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Italian Indefinite Article Forms

Forme dell'Articolo Indeterminativo


The Italian indefinite article (articolo indeterminativo) indicates a generic, indefinite thing, which is considered as yet unknown; its function is to introduce within the conversation a noun which has not been previously spoken of.

If someone says: Chiamerò un medico (I will call a doctor) they are referring to any doctor, not yet identified.

Sometimes the indefinite article refers to a type, category, or variety, and is equivalent to ogni (each, every, any, all):

Un giovane manca sempre d'esperienze.
All youngsters always lack experience.

In this case, the use of the indefinite article overlaps with the definite article (articolo determinativo), such that the speaker could say:

Il giovane manca sempre d'esperienze.
All youngsters always lack experience.

The indefinite article can also intensifty the meaning of a word, gaining sequential value:

Era ridotto in uno stato da far paura
She was reduced to a state of fear ('in uno stato tale', that is, to be frightening).

In the spoken language the Italian indefinite article is also used to express admiration (Ho conosciuto una ragazza!—I knew a girl!) or in the superlative sense (Ho avuto una paura!—I was fearful!). It may also indicate approximation and correspond to circa, pressappoco (about, approximately): dista un tre chilometri. (distance of three kilometers).

Italian Indefinite Article Forms
The form un precedes masculine nouns beginning with a consonant except s + consonant, z, x, pn, ps, and the digraphs gn and sc, with usage corresponding to the article il:

un bambino, un cane, un dente, un fiore, un gioco, un liquore
a child, a dog, a tooth, a flower, a game, a liqueur

The form un also precedes masculine nouns that start with a vowel or the semivowel u (while the semivowel j takes the article uno):

un amico, un elmo, un incubo, un oste, un uragano, un whisky, un week-end
a friend, a helmet, a nightmare, an innkeeper, a hurricane, a whiskey, a weekend

Note that in front of a vowel the indefinite article un is never apostrophized since it is not a elided form: un'anno, un'osso would be equivalent to una anno, una osso, both of which are incorrect. For the same reason un idea, un ora cannot be written without the apostrophe. Note the difference between un assistente (man) and un'assistente (woman).

The form uno precedes masculine nouns beginning with s + consonant, z, x, pn, ps, and the digraphs gn and sc, with usage corresponding to the article l0:

uno sbaglio, uno zaino uno xilofono, uno (or also un) pneumatico, uno pseudonimo, uno gnocco, uno sceicco, uno iato
a mistake, a backpack a xylophone, a tire, a pseudonym, a dumpling, a sheikh, a hiatus

For words of foreign origin beginning with h, the same rules apply as lo.

Una (un')
The form una precedes feminine nouns and is elided to un before a vowel (but not before the semivowel j), with usage corresponding to the article la:

una bestia, una casa, una donna, una fiera, una giacca, una iena; un'anima, un'elica, un'isola, un'ombra, un'unghia
a beast, a house, a woman, a fair, a jacket, a hyena; a soul, a propeller, an island, a shadow, a fingernail

As noted, the indefinite article does not have a plural; however, the forms of the partitive article (articoli partitivi) dei, degli, and delle or of the indefinite adjectives (aggetttivi indefiniti) qualche (followed by the singular), alcuni, and alcune can function as plurals:

Sono sorte delle difficoltà.
Difficulties have arisen.

Ho ancora qualche dubbio.
I still have some doubts.

Partirò fra alcuni giorni.
I will leave in a few days.

or even:

alcune difficoltà, numerosi dubbi, parecchi giorni
some difficulties, many doubts, many days

Another alternative is to use neither the partitive nor the indefinite adjective, and instead express the plural noun without any description:

Sono sorte difficoltà, Ho ancora dubbi, Partirò fra giorni
Difficulties have arisen, I still have doubts, I will leave in a few days

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