The Italian Language

The Italian language is closest to a branch of Romance language known as Vulgar Latin. It is the third most widely spoken first language in the European Union. Italian has a total of about 64.8 million native speakers and about 3 million speakers who speak Italian as a second language. Italian is an official language in ItalyCroatiaSan MarinoSloveniaSwitzerland, and the Vatican City. Italian is also widely spoken in AlbaniaGreeceMaltaMonaco, Montenegro, some parts of France, as well as in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa regions where it plays a significant role in various sectors.

Today, Italian is a major European language. It is one of the official languages of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and also one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. It serves as the lingua franca in the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. In addition, Italian has a widespread influence in the arts and musical industry where the language is mostly used in opera and music terminology. Italian was reported to be the fifth most frequently taught foreign language in the world.

History of the Italian Language

The standard Italian language has a poetic and literary origin in the writings of Tuscan writers of the 12th century. During the 13th century, writers such as Dante Alighieri (AD 1265 – 1321), Petrarch and Boccaccio were influential in popularising their own Italian dialect as a standard literary language, which was known as the Tuscan of Florence (la lingua fiorentina). Due to the political and cultural significance of Florence at the time, the Florentine dialect quickly gained prestige and by the 14th century, it was used throughout Italy. As the Tuscan-derived Italian came to be used throughout Italy, features of local speech were naturally adopted, producing various versions of regional Italian dialect. Today the Tuscan dialect is known as Italian, which is now the official language of Italy, also known as the language of the arts and the media.

Dialects

There are many distinctive dialects for each city throughout Italy. The most characteristic differences, for example, between Roman Italian and Milanese Italian are the gemination of initial consonants and the pronunciation of stressed "e", and of "s" in some cases.

 

For instance:

va bene (all right) is pronounced

[va ˈbːɛne] by a Roman and a standard Italian speaker,

[va ˈbene] by a Milanese (and by any speaker whose native dialect lies to the north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line);

a casa (at home) is pronounced

[a ˈkːasa] for Roman and a standard Italian speaker,

[a ˈkaza] for Milanese and generally northern Italians.

 

Map of Italy

Italian Dialects across the peninsula (click to enlarge)

Alphabets and Pronunciations

Italian alphabets are kind of similar to the ones in English because Roman letters are used due to the Roman influence since the early part of the 1st Century AD. For this, if you are an English speaker, learning Italian may not be as difficult as you think it is. However, you need to pay attention to some of the more unique pronunciations in Italian because one letter can be read in only one way, but there are also other letters which can be read in two ways. Once the rules of the Italian pronunciation are understood, it becomes fairly easier for you to read Italian and pronounce Italian words correctly.

Italian Aplhabets and Pronunciation

 

Italian vowels may appear confusing to foreign speakers, but the good news is, Italian vowels are always articulated in a sharp and clear manner, without any stresses unlike the ones you encounter in English words. Italians pronounce their words the way it is according to the rules, just like the way it is written.

Italian vowels, diphthongs, and consonant geminations

 

Italian Grammar

Gender Nouns

Nouns in Italian come in two different forms. They are either masculine, or feminine nouns.

Masculine Noun Feminine Noun
ends in ‘-o’ ends in ‘-a’
ends in ‘-ma’ (most) ends in ‘-o’ (some)
from ‘-o’ to ‘-i’ (plural) from ‘-a’ to ‘-e’ (plural)
Either Masculine or Feminine Noun
ends in ‘-e’
ends in ‘-ta’
from ‘-e’ to ‘-i’ (plural)

Adjectives

Adjectives usually follows the noun they modify.

Masculine Adjectives

Singular: end in ‘-o’

Plural: end in ‘-i’

cappello

cappelli

Feminine Adjectives

Singular: end in ‘-a’

Plural: end in ‘-e’

bella

belle

Masculine & Feminine Adjectives

Singular: end in ‘-e’

Plural: end in ‘-i’

classe

classi

Some common adjectives precede the nouns they modify.

Eg. bello, piccolo, grande, buono

 

Possessive Adjectives

Singular

Plural

Masculine

il mio (my)

il tuo (your)

il suo (his, her, its)

il nostro (our)

il vostro (your)

il loro (their)

i miei

i tuoi

i suoi

i nostri

i vostri

i loro

Feminine

la mia (my)

la tua (your)

la sua (his, her, its)

la nostra (our)

la vostra (your)

la loro (their)

le mie

le tue

le sue

le nostre

le vostre

le loro

 

Prepositions

a

to, at

su

on

in

in, into

con

with

di

by, of

senza

without

per

for

tra

between

da

from

fra

among

 

Articles

Articles must agree in gender and number if they are written or spoken with the nouns.

“the”

Masculine:

Il, Io, I’, I, gli

Singular

Majority of the masculine nouns will be preceded by Il

Masculine nouns that begin with ‘-z’ or ‘-s’ followed by a consonant, will be preceded by Io

Nouns beginning with a vowel are preceded by I’

Plural

Il I

Io / I’ gli

Feminine:

la, l’, le

Singular

la or l’ as in l’amica

(the “female” friend)

Plural

le at all times

“a”/“an”

Masculine:

un, uno

Un used most of the time

Uno precedes masculine nouns beginning with ‘z-’ or ‘s-’ followed by a consonant.

Feminine:

una, un’

Una used most of the time

Un’ precedes feminine nouns beginning with a vowel.

 

Pronouns

Personal Pronouns

Subjects
io (I)
tu (you)
lui (he), lei (she)
Lei (you - formal)
noi (we)
voi (you, plural)
loro (they)
Loro (you - formal    plural)
Direct Object
mi (me)
ti (you)
lo (him, it, mas.)
la (her, it, fem.)
La (you - formal)
ci (us)
vi (you)
li (them, mas.)
le (them, fem.)
Li (you - formal mas. plural)
Le (you - formal fem. plural)
Indirect Object
mi (to me, for me)
ti (to you, for you)
gli (to him, for him)
le (to her, for her)
Le (to you, for you - formal)
ci (to us, for us)
vi (to you, for you)
loro (to them, for them)
Loro (to you, for you - formal, plural)
 
Stressed Forms after a Verb or Preposition
me (me)
te (you)
lui (him)
lei (her)
sè (himself, herself, itself, oneself, themselves)
Lei (you - formal)
noi (us)
voi (you)
Loro (you - formal, plural), loro (them)

 

Possessive Pronouns

Masculine Singular Masculine Plural
il mio (mine)

il tuo (yours)

il suo (his, hers, its)

il nostro (ours)

il vostro (yours, plural)

il loro (theirs)

i miei

i tuoi

i suoi

i nostri

i vostri

i loro

Feminine Singular Feminine Plural
la mia (mine)

la tua (yours)

la sua (his, hers, its)

la nostra (ours)

la vostra (yours)

la loro (theirs)

le mie

le tue

le sue

le nostre

le vostre

le loro

Italian Verbs

One challenging task in learning Italian Grammar is to understand the structure of how verbs are formed. We will just focus on regular verbs on this page.

Italian Verb Structure

Italian Verb Structure

 

Formation of Regular Verbs

 

The following table is for both indicative and subjunctive moods in simple tenses ending with -are or lavorare (to work)

Singular

Present

lavoro

lavori

lavora

Imperfect

lavoravo

lavoravi

lavorava

Past

lavorai

lavorasti

lavorò

Future

lavorerò

lavorerài

lavorerà

Conditional

lavorerei

lavoreresti

lavorerebbe

Pres. Subject

lavori

lavori

lavori

Imp. Subject

lavorassi

lavorassi

lavorasse

 

Plural

Present

lavoriamo

lavoriate

lavorano

Imperfect

lavoramo

lavoravate

lavoravano

Past

lavorammo

lavoraste

lavorarono

Future

lavoremo

lavorete

lavoranno

Conditional

lavoremmo

lavoreste

lavorebbero

Pres. Subject

lavoriamo

lavoriate

lavorino

Imp. Subject

lavorassimo

lavoraste

lavorassero

 

The following table is for both indicative and subjunctive moods in simple tenses ending with -ere or vendere (to sell)

Singular

Present

vendo

venderi

vendere

Imperfect

vendevo

vendevi

vendeva

Past

vendetti

vendesti

vendette

Future

venderò

venderai

venderà

Conditional

venderei

venderesti

venderebbe

Pres. Subject

vendera

vendera

vendera

Imp. Subject

vendessi

vendessi

vendesse

 

Plural

Present

vendiamo

vendete

vendono

Imperfect

venevamo

vendevate

vendevano

Past

vendemmo

vendeste

venderono

Future

venderemo

venderete

venderanno

Conditional

venderemmo

vendereste

venderebbero

Pres.  Subject

vendiamo

vendiate

vendano

Imp.    Subject

vendessimo

vendeste

vendessero

 

The following table is for both indicative and subjunctive moods in simple tenses ending with -ire or servire (to serve)

Singular      

Present

servo

servi

serve

Imperfect

servivo

servivi

serviva

Past

servii

servisti

servi

Future

servirò

servirai

servirà

Conditional

servirei

serviresti

servirebbe

Pres. Subject

serva

serva

serva

Imp. Subject

servissi

servissi

servisse

 

Plural

Present

serviamo

servite

servono

Imperfect

servivamo

servivate

servivano

Past

servimmo

serviste

servirono

Future

serviremo

servirete

serviranno

Conditional

serviremmo

servireste

servirebbero

Pres. Subject

serviamo

serviate

servano

Imp. Subject

servissimo

serviste

servissero