How to know if a noun is masculine or feminine in Italian?
There are a few rules you can follow when determining if a noun (a name, a thing, a person) is masculine or feminine in Italian.
First you look at the actual gender of that animate object (a person or animal that is).
For instance, if you want to introduce your male friend you would say:
“Ciao, ragazzi. Questo e` un mio amico” - hi guys, this is a (male) friend of mine
If you are introducing a female friend to the same group of friends you would say:
”Ciao ragazzi, questa e` una mia amica” - hi guys, this is a (female) friend of mine
Un mio amico, una mia amica - a friend of mine, a friend of mine (no difference in English, which can be rather confusing if you ask me!)
Mio zio, mia zia (my uncle, my auntie)
Un gatto, una gatta - male cat, female cat
Un gallo, una gallina - a rooster, a hen
However, there are things that do not have a gender per se. For instance, car, house, plate, leaf, happiness…
How do we deal with these inanimate objects?
While there is no gender in English, the Italian language actually allocates a RANDOM gender, either masculine or feminine. Why?
It all goes back to Greek and Latin languages, where things had three genders (masculine, feminine and neutral)
Luckily the Italian language has dropped the neutral, which you can still find in languages such as German. Didn't I tell you before that Italian is easy?!
So, it's a random allocation of gender, right, but in its randomness, there are some things that will help you make sense and know if a thing is masculine or feminine. Yey!
If the word I use to call that thing ends in -a, it’s most likely to be a female thing.
Casa (house), macchina (car), pasta, pizza, birra (beer), porta (door), acqua (water)…
These are all things that have a female gender. Adjectives, articles and other things referring to them will take up the feminine gender too.
Una bella macchina (and not un bello macchina)
Questa pizza e` buonissima (and not questo pizza e` buonissimo)
If the word I use ends in -o, then it’s most likely to be a male noun:
Panino (bread roll), piatto (plate), vino (wine), duomo (dome), palazzo (palace)...
Open a page at random in your Italian dictionary and see how many nouns you find that end in -o or -a and check their gender (usually marked with f or m)
Here are other guiding rules that can help you make sense.
- Names of metals are masculine: argento, oro, alluminio, metallo, ferro, bronzo, ossigeno
- Days of the week and months are masculine (lunedi`, martedi`except domenica (Sunday)...Settembre, Dicembre…. - none of them ends in -o, sorry, but they are masculine things)
- Names of mountains, rivers and lakes are masculine (lago di Garda (Garda is masculine!)
- Names of fruit are feminine (mela, pera, banana)
- Names of sciences are feminine (matematica, algebra, statistica, fisica)
- Names of continents, cities and islands are feminine (Venezia, Padova, Roma, Toscana, even Milano)
Ready for some exceptions? ok, not now. Let’s do those another time.
In the meantime, check out these words and determine if they are masculine or feminine
Prosciutto (type of ham)
M Fratello (brother)
F Sorella (sister)
M Castello (castle)
F Finestra (window)
M Prosciutto (type of ham)
F Forchetta (fork)
M Parco (park)
F Felicita` (happiness)
Getting the hang of it?
What if you get it wrong? Oh well, we'll just laugh together and move on :)
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