How Difficult Is Italian Grammar?

Is Italian Grammar Easy?

Many people choose to learn Italian over other languages because they’ve heard that Italian grammar is relatively easy to learn. While it’s true that Italian grammar rules aren’t necessarily hard, they do take patience and practice to master, just like with any new skill.

Some elements of Italian grammar are known to be more difficult for learners than others are — especially those elements that are more unfamiliar to native English speakers, like complex verb conjugations, for example. They can be a tricky concept many Italian learners have trouble mastering if they don’t already speak a language that conjugates its verbs.

You might struggle with some aspects of Italian grammar and breeze through others. A lot of what you’ll find easy depends on the language or languages you already speak and how similar they are to Italian. And you can’t forget that everyone learns differently, so the parts of Italian grammar that give you trouble might be a piece of cake for someone else, and vice versa.

Is Italian Grammar Similar To English?

Italian grammar is similar to English grammar in many ways that make it fairly easy to make connections between the two languages. Both Italian and English have the same parts of speech — like verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions, for example — and the two languages often treat these parts of speech in the same ways.

But there are certain ways Italian grammar rules differ from those of English. You might have heard that unlike English, Italian is a gendered language, meaning each noun — not just every person — has an associated gender classification that shows up in the language. (More on that below.) And gender in Italian affects Italian adjectives, which change their endings to match the gender and number of the nouns they refer to.

As mentioned above, there’s also the topic of Italian verbs, which require a bit more manipulation to use correctly than English verbs do. Italian verb conjugation, or changing verb endings according to specific rules and patterns, can be a very dforeign concept to English speakers, making it a major point of difference between the two languages.

If all of this sounds a little confusing, don’t fret! Part of getting better at Italian is practicing Italian grammar rules that might not make much sense at first. But you’ll soon get the hang of them with just a little effort.

Introduction To Italian Grammar:

Basic Italian Sentence Structure

The primary parts of the Italian sentence are the subject, the verb and the object(s). For the most part, Italian grammar follows the subject-verb-object word order as English does. For example, in a sentence like Io voglio il cibo, the pronoun io (“I”) is the subject, voglio (“want”) is the verb and il cibo (“the food’”) is the object of that verb.

The order of other words in a Italian is generally the same as in an English sentence, with some exceptions. In Italian grammar, for example, adjectives usually follow the nouns they describe instead of coming before them, like they do in English. And object and reflexive pronouns like “him,” “herself” and “us” must come before the verb in many cases.

But Italian can be a little more flexible, too, than English in the order of words in the sentence. In many cases you can even leave out the subject if the context and the ending of the verb make it clear who’s doing the action. And forming questions doesn’t often require moving around words and adding auxiliary words like “do” or “does” like English requires.

Italian Verbs And Italian Verb Tenses

Perhaps one of the most important parts of Italian grammar is knowing how to use Italian verbs — and that means knowing how to deal with Italian verb conjugations. While verb conjugations technically exist in English as well, there aren’t nearly as many, so learning them (and how and when to use them) takes time and discipline in Italian. For many students who are just learning about conjugations, this infamous system of changing Italian verb endings is the legend of ghost stories, the stuff of scary dreams. But don’t worry; every Italian student who’s ever been overwhelmed by the prospect of learning Italian verb conjugations has made it out alive!

First, we start with an infinitive. Italian verbs exist in what’s known as the infinitive form, what English speakers would think of as a verb in the “to (verb)” form — like “to do,” “to eat” or “to sleep,” for example. All of these Italian infinitives end in one of three endings: -are (like the verb cantare, “to sing”), -ere (like vedere, “to see”) or -ir (like dormire, “to sleep”).

Conjugating a verb in Italian means changing the ending of the verb to match the subject (so, who or what is doing the action of the verb) and the tense (when in time the action is happening). There are 6 different verb endings in the present tense alone!

Here’s an example for a verb in the present tense: take a regular verb ending in -are, like mangiare (“to eat”). If the pronoun io (“I”) is the subject, or the one doing the speaking, you drop the -are ending from the verb and add the ending -o, giving io mangio, or “I eat.” For the pronoun tu (“you”), mangiare becomes tu mangi, or “you eat.” Each potential subject has its own special conjugation, or verb ending, associated with it, and this applies for all verbs, whether they end in -are, -ere, or -ire — though the conjugations are slightly different for each ending.

Italian Nouns And Italian Articles (And Italian Gender)

Just like in English, one of the key elements of Italian grammar is the Italian noun, which describes a thing, person, place, idea, quality or action. Italian nouns are important because in many cases they indicate who or what is doing the action of the verb (the subject) — or who or what is having that action done to it (the object). They are fundamental parts of a Italian sentence! According to Italian grammar, all Italian nouns have a number (singular or plural, a concept which also exists in English) and a gender (masculine or feminine).

Talking about the number and gender of Italian nouns isn’t too complicated. To start, the fact that nouns in Italian grammar can be singular or plural is a familiar idea to English speakers. In many cases, to form a plural noun Italian speakers change the ending of a singular noun from -o to -i or from -a to -e, for example — sort of similar to how English speakers change a noun’s ending by adding an “-s” to the end of the noun. So the word meaning “book,” libro, becomes libri, and the word casa, meaning “house,” becomes case. There are, of course, plenty of Italian nouns that don’t end in -o or -a, and the rules for making them plural must be learned, too!

A noun’s gender and number classifications help us understand which Italian articles — the words we’d call “the,” “a,” “an” and “some” in English — to use before that noun. The Italian definite articles (meaning “the”) are:

  • il (singular, masculine)

  • la (singular, feminine)

  • lo (singular, for masculine nouns beginning with z, y, x, ps, pn, gn or s + consonant)

  • l’ (singular, for nouns of either gender beginning with a vowel sound)

  • i (plural, masculine)

  • le (plural, feminine)

  • gli (plural, for masculine nouns starting with a vowel or beginning with z, y, x, ps, pn, gn or s + consonant)

Italian Adjectives


Though Italian verbs and Italian nouns and pronouns are perhaps the most important part of Italian grammar rules to get to know, you can’t forget about Italian adjectives! These are words that describe the properties and characteristics of nouns — properties like color (giallo, or “yellow”), size (piccolo, or “small”), shape (lungo, or “long”) or someone’s personality (onesto, or “honest”), to name just a few.

Adjectives in Italian must “agree” with the nouns they modify. This means that Italian adjective endings must reflect the gender (so, masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural) of the noun to which they refer. Unlike in English, in all but a few cases a Italian adjective comes after the noun it is describing.

For example, an adjective like rosso (“red”) can describe a singular, masculine noun like il libro (“the book”) to give us il libro rosso (“the red book”). But if the noun is feminine, like la mela (“the apple”), we get the expression la mela rossa (“the red apple”). If the nouns are plural, the adjective endings change to reflect that, and we get expressions like i libri rossi (“the red books”) and le mele rosse (“the red apples”).

You'll soon get the hang of how to use Italian adjectives and Italian nouns with repeated exposure. It's one of the earliest skills you'll practice as you start learning Italian!

Italian Adverbs

Some other common Italian adverbs and adverb phrases include:

  • adesso (“now”)

  • più tardi (“later”)

  • mai (“never”)

  • sempre (“always”)

  • bene (“well”)

  • male (“badly,” “poorly”)

  • molto (“very”)

  • anche (“also”)

  • qui (“here”)

  • (“there”)

Italian Prepositions

There are several common Italian prepositions you’ll want to know. Here are just a few examples:

  • con (“with”)

  • senza (“without”)

  • di (“of”)

  • da (“from,” “since”)

  • *in” (“in”)

  • a (“to” or “at”)

  • su (“on”)

  • secondo (“according to”)

  • per (“for,” “through”)

  • tra/fra (“between,” “among”)

  • supra (“above,” “on top of”)

  • sotto (“under,” “below”) 

Practicing Italian Grammar With Babbel

Babbel’s Italian grammar exercises are designed to strengthen your skills in the four areas of language learning — reading, writing, speaking and listening — and make sure the content you’re learning is committed to your long-term memory. Helpful tips along the way help you reinforce what you’re learning by making connections in new ways. And almost every lesson features a simulated real-life dialogue to help you put what you’re learning about Italian grammar into context in the sorts of conversations you’d be having with native speakers.

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