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Italian Grammar

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When you learn Italian, you’re going to spend a lot of time getting familiar with Italian grammar rules. For many people, the thought of learning grammar isn’t necessarily a pleasant one, and we can’t blame you if you think that way. But Italian grammar doesn’t have to be a chore to learn; in fact, with the right tools and teachers, it can be a low-friction endeavor and even a fun one!

All languages have grammar, or rules that tell us how to use their individual elements (words) to build longer structures that convey meaning (sentences). Learning grammar is an essential part of learning any new language, and Italian is no exception! Luckily, once you start to learn how Italian grammar works, you’ll find out it’s not all that intimidating after all.

Keep reading to learn more about Italian grammar rules!

   

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: What Are Italian Grammar Rules?

Along with Italian vocabulary, you’ve got to know Italian grammar to be able to use the language. In order to express ideas and form sentences in Italian, you need to understand and follow Italian grammar rules.

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

italian regular verb conjugation table

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.

Learning Italian verbs requires practicing verb conjugations for each possible combination of subject — including the pronouns just mentioned — and of the verb tense, which refers to when the action of the verb takes place, like the past, the present or the future (though there are several more Italian verb tenses than just these three). Add on to that that verbs can also have different “moods” that distinguish among subjective thoughts, objective facts and commands, and you’ve got dozens of potential verb endings for a single Italian verb, all depending on how you’re using it in a sentence.

You’ll also get to know special “modal” verbs that turn a basic verb into a more complex verb phrase that expresses necessity or possibility, for example — verbs like "should" and "can." They are conjugated and come before an infinitive form of another verb. So, if we take the sentence Noi possiamo cantare, or “We can sing,” we see that the verb potere (“can” or “to be able to”) is conjugated (possiamo, for the subject noi) but the main verb cantare (“to sing”) remains an infinitive.

Italian verbs seem daunting at first, but the patterns that govern them are pretty regular, and you’ll get the hang of them in time. Of course, there are persky irregular verbs, too, but learning them is just part of the process.

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!

When we say that Italian nouns have gender, it doesn’t mean that every person, place, object or idea is inherently male or female; it’s just a system of categorization that exists in Italian grammar (and in that of many other world languages). You can think of gender as a “type” or even “genre” of noun if that’s helpful. Often, Italian gender maps to words in ways that align with biological sex; la donna (“woman”) is a feminine noun, whereas l’uomo (“man”) is a masculine noun. But sometimes these gender assignments can be pretty arbitrary; why is il vestito (“dress”) masculine while la mascolinità (“masculinity”) is feminine? Why is la sedia (“chair”) feminine while il divano (“sofa”) is masculine? A major part of learning Italian nouns involves memorizing their gender classifications, so it’s important to practice this concept.

There are patterns of certain word endings that can clue you in to which gender they might be assigned; for example, nouns that end in -o are often masculine (like il tavolo, or “the table”), while nouns that end in -a are often feminine (like la scuola, or “the school”). But be wary of words that defy this pattern, like the masculine word il programma (“the program”) or the feminine word la mano (“the hand”). Italian gender can be a tricky concept to master for this reason!

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)

 

That means if we’re talking about a feminine noun like ragazza (“girl”) or idea (“idea”), and we want to describe a specific woman or a particular idea, we’d say la ragazza (“the girl”) or l’idea (“the idea”). If we’re talking about more than one specific woman or idea, we’d get le ragazze (“the girls”) and le idee (“the ideas”). The same goes for masculine nouns; il ragazzo (“the boy”) and l’albero (“the tree”) become i ragazzi (“the boys”) and gli alberi (“the trees”) in the plural.

If you’re referring to an unspecified noun, you’d use an indefinite article instead. The Italian indefinite articles (meaning “a” or “an”) are

  • un (singular, masculine)
  • uno (singular, for masculine nouns beginning with z, y, x, ps, pn, gn or s + consonant)
  • una (singular, for feminine nouns that begin with a consonant)
  • un’ (plural, for feminine nouns that begin with a vowel)

 

So, for feminine nouns we’d say una donna to talk about “a woman” (not any one woman in particular) and un’arancia for “an orange .” And similarly for masculine nouns, un libro would mean “a book,” while un’albero would refer to “a tree” and uno zio would mean “an uncle,” for example.

Figuring out how to use Italian nouns is vital to learning Italian grammar rules, so stick with it even the concept takes some getting used to.

Italian Pronouns

Just like in English, Italian pronouns stand in for Italian nouns. They come in handy when you’re talking about yourself (“I am happy!”) or about someone you’re talking to (“Who are you?”).

They’re particularly useful when a speaker doesn’t want to keep repeating the same noun over and over. For example, assume you say a sentence like La donna è mia amica, or “The woman is my friend.” If you want to keep talking about the same woman, without reusing the noun la donna, you can use a Italian pronoun — in this case, lei, or “she.” Thus, you could say something like La donna è mia amica. Lei ha due sorelle. (“The woman is my friend. She has two sisters.”)

Italian pronouns are extremely common in the Italian language, just as they are in English. They often exist as subjects of sentences — like in the sentence Lei ha due sorelle. The subject pronouns in Italian are:

  • io (“I”)
  • tu (“you”) (singular, informal)
  • lui (“he”)
  • lei (“she”)
  • Lei (“you”) (singular, formal)
  • noi (“we”)
  • voi (“you all”) (plural, informal)
  • loro (“they”) (informal)
  • Loro (“you all”) (plural, formal)

 

As mentioned above, each Italian pronoun or group of pronouns has its own associated verb conjugation for each Italian verb, so it’s important to learn them all.

You might have noticed that there are multiple ways to say “you.” Italian grammar rules require you to make a distinction between the informal and formal and the singular and plural versions of the pronoun “you,” depending on whom and how many people you’re talking to. The informal tu is reserved for singular people you have a familiar, personal relationship with, like a friend, a sibling or someone younger than you. The more formal Lei is appropriate when speaking to a boss, an elder or someone in a position of authority, for example. The form voi is used to refer to a group of multiple people informally, and Loro is used to address a group of people formally.

When Italian pronouns serve as the object of a sentence, they take different forms and in most cases come before the verb. In a sentence like Il ragazzo mi vede, or “The boy sees me,” the direct object pronoun mi (“me”) comes before the verb vede (“sees”).

Italian pronouns in this pre-verb position sometimes even refer back to the subject and are called reflexive pronouns. In the sentence Lui si chiama Luigi, or “He calls himself Luigi,” the reflexive pronoun si refers to the same person as the subject lui and comes before the verb chiama, or “calls.”

Pronouns can even be possessive, telling us who is the owner of a certain noun. Instead of saying il libro di noi (literally, “the book of us” or “the book of ours”), you can say il nostro libro (“our book”). If you’re talking about l’idea de Giovanni (“the idea of Giovanni”), you could opt for la sua idea (“his idea”), as long as the context makes clear whom you’re talking about.

Italian Adjectives

italian gender and number table

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

Adverbs in Italian modify adjectives, verbs or other adverbs. They usually tell us how, in what way or by what means an action is completed or the degree of intensity of a given adjective. You can recognize Italian adverbs because they often end in the suffix -mente, sort of like the English ending “-ly.” For example, the adjective lento means “slow,” and lentamente means “slowly.” Similarly, facile means “easy,” and facilmente means “easily.”

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”)

 

Of course, there are many more Italian adverbs than these, and being able to use them will carry you a long way and add flavor to your language when you’re learning to speak Italian.

Italian Prepositions

Prepositions are words that describe relationships in time and space between two or more ideas, people, or things (so, nouns). It’s important to learn Italian prepositions when you’re getting the grasp on Italian grammar rules. Luckily, they have no gender or number, so you don’t have to learn many different forms!

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”)

 

When it comes to Italian prepositions, you’ll want to learn as many as possible to help you expand your language skills and capabilities. Their meanings can be slightly different from their English translations, so it’s important to practice using them in the right contexts.

   

Practicing Italian Grammar With Babbel

learning italian grammar with babbel

Learning Italian with Italian grammar exercises doesn’t have to be boring or anxiety-inducing at all. In fact, Babbel makes mastering Italian grammar interactive, engaging and much more fun!

Babbel is designed to help guide you through all the elements of Italian grammar, from the simplest to the most complex.

Our courses help you deepen your understanding of Italian grammar using in-depth lessons created by language experts and teachers.

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.

Try getting a handle on Italian grammar with a free Babbel Italian lesson!

 

Check out our other topics about learning Italian:
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