The sentence La mia madre è una segretaria has been marked wrong, but I don't understand why. I thought that, when describing a single family member, the article is optional, so using both la and mia should be correct.

Apparently it's not the case. What am I missing here?


1 Answer 1


In Italian the article is not used with single persons, with respect to family names, and the possessive adjectives, if there's no further specification:

  • tuo fratello, but il tuo fratello minore
  • mio zio, but il mio zio d'America (the one who lives in America)
  • mia madre, but la mia madre adottiva
  • suo padre
  • i tuoi cugini
  • le sue cognate

There is no hard and fast rule for the article when a specification is used, though, so also tuo fratello minore and mio zio d'America can be used. The important aspect is that without specification the article is refused.

This doesn't apply to other living beings, persons or not: one says il mio cane and never mio cane.

You can surely find the article used in old texts; for instance, the old translation of John's Gospel had (19:26-27, CEI/Bibbia di Gerusalemme)

26Gesù allora, vedendo la madre e lì accanto a lei il discepolo che egli amava, disse alla madre: «Donna, ecco il tuo figlio!». 27Poi disse al discepolo: «Ecco la tua madre!». E da quel momento il discepolo la prese nella sua casa.

The most recent translation (Nuova Riveduta) has instead

26Gesù dunque, vedendo sua madre e presso di lei il discepolo che egli amava, disse a sua madre: «Donna, ecco tuo figlio!» 27Poi disse al discepolo: «Ecco tua madre!» E da quel momento, il discepolo la prese in casa sua.

The article in the old version is at least antiquate.

There are exceptions: mamma and babbo/papà tend to attract the article and la mia mamma, il mio papà are frequently heard. Actually il mio babbo is the only used form and mio babbo would be deemed incorrect. Whether adding the article with mamma or papà depends on regional background: personally I'd never say la mia mamma or il mio papà.

  • 3
    Exceptions: the somewhat childish expressions "la mia mamma" and "il mio papà".
    – persson
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 12:38
  • 1
    @karoshi Thanks for the comment, I'll add it to my answer.
    – egreg
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 13:29
  • "Prendi il tuo Gustavo se vuoi e non mi dire più niente dei tuoi corteggiatori!" Non è possibile?
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 9:37
  • @Evgeniy Perché non dovrebbe essere possibile? Gustavo è un nome proprio, non un nome comune come madre o fratello.
    – egreg
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 9:41
  • 1
    @egreg I couldn't have known that the discussion might be held to be constrained to relatives. Anyway, as far as I know, inquilini make part of the phenomenon. They are not relatives either, although they do share the house with the landlord.
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 9:45

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