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Italian Nouns

Il Nome in Italiano

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Italian nouns are the variable parts of speech that denote living beings, things, events, actions, concepts, or feelings:

L'atleta ha ricevuto il premio dopo aver vinto la corsa.
The athlete received the award after winning the race.

Crede ciecamente nella libertà d'idee e di espressione.
He blindly believes in the freedom of ideas and expression.

Sono legati da una salda e sincera amicizia.
They are linked by a solid and sincere friendship.

According to its meaning a noun may be:

» concreto / astratto (concrete / abstract)
» comune / proprio (common / proper)
» individuale / collettivo (individual / collective)

According to its form a noun has a:

» gender: either maschile (masculine) or femminile (feminine)
» number: either singolare (singular) or plurale (plural

According to its form, a noun is classified as: primitivo / derivato / alterato (primitive / derivative / altered).

NOTE: Any part of speech can function as a noun when preceded by the definite or indefinite article and, of course, the prepositional articles (preposizioni articolate). In this case, the adjective, preposition, verb, conjunction, adverb (or another part of speech) are referred to as substantives:

E il bello [adjective] deve ancora venire!
And the best is yet to come!

Il di è una preposizione.
Di is a preposition.

Il bere [verb] eccessivo danneggia la salute.
Drinking to excess damages one's health.

Moltissimi sono i perché [conjunction] della vita.
Many are the reasons of life.

Non pensare al poi [adverb] e goditi questa giornata.
Do not think of the future and enjoy this day.

Classification of Nouns According to Meaning
According to its meaning a substantive or noun can be:

  • concrete (concreto) when it refers to living beings or things belonging to the real world that we perceive with our senses:

uomo—man
profumo—perfume
suono—sound

  • abstract (astratto) when it indicates feelings, concepts, qualities or anything that is not directly perceivable through the senses:

amore—love
filosofia—philosophy
virtù—virtue

  • common (comune), indicating living beings or things belonging to the same category, class, or species and considered in a general sense:

poeta—poet
mare—sea
città—city

  • proper (proprio) when it indicates living beings or things, but distinguishes them from others of the same category, class, or species; it is always written with a capital letter:
Dante Alighieri
Mediterraneo
Venezia

NOTE: In addition to proper names, the following Italian nouns are always written with a capital letter:

» nicknames

l'Innominato
Federico I detto il Barbarossa
Michelangelo Merisi detto il Caravaggio

» pseudonyms

Alberto Moravia (Alberto Pincherle)
Pietro Metastasio (Pietro Trapassi)

» personified things

La Luna allora le sorrise.

  • individual (individuale) when it indicates one being or one thing:

giocatore—player
cavallo—horse
nave—ship

  • collective (collettivo) when it indicates, even though it is in the singular form, a set of living beings or things, whether they are a determinate or indeterminate number:

gregge—flock
flotta—fleet
paio—couple
migliaio—thousand

NOTE: While indicating a plurality of beings or things, a collective noun is always followed by a verb in the third person singular, but the use of the plural form of the verb is allowed when the collective noun is composed of known elements.

La flotta salpò all'alba.
The fleet set sail at dawn.

Il gregge pascolava tranquillamente.
The herd was grazing quietly.

La folla manifestò in piazza.
The crowd appeared in the square.

Una folla di tifosi invase (invasero) il campo.
A crowd of fans invaded the field.

Classification of Nouns According to Form
GENDER
In Italian nouns can be masculine or feminine.

ANIMATE BEINGS

  • There are masculine nouns referring people and animals that belong to this gender:

Alessandro
fratello
gallo

  • There are feminine nouns referring people and animals that belong to this gender:

Giulia
amica
gatta

However, there are feminine gender nouns that designate males:

la guardia
la guida
la sentinella

And there are masculine gender nouns that refer to females::

il contralto
il messosoprano
il soprano

NOTE: In both cases, the adjective agrees with the noun to which it refers:

Carlo è una brava guida turistica.
Lorena è un bravo mezzosoprano.

INANIMATE BEINGS

Inanimate beings can be either masculine or feminine and there is no rule to determine the grammatical gender. There are, however, certain rules concerning the ending and the meaning.

With regard to the ending:

  • Almost all nouns that end in o, i, and a consonant are masculine, as well as some ending in e:

amico
brindisi
tennis
dottore

NOTE: Although rare, there are some female nouns that end in o and i (the latter of Greek origin), such as:

la mano
la radio
la crisi

  • Almost all nouns that end in a and u are feminine, as well as some ending in e:

Giovanna
gru
immagine

NOTE: There are many masculine nouns ending in a and u:

Andrea
il poeta
il caucciù

WITH RESPECT TO MEANING

  • Nouns indicating the following are masculine:

» metals
il ferro
il platino

» plants
il faggio
il melo

NOTE: Some, however, are feminine:

la betulla
la mimosa
la palma
la vite

» months and days of the week:
il gelido gennaio
il prossimo lunedì
un venerdì sfortunato

NOTE: domenica is feminine: una tranquilla domenica

» mountains, rivers, lakes, seas, oceans
il Cervino
il Po
il Garda
il Mediterraneo
il Pacifico

NOTE: Some mountains and rivers, however, are feminine:

le Alpi
la Sila
la Bormida
la Senna
la Loira

  • Nouns indicating the following are feminine:

» fruits:

la pera
la mela
la pesca
la ghianda

NOTE: The following are masculine, though:

il dattero
il fico
il limone
il pistacchio

» cities, islands, and continents

la Roma imperiale
la Sicilia
la vecchia Europa

NOTE: Some cities and islands, however, are masculine:

il Cairo
il Madagascar

Foreign nouns, when used in Italian, usually retain the same gender as in the language of origin. The neutral, absent in Italian but present, for example, in German, is generally treated as masculine:

la Bundesrepublik (German)
il corner (English)
la fondue (French)
la pelota (Spanish)

In cases where it is difficult to identify the gender of nouns, as can happen with less common languages—for example, Japanese, Russian, or Hungarian—it is best to rely on common sense.

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