Having conquered Italian nouns in the singular in the post “Start flying in Italian, sort of“, it’s time to look at how the plurals are formed. While I type, a plug-in that I have downloaded will analyse what I am saying, and suggest pictures to go with this post. So far it has suggested a portrait of Henry Wriothesely, the 3rd Earl of Southampton! Obviously it has no idea what I am talking about, unless Henry was a conqueror. Anyway, Henry looks like a smart chappy, he is wearing fancy clothes fresh from the laundry, so let’s put him in. Maybe he conquered the Italian language or wooed Italian women in the plural, I don’t know.
So, how are plurals of nouns are formed? In general, note the following
- Singular nouns ending in the letter -o change it to an -i in the plural
- Singular nouns ending in -e also change to -i
- Singular nouns ending in -a change to -e
This suggests that all Italian nouns end in vowels, which is something that has not been drawn to my attention before. However, my thick Italian dictionary offers words such as scuolabus (school bus), computer and overbooking (Italy being a popular tourist destination, it must get a lot of overbookings, or maybe its booking systems are not up to scratch), so the language is obviously borrowing words here and there.
(Don’t you think it is confusing to have –e endings in the singular changing to –i in the plural, and –a endings in the singular changing to –e in the plural? It would be so much simpler if all nouns changed to -i.)
There are, however, exceptions. OMG! There are so many exceptions. The plurals of nouns ending in the following require special treatment: -si, -co, -go-, -ca, -ga, -cio, -gio, -cia, -gia, -io, -ista, -ema, -amma. so we will save them for another post. The picture plug-in is getting terribly confused: it is suggesting pictures of all sorts of Henrys (such as the Henry mountains), some ancient Greek noun declensions, and busty Italian nurses.
OK, now let’s look at the plurals of articles accompanying nouns.
The definite article
- lo, which is used before any masculine noun beginning with s + a consonant or z, and l’, which is used before any masculine noun beginning with a vowel, become gli in the plural.
- il, which is used before masculine words starting with other consonants, becomes i in the plural
- the la and l’ used before feminine nouns beginning with a consonant and a vowel, respectively, become le in the plural
Here are some examples: l’aeroporto becomes gli aeroporti; lo zio becomes gli zii (the uncle/the uncles); il ragazzo becomes i ragazzi; and la ragazza becomes la ragazze (boys and girls respectively); il cameriere becomes i camerieri (waiter/waiters – try it the next time you go to an Italian restaurant); and l’automobile becomes le automobili. Note how you don’t need the apostrophe with feminine plurals.
To bring this lesson to life, here is a quick summary from a YouTube teacher.