friends
il vino i vini the wine/wines
il gatto  i gatti the cat/cats
il parco  i parchi the park/parks
l(o)'albero  gli alberi the tree/trees
il tavolo i tavoli the table/tables
il libro  i libri the book/books
il ragazzo i ragazzi the boy/boys

-Co to -Chi and -Go to -Ghi

Note that amico becomes amici, but that is actually an exception (together with medico/medici, or doctor/doctors). In fact, most nouns that end in -co take -chi in the plural; most nouns that end in -go take -ghi in the plural. The insertion of the h keeps the hard sound in the plural.

Singolare Plurale  
il parco i parchi  the park/parks
il fuoco i fuochi the fire/fires
il banco i banchi the desk/desks
il gioco i giochi the game/games
il lago i laghi the lake/lakes
il drago  i draghi the dragon/dragons

Pluralizing Feminine Nouns Ending in -A

Regular feminine nouns that end in -a generally take an -e ending in the plural. With them, the article la changes to le.

Singolare Plurale  
l(a)'amica le amiche the friend/friends
la macchina le macchine the car/cars
la forchetta  le forchette the fork/forks
l(a)'acqua le acque  the water/waters
la pianta le piante the plant/plants
la sorella le sorelle the sister/sisters
la casa le case the house/houses
la penna le penne the pen/pens
la pizza le pizze the pizza/pizzas
la ragazza le ragazze the girl/girls

-Ca to -Che and -Ga to -Ghe

Feminine nouns in -ca and -ga pluralize for the most part to -che and -ghe:

Singolare Plurale  
la cuoca  le cuoche the cook/cooks
la banca  le banche the bank/banks
la musica le musiche the music/musics
la barca  le barche the boat/boats
la droga  le droghe the drug/drugs
la diga le dighe the dam/dams
la collega le colleghe the colleague/colleagues

-Cia to -Cie/-Gia to -Gie and -Cia to -Ce/-Gia to -Ge

Beware: Among female nouns there are some that end in -cia and -gia that pluralize in -cie and -gie

  • la farmacia/le farmacie (the farmacy/farmacies)
  • la camicia/le camicie (the shirt/shirts)
  • la magia/le magie (the magic/magics)

—but some lose the i in the plural (this happens generally if the i is not needed to maintain the word's accenting):

  • la lancia/le lance (the spear/spears)
  • la doccia/le docce (the shower/showers)
  • l'arancia/le arance (the orange/oranges)
  • la spiaggia/le spiagge (the beach/beaches)

Again, there is nothing wrong with looking up a plural while you are committing your new vocabulary to memory.

Pluralizing Nouns Ending in -E

And then there is a very large group of Italian nouns that end in -e that encompasses both masculine and feminine nouns, and that, regardless of gender, pluralize by taking the ending -i.

To know whether a word that ends in -e is feminine or masculine you can look at the article, if you have one available, or other clues in the sentence. If you are just learning a new noun in -e, you should look it up to find out. Some are counterintuitive: fiore (flower) is masculine!

Maschile
sing/plur
  Femminile
sing/plur
 
il mare/i mari the sea/seas l(a)'arte/le arti the art/arts
l(o)'animale/
gli animali
the animal/
animals
 
la neve/le nevi the snow/
snows
lo stivale/
gli stivali
the boot/
boots
la stazione/
le stazioni
the station/
stations
il padre/i padri the father/
fathers
la madre/le madri  the mother/
mothers
il fiore/i fiori the flower/
flowers
la notte/le notti the night/nights
il bicchiere/
i bicchieri
the glass/
glasses
la stagione/
le stagioni
the season/
seasons
il colore/i colori the color/
colors
la prigione/le prigioni the prison/
prisons

Within this group it is helpful to know, for example, that all words ending in -zione are feminine:

  • la nazione/le nazioni (the nation/nations)
  • l(a)'attenzione/le attenzioni (the attention/attentions)
  • la posizione/le posizioni (the position/positions)
  • la dominazione/le dominazioni (the domination/dominations)

Male/Female Variations Within -O/-A Endings

Note the ragazzo/ragazza nouns in the tables above: There are many such nouns that have a feminine version and a male version with a mere change of the o/a ending (and, of course, the article):

Maschile
sing/plur
Femminile
sing/plur
 
l(o)'amico/
gli amici
l(a)'amica/le amiche the friend/friends
il bambino/
i bambini
la bambina/le bambine the child/children
lo zio/gli zii la zia/le zie the uncle/uncles/
aunt/aunts
il cugino/
i cugini
la cugina/le cugine the cousin/cousins
il nonno/i nonni la nonna/le nonne the grandfather/
grandfathers/
grandmother/
grandmothers
il sindaco/
i sindaci
la sindaca/le sindache the mayor/mayors

There are also nouns that are identical in the singular for male and female (only the article tells you the gender)—but in the plural change ending to suit the gender:

Singolare (masc/fem)   Plurale
(masc/fem)
 
il barista/la barista the bartender i baristi/le bariste the bartenders
l(o)'artista/la artista the artist gli artisti/le artiste the artists
il turista/la turista the tourist i turisti/le turiste the tourists
il cantante/la cantante the singer  i cantanti/le cantanti the singers
l(o)'abitante/la abitante the inhabitant gli abitanti/le abitanti the inhabitants
l(o)'amante/la amante the lover  gli amanti/le amanti the lovers

Male/Female Counterparts in -E

There are also male nouns in -e that have similar female counterparts:

  • lo scultore/la scultrice (the sculptor masc/fem)
  • l(o)'attore/la attrice (the actor masc/fem)
  • il pittore/la pittrice (the painter masc/fem)

When they pluralize, they and their articles follow normal patterns for their genders:

  • gli scultori/le scultrici (the sculptors masc/fem)
  • gli attori/le attrici (the actors masc/fem)
  • i pittori/le pittrici (the painters masc/fem)

Strange Behaviors

Many, many Italian nouns have eccentric ways of pluralizing:

Masculine Nouns Ending in -A

There are a number of masculine nouns that end in -a and pluralize in -i:

  • il poeta/i poeti (the poet/poets)
  • il poema/i poemi (the poem/poems)
  • il problema/i problemi (the problem/problems)
  • il papa/i papi (the pope/popes)

Masculine Nouns in -O That Pluralize in the Feminine

These pluralize in what appears to be a singular feminine with a plural article:

  • Il dito/le dita (the finger/fingers)
  • Il labbro/le labbra (the lip/lips)
  • Il ginocchio/le ginocchia (the knee/knees)
  • Il lenzuolo/le lenzuola (the sheet/sheets)

Il muro (the wall) has two plurals: le mura to mean the walls of a city, but i muri to mean the walls of a house.

The same for il braccio (the arm): le braccia to mean the arms of a person, but i bracci for the arms of a chair.

Feminine Nouns in -O

A tiny but important category of exceptions, both in the singular and the plural:

  • la mano/le mani (the hand/hands)
  • la eco (l'eco)/gli echi (the echo/echoes)

Masculine Nouns Ending in -Io

In the plural, these just drop the final -o:

  • il bacio/i baci (the kiss/kisses)
  • il pomeriggio/i pomeriggi (the afternoon/afternoons)
  • lo stadio/gli stadi (the stadium/stadiums)
  • il viaggio/i viaggi (the trip/trips)
  • il negozio/i negozi (the store/stores)

Words of Foreign Origin

Words of foreign origin stay unchanged in the plural (no s); only the article changes.

  • il film/i film (the film/films)
  • il computer/i computer (the computer/computers)
  • il bar/i bar (the bar/bars)

Accented Words

Words that end in accento grave stay unchanged in the plural; only the article changes.

  • il caffè/i caffè (the coffee/coffees)
  • la libertà/le libertà (the freedom/freedoms)
  • l(a)'università/le università (the university/universities)
  • il tiramisù/i tiramisù (the tiramisù/tiramisù)
  • la città/le città (the city/cities)
  • il lunedì/i lunedì (that goes for all accented days of the week)
  • la virtù/le virtù (the virtue/virtues)
  • il papà/i papà (the dad/the dads) (this is also a male noun ending in -a)

Invariable Unaccented

Some other words (including monosyllabic words) remain unaltered in the plural; again, only the article changes.

  • il re/i re (the king/kings)
  • il caffelatte/i caffelatte (the latte/lattes)
  • l'euro/gli euro (the euro/euros)

Nouns of Greek Origin

These change only in the article (interestingly they change in English in the plural):

  • la nevrosi/le nevrosi (the neurosis/neuroses)
  • la analisi/le analisi (the analysis/analyses)
  • la crisi/le crisi (the crisis/crises)
  • la ipotesi/le ipotesi (the hypothesis/hypotheses)

Miscellaneous Exceptions

  • il bue/i buoi (the ox/oxen)
  • il dio/gli dei (the god/gods)
  • lo zio/gli zii (the uncle/uncles)

And best of all:

  • l'uovo/le uova (the egg/eggs)
  • l'orecchio/le orecchie (the ear/ears)
  • l'uomo/gli uomini (the man/men)

Buono studio!