In this lesson we are going to look at the indefinite articles (una, un, un’) in more detail.

  • In English, the indefinite article is simply “a”. But in Italian, the form of “a” changes, depending on the word.
  • “A” is known as the indefinite article because it doesn’t refer to a particular object (“a dog” could mean any dog); in contrast to “the” (the definite article), which refers to one particular thing.

Listen to each of the words and read the accompanying text; say each one out loud three times and then try the exercises at the end. Don’t forget to say your exercise answer out loud.

The Italian for “Dog”

Un cane in Italian means a dog.

Un cane
  • In Italian if the letter ‘c’ is followed by any letter other than ‘i’ or ‘e’ then it is pronounced hard, like ‘c’ in ‘card’; not soft like ‘c’ in ‘certain’. So cane is pronounced with a hard ‘c’.
  • Italian words that finishes on ‘e’ (for example cane or caffè), are usually words of masculine gender. Cane is masculine. Un is the indefinite article for Italian words of masculine gender.

How to Say “Cat” in Italian

Un gatto means a cat.

Un gatto

Italians love cats! Cats are everywhere in Italy.

  • Italian words that finish with ‘o’ are masculine (almost always). If our word is masculine, it needs a masculine indefinite article. So “a cat” translates as un gatto.
  • But pay attention: we say ‘un gatto’ for “a cat” in Italian, unless we want to talk particularly about female cats. In that case, we have to say ‘gatta’ instead of “gatto”. And then we have to use una. So “a female cat” translates as ‘una gatta’. If the gender of the cat is irrelevant, then we say un gatto.

“A coffee” in Italian

Un caffè means a coffee.

Un caffè
  • This is a masculine word which needs un.

If You Need to Make a Call You’ll Need a Phone

Un telefono in Italian means a telephone.

Un telefono
  • ‘Ph’ is not used to produce an ‘f’ sound in Italian.

    ‘F’ itself is always used.

  • ‘Telefono’ is a masculine word grammatically, so to say ‘a telephone’, we say ‘un telefono’.

The Italian for “A Tree”

Un albero is the Italian word for a tree.

Un albero
  • Albero finishes with ‘o’, so we know it’s masculine.

    If we want to say ‘a tree’, we have to use un.

The Italian for House

Una mela means an apple.

Una mela

The Italian for House

Una casa means a house or a home.

Una casa
  • Casa is a feminine word, so ‘a house’ is una casa.
  • Feminine words in Italian often end with ‘a’.
  • Note, ‘s’ between two vowels is usually pronounced like an English ‘z’, not like a soft ‘s’.

Italian for Door

Una porta means a door.

Una porta
  • ‘Porta’ is a feminine words. Like many feminine words, it ends in ‘a’. So to say ‘a door’, we say ‘una porta’.

Italian for “A Person”

Una persona means a person.

Una persona
  • This is a feminine word (it ends in ‘a’) which needs una.

“A Duck” in Italian

Un’anatra is the Italian word for a duck.

Un’anatra
  • Along with un and una there is also un’ with apostrophe.
  • Un’ is always and only used before feminine words that begins with vowels. The apostrophe stands for the missing ‘a’, which after all, is hard to say before another vowel. So Italians don’t say it.
  • Remember, we use una with feminine words, but because anatra starts with “a” we have to use un’.

Don’t worry if you’re confused with un, una and un’, because you’ll get lots more practice as you progress through the course.

As we’ve seen, masculine words often end with ‘o’, or sometimes ‘e’, while feminine words often end in ‘a’. This is true also for Italian first names; Marco (or Romeo!) and Rafaele are masculine names; Renata is a feminine name. Unfortunately this doesn’t work perfectly, because female names can sometimes end in ‘e’ too …

Exercises

Translate the following sentences into Italian.

Click the link below to view the answers. But have a go first!

  1. Goodday!
  2. Hi, a telephone, please.
  3. A cat?
  4. No, a dog.
Show answers »
  1. Buongiorno!
  2. Ciao, un telefono, per favore.
  3. Un gatto?
  4. No, un cane.

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