In Italian, there are many ways to say "the" and "a," which can be surprising for learners! These words are called articles, specifically definite (the) and indefinite (a, an) articles. Italian articles—just like Italian adjectives—will match the gender and number of the noun. There are also different forms of articles for words starting with a consonant and those starting with vowels or special combinations of consonants.

Here's what you need to know about which article to use for different Italian nouns.

Definite and indefinite articles in Italian: an overview

There are a lot of forms of articles in Italian:

Indefinite (a, an) Definite (the)
Singular Plural
Masculine Before all other sounds un il i
Before vowels and silent h l' gli
Before special letters uno lo
Feminine Before consonants una la le
Before vowels un' l'

Since there are many options to choose from when it comes to Italian articles, there are few questions you can ask yourself to be sure of which one you need.

Do I need a definite or indefinite article?

Just like English, Italian has distinct definite and indefinite articles. "Definite" articles typically refer to a specific noun, especially one that the listener is aware of or that has been discussed before. The is the definite article in English, as in Duo drank the cappuccino (referring to a specific cappuccino, probably the one in his hand).

"Indefinite" articles are for referring to the noun more generally, and there probably isn't a specific one the speaker has in mind. In Duo drank a cappuccino and later an iced latte, we use the indefinite article to mean a non-specific cappuccino and iced latte, ones we don't expect the listener to already know about.

  • Definite articles: il, lo, la, l', i, gli, le
  • Indefinite articles: un, uno, una, un'
Duo is standing in the snow wearing a winter hat and scarf, looking at a cell phone, and holding a travel cup of coffee or cappuccino

Is the noun masculine or feminine?

Like other Romance languages, Italian uses grammatical gender to group nouns into 2 categories: masculine and feminine. In Italian, the article will match the gender of the noun it goes with, so you'll learn different articles for each gender.

  • Masculine articles: il, l', lo, un, uno, i, gli
  • Feminine articles: la, l', una, un', le

Is the noun singular or plural?

In English, we use the definite article "the" before all nouns, whether they are singular or plural, but Italian has different forms.

For the definite articles in Italian, you'll use a singular form with singular nouns and a plural form with plural nouns.

But for indefinite articles, there are only singular forms in Italian. That's because a different kind of article, called the partitive, is used for plurals—just like in English we say a cappuccino but some cappuccinos.

  • Singular articles: il, lo, la, l', un, uno, una, un'
  • Plural articles: i, gli, le

What sound does the following word start with?

It also matters what sounds (or letters) the word after the article starts with. (This is like how we use an before vowels in English!)

For singular feminine nouns that start with a vowel, the definite and indefinite articles are attached to the noun: l'insalata (the salad), un’insalata (a salad).

For masculine nouns, there are more exceptions. First, articles attach to singular masculine nouns that start with a vowel sound or silent h (l'uomo "the man"). Then, there are different forms of the articles used before special sounds or sound combinations (gn, pn, ps, s + consonant, x, y or i when it sounds like y, and z), so you say lo specchio (the mirror) and gli specchi (the mirrors). You'll use these different forms no matter what word comes after the article, whether it's the noun or an adjective coming between the article and noun. For example, in Italian you say lo stesso cappuccino (the same cappuccino).

  • Articles before regular consonants: il, la, un, una, i, le
  • Articles before vowels: l', un, un'
  • Articles before special sounds: lo, uno, gli

Examples of definite and indefinite articles in Italian

Masculine nouns

Singular indefinite Singular definite Plural definite
un cappuccino (a cappuccino) il cappuccino (the cappuccino) i cappuccini (the cappuccinos)
un albero (a tree) l'albero (the tree) gli alberi (the trees)
un hotel (a hotel) l'hotel (the hotel) gli hotel (the hotels)
uno gnomo (a gnome) lo gnomo (the gnome) gli gnomi (the gnomes)
uno specchio (a mirror) lo specchio (the mirror) gli specchi (the mirrors)

With intervening adjectives

Singular indefinite With adjective (no special sounds) With adjective (special sounds or combination)
il cappuccino (the cappuccino) il buon cappuccino (the good cappuccino) lo stesso cappuccino (the same cappuccino)
l'uomo (the man) il buon uomo (the good man) lo strano uomo (the strange man)
l'hamburger (the hamburger) il nuovo hamburger (the new hamburger) lo stesso hamburger (the same hamburger)
lo gnomo (the gnome) il piccolo gnomo (the small gnome) lo stesso gnomo (the same gnome)
lo specchio (the mirror) il vecchio specchio (the old mirror) lo stesso specchio (the same mirror)

Feminine nouns

Singular indefinite Singular definite Plural definite
una pizza (a pizza) la pizza (the pizza) le pizze (the pizzas)
un'insalata (a salad) l'insalata (the salad) le insalate (the salads)
un'acciuga (an anchiovy) l'acciuga (the anchovy) le acciughe (the anchovies)
una spalla (a shoulder) la spalla (the shoulder) le spalle (the shoulders)
una zona (a zone) la zona (the zone) le zone (the zones)

You can definitely feel confident using Italian articles!

There are many forms of articles in Italian, but luckily there are just a few patterns to get the hang of. Remember to keep in mind the gender and number of the noun and the particular sound the article is in front of, and you'll be well on your way!