Why are articles used before so many nouns in Italian? I know Italian is not English, I'm just curious the reasoning behind using an article before nouns, what utility does it serve?

  • Could you be more precise? Do you mean proper or common nouns? Could you provide some explicit example of the phenomenon you are curious about?
    – DaG
    Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 21:18
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    I guess you refer to the fact that in phrasing you question in Italian we'd say something like «Perché in italiano si usano gli articoli davanti a tanti nomi. So che l'italiano non è l'inglese» etc. Is this right? If so, it would be quite hard to give you an answer. Just think: «Why are articles used before so few nouns in English? I know English is not Italian, I'm just curious the reasoning behind not using an article before nouns, what utility does it serve?»
    – DaG
    Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 21:24
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    Italian definite articles are "il", "lo", "la", "i", "gli", "le". They respectively come from Latin "ille", "illum", "illa", "illi", "illi", "illae", meaning "that one". You use these to identify more precisely the object of your sentence. Does this answer your question?
    – user193
    Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 22:55
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    ^ I think that's what I was getting at. @DaG I mean, I'd be happy with the question about English, why don't we use so many articles. I guess it is just because there is an implied specificity that Italian just makes direct.
    – user679
    Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 23:02
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    I don't think there's an answer for this :D. It's just our language, and there are also differences from region to region. For example in the north east the article is placed in front of women's first name. For example "vai a chiamare Giulia" becomes "vai a chiamare la Giulia" Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 8:37

2 Answers 2


Italian Articles

  • The article is a grammatical particle that you can prepend to names or substantivized parts of speech (a term referring to a part of speech used in the function of the noun, like "l'italiano è una lingua antica" or "l'essere è qualcosa di insondabile" or "il Pesarese è un bel territorio"); it specifies if we are talking about a specific object (definite articles) or not (indefinite articles).

  • The definite article has:

    • 2 forms for the singular masculine: il, lo;
    • 2 for the plural masculine: i, gli;
    • 1 form for the femminine singular: la;
    • 1 form for the femminine plural: le.

How to use the definite articles:

  • "il" (plural "i") is used before all names that start with a consonant, except impure s, z, x, ps, pn and i semi-consonant (i + vowel). ("Il libro").

  • "lo" (plural "gli") is used before masculine names which start with an impure s, z, x, ps, pn and i semi-consonant (i + vowel). ("Lo zaino").

  • "la" must be contracted before a vowel by using an apostrophe ("la casa", "l'opera"), while the plural "le" is not (especially if the name doesn't change in the plural form: "la età", "le età", not "l'età", otherwise it is ambiguous with the singular form).

When articles should be omitted:

Despite even many Italian people not knowing (or not applying) all these rules, the article should be omitted:

  1. before cities' or little islands' names ("Roma è antichissima; Montecristo è un'isoletta del mar Tirreno"), except in some cases in which the article is part of the name ("L'Aquila, Il Cairo, La Spezia")

  2. before proper names ("Carlo è bravissimo"), anyway in popular language, family, female names are preceded usually by an article ("è venuta la Titti"). This exception does not apply to historical and mythological names: ("Lucrezia, Saffo, Cleopatra, Diana")

  3. with names with predicate function ("L'ozio è padre di tutti i vizi; Carlo è tuo compagno di scuola") unless the name is accompanied by an adjective ("Il leone è un animale feroce; Giorgio è un bravo dottore")

  4. with copulative verbs followed by a predicate complement of the subject ("Stefano fu eletto deputato") or object ("Lo proclamarono presidente dell'assemblea")

  5. with the names used in appositive function ("Giulio Cesare, condottiero romano; Ho rivisto Angela, mia amica d'infanzia")

  6. with vocatives ("Caro dottore, mi faccia una buona visita")

  7. proverbs and sentences ("Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera; Dove manca natura, arte procura")

  8. in many nominal groups ("uomo d'ingegno; andare in bicicletta; aspettare in sala d'attesa; nutrirsi di pane e acqua")

  9. generally in the titles of books or chapters and wall writings ("Vocabolario della lingua italiana, Compendio di storia moderna, Prefazione; Ingresso; Redazione; Piazza Cavour")

  10. with the names of kinship preceded by a possessive adjective that is not "loro" ("mio padre, mia madre") unless the name is plural ("i miei fratelli, le mie sorelle") or preceded by an adjective ("la mia vecchia madre"), or that the possessive follows the name ("il padre mio"). It should, however, always use the article with the names "babbo" and "mamma", even if accompanied by possessive ("il mio babbo, la mia mamma")

  11. possessive pronouns, feminine "sua", "vostra" omit article when immediately preceding the names of "Maestà", "Altezza", "Eccellenza", "Signoria", "Santità", "Eminenza" ("Sua Maestà il Re, Vostra Altezza, Vostra Signoria, Sua Eccellenza il Ministro, Sua Eminenza il cardinale Ruini, Sua Santità")

When articles should be used:

  1. with names of countries, states and continents ("La Sicilia, La Francia, L'Asia"); but if they are used as complements or specifications of place, you can sometimes omit the article ("i vini di Sicilia, vivere in Africa, andare in Belgio; i re di Spagna")
  2. with names of rivers, lakes, seas and mountains ("il Po, il Garda, il Mar Nero, il Gran Sasso")
  3. with surnames of famous people of the past when not preceded by the first name ("il Petrarca, il Manzoni" (but "Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Pascoli" should be written in this form)), and today, however, the article tends to be omitted with illustrious names ("Garibaldi, Cavour, Colombo"). Surnames of women, however, always require the article to avoid ambiguity ("la Serao, la Deledda, la Eliot, la Sand, etc.")
  4. with nicknames ("il Botticelli, il Veronese, il Parmigianino")
  5. with abstract nouns ("la bontà, la virtù, l'odio etc.")
  6. with names of material ("l'oro, l'argento, il ferro etc.")
  7. with concrete names used in a general sense: ("l'uomo (for: "gli uomini"), il poeta (for: "i poeti"), l'operaio, il giovane, etc.")
  8. with names indicating the unique things in nature, such as the sun, the moon, the earth, the world, the universe ("il sole, la luna, la terra, il mondo, l'universo")
  9. Sometimes, in popular usage, the definite article is used with no logical necessity, in the sense superfluous, for example, "Passeremo la Pasqua a Parigi. Siate i benvenuti. Ho fatto le mie scuse. Sono le dieci precise."

On the other hand, the rules of English grammar require...

...that in most cases a noun, or more generally a noun phrase, must be "completed" with a determiner to clarify what the referent of the noun phrase is. The most common determiners are the articles "the" and "a(n)", which specify the presence or absence of definiteness of the noun. Other possible determiners include words like this, my, each and many – see the Wikipedia article on English determiners. There are also cases where no determiner is required, as in the sentence "John likes fast cars". Or the sentence "Bob likes cool trains".

The definite article "the" is used when the referent of the noun phrase is assumed to be unique or known from the context. For example, in the sentence "The boy with glasses was looking at the moon", it is assumed that in the context the reference can only be to one boy and one moon. However, the definite article is not used:

  • with generic nouns (plural or uncountable): "cars have accelerators", "happiness is contagious", referring to cars in general and happiness in general (compare the happiness I felt yesterday, specifying particular happiness);
  • with many proper names: John, France, London, etc.

Sources: https://grammatica-italiana.dossier.net/grammatica-italiana-06.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_articles#Use_of_articles

In my opinion, differences from region to region are due to differences in Italian dialects.

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    Caveat emptor (or lector): since this old answer has been recently mentioned, notice that it mixes objective (but poorly sourced) facts with opinions by whomever wrote it. For instance, where it says: «Sometimes, in popular usage, the definite article is used with no logical necessity, in the sense superfluous , for example "Passeremo la Pasqua a Parigi. Siate i benvenuti. Ho fatto le mie scuse. Sono le dieci precise"». In the examples given, it's questionable to say that the article is superfluous, since the same sentences without it would be highly un-idiomatic to say the least.
    – DaG
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 20:25

Italian definite articles are

"il", "lo", "la", "i", "gli", "le".

They respectively come from Latin

"ille", "illum", "illa", "illi", "illi", "illae",

meaning "that one", "those ones", but also "he", "she", "it", "they".

You use articles to identify more precisely the object of your sentence. In Italian this is done explicitly: omitting articles sounds primitive, savage, illiterate, like using only the infinitive form of any verb, without conjugating them.

Typically you can omit the article when you do not intend to identify a specific object:

navi vanno laggiù … (ships sail down there, there are ships sailing down there)

il libro ucciderà altari e cattedrali (the book will destroy altars and cathedrals)

Note that there are many other cases, though, when it is recommended or even compulsory to omit definite articles.

  • "Navi vanno laggiù" to an Italian, it doesn't sound gooď. In this case, "le navi vanno laggiù".
    – Gilberto
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 14:12

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