Read this page, then try this practice.
A noun (il nome / il sostantivo) can be a person, place, object, or idea. Examples of English nouns are boy, Italy, pen, car, and love. In Italian, all nouns have a gender, masculine or feminine. The noun’s gender determines the forms of other words nearby, such as articles and adjectives. Nouns appear in singular or plural forms. The number of a noun influences not only the choice of article and adjective ending, but sometimes the form of the verb as well.
Gender (il genere)
All Italian nouns have a gender.
- Most Italian nouns ending in -o are masculine (e.g. ragazzo, albergo, vino).
- Most Italian nouns ending in -a are feminine (e.g. penna, signora, scuola).
- Nouns ending in -e are in some cases masculine (e.g. amore, sole, signore) and in other cases feminine (e.g. automobile, stazione, carne). There is some predictability (see tips below), but in most cases it is difficult to guess the gender of the members of this class of nouns. It is good practice to learn the gender when you learn the meaning of each new noun ending in -e. Include a gender notation (m. or f.) for these nouns, and test yourself regularly.
- Nouns ending in a consonant (e.g. -m, -t, -r) are imports from other languages and are masculine (e.g. film, sport, computer).
- Nouns ending in -zione or -sione are typically feminine (e.g. stazione, decisione, lezione).
- Some common nouns are abbreviations of longer ones (e.g. foto from fotografia). These abbreviated nouns carry the gender of their longer version (hence, la foto even though foto ends in -o.)
- Many nouns ending in -ma (of Greek derivation) are masculine, despite the -a at the end (e.g. programma, tema, sistema and problema).
✽ You will come across exceptions, so called non-standard nouns, as you learn more Italian. For practice with these nouns, click here (forthcoming).
Plurals (i plurali)
Singular nouns can be made plural according to predictable rules. Check out this chart to understand these transformations:
As you can see, nouns ending in -o in the singular (generally masculine), end in -i in the plural, and nouns ending in -a in the singular (generally feminine), end in -e in the plural. Nouns ending in -e in the singular end in -i in the plural regardless of gender.
✽ Common exceptions:
Abbreviated nouns, nouns ending in a consonant, nouns ending in -i, and nouns ending in an accented vowel do not change their forms. For example:
Nouns that end in -ca and -ga insert an -h in the plural, in order to preserve the sound of the singular form. Most nouns that end in -co with a stress on the second-to-last syllable insert the same -h, as do most nouns ending in -go. For example:
Politico (politician) carries the stress on the third-to-last syllable, so it does not insert an -h in the plural; thus the sound changes.
✽ You will soon come across a few nouns with very irregular plurals, for example:
|uomo (man)||uomini (men)|
You cannot avoid using this noun and other common irregular nouns like it, so add it and others with irregular plurals to your vocabulary list or flashcards.