Basic Italian: Indefinite articles

(how to say A/AN in Italian)

"a" is the indefinite article in English and it is used with nouns to specify that we are talking about a non-specific or general noun:

a dog
a cat
a boy
a girl

Italian nouns have a gender (either masculine or feminine) 
and Italian articles do too…

The masculine indefinite article in Italian is UN:

un (a/an) masculine indefinite article

un libro
a book

un ragazzo
a boy

un giorno
a day

un occhio
an eye


The feminine indefinite article in Italian is UNA:
una (a/an), feminine indefinite article

una cosa
a thing

una ragazza
a girl

una casa
a house

una birra
a beer

In general, nouns that end in "o" are masculine, and nouns that end in "a" are feminine, but there are some exceptions that must be memorized as well as nouns that end in -e, -à and others.  When learning a new noun, I recommend learning it with the article, so that the association of the noun with its gender becomes automatic.


In English, if the word following the article starts with a vowel sound the article becomes "an":

an apple
an orange
an ear
an eye

This "n" has a function— it makes pronunciation easier.

Similary, in Italian, the masculine and feminine articles vary a bit based on the starting sound of the following word:

Masculine nouns that start with Z, S+consonant, PS and GN take UNO:

uno, masculine indefinite article before words that start with Z, S(+consonant), PS, and GN

uno zaino
a backpack

uno sport
a sport

uno psicologo
a psychiatrist

uno gnocco
a dumpling


Italian adds the vowel "o" to break up these difficult consonant clusters that would be hard to pronounce together. 

With feminine nouns that begin with these consonants, you don't have to do anything special because UNA already has a vowel:

una zia
an aunt

una sposa
a bride


For feminine nouns, UNA becomes shortened to UN' (with an apostrophe) and attached if the following word starts with a vowel: 

un' (a/an) + féminine word that begins with a vowel

a friend (that's a girl)

an orange soda

This rule can be easily remembered if you practice saying the words aloud.  If you say: una amica you have to say the "a" sound twice— it glides along much better to just have one "a" sound: un'amica so that's how you pronounce it and write it.

The masculine form UN doesn't have an extra vowel sound at the end, so you don't need to do anything special with words that begin with vowels:

un amico
a friend (that's a boy)

un anniversario
an anniversary

That's it!  Capito? (got it?)

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Acque del sud (To Have and Have Not) original: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow."