1) "un francese e due svizzeri"
2) "uno svizzero e due francesi"
Do the bolded un and uno mean the same thing? If so, can 1) be rewritten this way:
3) "uno francese e due svizzeri"
If not, can anyone explain the difference between 1) and 3)?
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Feminine nouns pose almost no problem, because the indeterminate article is only una, that's subject to elision in front of vowels. On the other hand, with masculine nouns, the usage of un and uno reflects the usage of il and lo. If a word starts by “s” followed by a consonant (and the digraph “sc” also follows the rule), the articles for it must be “lo” and ”uno” (determinate and indeterminate). So the rest of the answer is about masculine nouns.
The same happens for words starting with “gn”, ”z”, ”ps”: uno gnocco, lo zio, lo psicologo. For pneumatico the standard should be “lo” and “uno”, but “il” and “un” are frequent. Also words starting with consonantic “i” want “lo” and ”uno” (iato = hyatus), although this is disputed and someone says l'iato.
The other words want “il” and ”un”. Thus, uno francese is not Italian. The usage of “lo” was more liberal in the past and you find lo duca mio in Dante's “Commedia”. You also find il zappatore in Leopardi's “Il sabato del villaggio”. For this, when I was at the elementary school, the teacher said licenza poetica, but the usage was not really consistent at the time the poem was written.
When foreign words are concerned, the situation is fluid. Somebody swears for l'whisky, other (I among them) say il whisky (Luciano Satta wrote about this defending “il” and “un” before whisky).
Dialects are of course different. In Veneto we commonly say il gnocco without any problem.
A different situation is when “uno” is a pronoun rather than an article. In this case the only form is uno. Thus, *ho tre amici stranieri, uno francese e due svizzeri“; the verbs è and sono are implicit and the complete sentence would be ho tre amici stranieri, uno è francese e due sono svizzeri.
Un is an elision of uno, which is used before words starting with vowel or consonant; uno is used with words starting with impure S, Z, X, gn, pn, ps. (Impure S is an S followed by a consonant.)
About uno svizzero and uno francese in ho due orologi, uno svizzero ed uno francese, that is not using the indefinite article, but it is using a numeral; it is similar to the following sentence.
Ho sei orologi: due francesi, uno russo e tre tedeschi.
Uno svizzero e un francese would be understood as referring to two people: a person from Switzerland and one from France.
They are both masculine but there are some rules to use both of them.
"Un" is used for any Italian nouns exept starting with z or s + consonant, for example
"Uno" is used for any nouns starting with z or s + consonant, for example
The answer to your question:
Difference between 1 and 3 is that 1 is correct because like I said,
un is used for any nouns except ending in z or s + consonant and the noun does not start with any of them. But for 3, it is incorrect because like I also said,
uno is used for nouns ending in z or s + consonant, so therefore 3 does not even exist!
For extra information, feminine nouns that begin with a vowel, you use
un', but for feminine nouns that begin with any consonant, you use