Conquering plurals in Italian, and Henry’s here to help

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley (Photo: lisby1)

So we have conquered Italian nouns in the singular – we being all those people who have read the post “Start flying in Italian, sort of” here, and of course all those who have learnt Italian long before this and don’t have to do any more conquering. Now we are going to look at how the plurals are formed in Italian. While I type, a plug-in that I have downloaded will analyse what I am saying, and suggest pictures to go with this post. So far it has suggested a portrait of Henry Wriothesely, the 3rd Earl of Southampton! Obviously it has no idea what I am talking about, unless Henry was a conqueror. Anyway, Henry looks like a smart chappy, he is wearing fancy clothes fresh from the laundry, so let’s put him in the post. There he is, to the right. Maybe he conquered the Italian language or wooed Italian women in the plural, I don’t know. I am sure once we start probing deeply into Italian grammar the plug-in program will get even more confused.

So, how are plurals of nouns are formed? In general, note the following

  • Singular nouns ending in the letter -o change it to an -i in the plural
  • Singular nouns ending in -e also change to -i
  • Singular nouns ending in -a change to -e

This suggests that all Italian nouns end in vowels, which is something that has not been drawn to my attention before. However, my thick Italian dictionary offers words such as scuolabus (school bus), computer and overbooking (Italy being a popular tourist destination, it must get a lot of overbookings, or maybe its booking systems are not up to scratch), so the language is obviously borrowing words here and there. Personally I would prefer it if “computer” ended in a vowel: My bloody computero is not working properly! Or if you followed the guidelines in “Are Italians naughty by nature?” (to be found here) you would exclaim: My bloody computeraccio is not working properly!

(Don’t you think it is confusing to have –e endings in the singular changing to –i endings in the plural, and –a endings in the singular changing to -e in the plural? It would be so much easier if all nouns changed to -i, or the –e endings changed to –e endings, haha.)

Giuseppe Garibaldi - Portrait of an Italian Pa...

Giuseppe Garibaldi – Portrait of an Italian Patriot with Red Wine & Cabbage (Photo credit: Nino.Modugno)

There are, however, exceptions. OMG! There are so many exceptions. The plurals of nouns ending in the following require special treatment: -si, -co, -go-, -ca, -ga, -cio, -gio, -cia, -gia, -io, -ista, -ema, -amma. If we went into all that detail now we would get confused. We will save that for another post. The picture plug-in is getting terribly confused: it is suggesting pictures of all sorts of Henrys (such as the Henry mountains), some ancient Greek noun declensions, English noun declensions, some busty Italian nurses and so on. You want to see the busty Italian nurses, don’t you! Well, sorry, you’re not going to. I have opted instead for this nice picture of Garibaldi with a bottle of wine and a cabbage in the background.

OK, now let’s look at the plurals of articles accompanying nouns.

The definite article

  • lo, which is used before any masculine noun beginning with s + a consonant or z, and l’, which is used before any masculine noun beginning with a vowel, become gli in the plural.
  • il, which is used before masculine words starting with other consonants, becomes i in the plural
  • the la and l’ used before feminine nouns beginning with a consonant and a vowel, respectively, become le in the plural

Here are some examples: l’aeroporto becomes gli aeroporti (I put that word in in case you want to go to the airports in Italy); lo zio becomes gli zii (the uncle/the uncles); il ragazzo becomes i ragazzi; and la ragazza becomes la ragazze (boys and girls respectively); il cameriere becomes i camerieri (waiter/waiters – try it the next time you go to an Italian restaurant); and l’automobile becomes le automobili. Note how you don’t need the apostrophe with feminine plurals.

We will look at the formation of other plurals and articles in a separate post. Here is a good teacher on YouTube who goes over what we have covered so far:


3 thoughts on “Conquering plurals in Italian, and Henry’s here to help

  1. loved this post – especially the bit about Henry – so random, but very humorous! Such a wonderful easy style of writing xx

    • Yes, funny how that Henry popped up, I had never heard of the guy. Little did he know I suppose when he posed for that portrait that he would appear in a 21st Century blog. Take care, cheers

  2. Pingback: Get a grip on masculine and feminine forms in Portuguese | My Five Romances

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