Italian Nouns: Gender and Number

genderAll Italian nouns have either a masculine or a feminine gender. Nouns referring to human beings or animals sometimes have the same grammatical gender as their natural gender, but not always:

una giraffa (giraffe) is always feminine
un ippopotamo (hippopotamus) is always masculine

In order to provide the missing half, we have to say:

una giraffa maschio (a male giraffe)
un ippopotamo femmina (a female hippopotamus)

Some animals – as in English – have two distinct names for the male and the female of the species:

un leone (lion), una leonessa (lioness)
un gallo (cock), una gallina (hen)

Some, but not all, professional and other titles may have a distinct form for the feminine. Nouns whose masculine form ends in -e have a feminine form ending either in -a or in -essa:

cameriere – cameriera (waiter/waitress)
infermiere – infermiera (nurse)
padrone – padrona (master/mistress)
studente  – studentessa (student)
principe – principessa (prince/princess)
conte – contessa (count/countess)
barone – baronessa (baron/baroness)

Most nouns with masculine form ending in -tore have a feminine form ending in -trice:

attore – attrice (actor/actress)
autore – autrice (author)
direttore – direttrice (director, manager)
imperatore – imperatrice (emperor/empress)
pittore – pittrice (painter)
scrittore – scrittrice (writer)
senatore – senatrice (senator)

Note the following masculine nouns with feminine equivalent in -essa:

dottore – dottoressa (doctor)
professore – professoressa (teacher)

The gender and number determine the ending of the noun. Italian nouns can be divided into several different groups. The three most common patterns are:

Singular

Plural

Masculine

-o

-i

Femenine

-a

-e

Masculine or femenine

-e

-i

 

SINGOLARE

PLURALE

MASCULINE Tavolo Table Tavoli Tables
Albero Tree Alberi Trees
Sbaglio Mistake Sbagli Mistakes
Ragazzo Boy Ragazzi Boys
FEMENINE Donna Woman Donne Women
Parola Word Parole Words
Scuola School Scuole Schools
Ragazza Girl Ragazze Girls
MASCULINE Padre Father Padri Fathers
Studente Student Studenti Students
Bicchiere Glass Bicchieri Glasses
FEMENINE Madre Mother Madri mothers
Occasione Occasion Occasioni Occasions
Chiave Key Chiavi Keys

 

→ Note: Nouns ending in a consonant are usually masculine:
bar, autobus, film, sport

Irregular plurals:

There are very few true irregular plurals in Italian. Some of these are:

l’uomo / gli uomini (man/men)

il dio / gli dei (god/gods; note also the irregularity in the article: gli instead of i)

il bue / i buoi (ox/oxen)

il tempio / i templi (temple/temples)

il carcere / le carceri (prison (masculine) / prisons (feminine))

l’ala / le ali (wing/wings)

l’arma / le armi (weapon/weapons)

la mano / le mani (hand/hands)

l’eco / gli echi (echo (feminine) / echos (masculine))

la moglie / le mogli (wife/wives)

→ Note: In the plural, nouns ending in -co, -go; -ca, -ga; -cia, -gia present variations in their endings.

Maria Scalici

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