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A Guide to Italian Grammar: Essential Basics and Beyond

Have you ever wanted to travel to Italy and drive down the Amalfi Coast? Interested in moving abroad and starting a whole new life? Or do you just find the Italian language beautiful and want to work towards fluency for fun? Regardless of the reason you decide to start learning Italian, you'll need to brush up on some new vocabulary and a whole set of different grammar rules. Luckily, Italian grammar isn't too intimidating. However, although there are a few similarities between parts of Italian grammar and English grammar, there are also unfamiliar elements and variations to specific rules. To help you master some basic Italian phrases and start communicating with native Italian speakers, here are some foundational Italian grammar rules to get you started. 

11 Italian Grammar Rules to Know About

When you start learning Italian, you'll need to study grammar rules to put together sentences and hold basic conversations. Although not necessarily as fun as growing your Italian vocabulary, grammar provides you with the building blocks to communication and eventual fluency. To help you create a strong foundation, here are a few of the most important Italian grammar rules to start with.

1. Nouns are Gendered in the Italian Language

Italian is a gendered language, which means that every noun is either masculine or feminine. The tough part of this is that the gender of a noun is not always logically determined by its meaning, so you'll just need to work on building up a strong vocabulary using flashcards and plenty of practice. Still, knowing the gender of a noun is important for both article and adjective use.

Some examples of masculine nouns in Italian include:

  • l'uomo (the man)
  • il ragazzo (the boy)
  • il padre (the father)
  • il fratello (the brother)
  • il cane (the dog)

Some examples of feminine nouns in Italian include:

  • la donna (the woman)
  • la ragazza (the girl)
  • la madre (the mother)
  • la sorella (the sister)
  • la cagna (the female dog)

Generally speaking, if a noun ends in an -a, it's feminine, and if a noun ends in an -o, it's masculine. But this isn't a concrete rule, so it's better to double-check. Luckily, native Italian speakers understand that this part of language learning can take some time, so don't stress too much about it if you make a mistake. Work on your pronunciation and the Italian alphabet, and then go from there!

2. Adjectives Need to Agree with Nouns

Since Italian nouns are gendered, Italian adjectives must agree with both the gender and the number of the nouns they modify. This means that the adjective's ending will change to match the gender and number of the noun. 

Let's look at a few adjectives to see how they change by gender and number. The original adjective forms are as follows:

  • gentile (kind)
  • simpatico (nice)
  • affettuoso (affectionate)
  • intelligente (intelligent)
  • fedele (loyal) 

When we want to add these to masculine words, adjectives will usually stay the same unless the word is plural:

  • l'uomo gentile (the kind man)
  • gli uomini gentili (the kind men)
  • il ragazzo simpatico (the nice boy)
  • i ragazzi simpatici (the nice boys)
  • il padre affettuoso (the affectionate father)
  • i padri affettuosi (the affectionate fathers)
  • il fratello intelligente (the intelligent brother)
  • i fratelli intelligenti (the intelligent brothers)
  • il cane fedele (the loyal dog)
  • i cani fedeli (the loyal dogs)

When we want to add these to feminine words, notice how they differ:

  • la donna gentile (the kind woman)
  • le donne gentili (the kind women)
  • la ragazza simpatica (the nice girl)
  • le ragazze simpatiche (the nice girls)
  • la madre affettuosa (the affectionate mother)
  • le madri affettuose (the affectionate mothers)
  • la sorella intelligente (the intelligent sister)
  • le sorelle intelligenti (the intelligent sisters)
  • la cagna fedele (the loyal female dog)
  • le cagne fedeli (the loyal female dogs)

3. Adjectives Can Also Transform Into Adverbs

Italian adjectives can also transform into adverbs by dropping or changing the last letter in the adjective and replacing it with -mente. Although you'll also need to add verbs to make a complete sentence, you can see the changes in our examples below.

For masculine nouns in Italian grammar:

  • gli uomini gentilmente (the men kindly)
  • i ragazzi simpaticamente (the boys nicely)
  • i padri affettuosamente (the fathers affectionately)
  • i fratelli intelligentemente (the brothers intelligently)
  • i cani fedelmente (the dogs faithfully)

For feminine nouns in Italian grammar:

  • le donne gentili (the kind women)
  • le ragazze simpatiche (the nice girls)
  • le madri affettuose (the affectionate mothers)
  • le sorelle intelligenti (the intelligent sisters)
  • le cagne fedeli (the loyal female dogs)

4. There are Several Different Types of Italian Pronouns

Italian pronouns are essential parts of speech that replace nouns or noun phrases to simplify sentences and avoid repetition. They can be used as subjects, objects, Italian possessives, and reflexes within a sentence. To help you practice your Italian pronouns, download Tandem today. Some of the most important pronouns in Italian include the following.

Subject pronouns replace the subject of a sentence.

  • Io (I)
  • Tu (You)
  • Lui/Lei (He/She)
  • Noi (We)
  • Voi (You all)
  • Loro (They)

For example: Io parlo italiano. — I speak Italian.

Direct object pronouns in Italian replace the direct object of a verb (the thing or person receiving the action).

  • Mi (Me)
  • Ti (You)
  • Lo/La (Him/Her/It)
  • Ci (Us)
  • Vi (You all)
  • Li/Le (Them)

For example: Ti vedo. — I see you.

Indirect object pronouns replace the indirect object of a verb, which is the recipient of the action.

  • Mi (To/For me)
  • Ti (To/For you)
  • Gli/Le (To/For him/To/For her)
  • Ci (To/For us)
  • Vi (To/For you all)
  • Loro (To/For them)

For example: Le ho telefonato. — I called her.

Possessive pronouns in Italian indicate ownership.

  • Mio (Mine)
  • Tuo (Yours)
  • Suo (His/Hers/Its)
  • Nostro (Ours)
  • Vostro (Yours)
  • Loro (Theirs)

For example: Questo libro è mio. — This book is mine.

5. Understand the Different Types of Italian Verbs

Italian verbs are classified into three main groups based on their infinitive endings: -are, -ere, and -ire verbs. Each group follows specific conjugation patterns. For example:

  • -are verbs: parlare (to speak)
  • -ere verbs: credere (to believe)
  • -ire verbs: dormire (to sleep)

You'll also have irregular verbs, which will require memorization. Irregular verb endings are kind of random and don't really follow a "traditional" pattern. 

6. Learn Italian Verb Conjugation

Verb conjugation in Italian involves changing the verb form to match the subject, tense, and mood. Regular verbs follow predictable patterns, but irregular verbs have unique conjugation forms across different tenses and moods. For example:

Here's how you conjugate Italian verbs in the present tense with -are endings, using  "parlare" (to speak) as an example.

  • lo parlo (I speak) 
  • tu parli (you speak)
  • Lui/lei parla (he/she speaks)
  • noi parliamo (we speak)
  • voi parlate (you all speak)
  • loro parlano (they speak) 

Next, you can see how to conjugate -ere verbs in the present tense, with "leggere" (to read) as an example.

  • Io leggo (I read)
  • Tu leggi (You read)
  • Lui/Lei legge (He/She reads)
  • Noi leggiamo (We read)
  • Voi leggete (You all read)
  • Loro leggono (They read)

Finally, let's conjugate the Italian verb "dormire" (to sleep). This is how all regular -ire verbs in the present tense will be conjugated.

  • Io dormo (I sleep)
  • Tu dormi (You sleep)
  • Lui/Lei dorme (He/She sleeps)
  • Noi dormiamo (We sleep)
  • Voi dormite (You all sleep)
  • Loro dormono (They sleep)

7. Learn Some Common Irregular Verbs

Irregular Italian verbs can be a bit more difficult to learn, as they don't follow any specific rules. To get started, try learning a few that are most commonly used in language, such as essere, avere, fare, andare, and venire.

Essere (to be):

  • Io sono (I am)
  • Tu sei (You are)
  • Lui/Lei è (He/She is)
  • Noi siamo (We are)
  • Voi siete (You all are)
  • Loro sono (They are)

Avere (to have):

  • Io ho (I have)
  • Tu hai (You have)
  • Lui/Lei ha (He/She has)
  • Noi abbiamo (We have)
  • Voi avete (You all have)
  • Loro hanno (They have)

Fare (to do/to make):

  • Io faccio (I do/make)
  • Tu fai (You do/make)
  • Lui/Lei fa (He/She does/makes)
  • Noi facciamo (We do/make)
  • Voi fate (You all do/make)
  • Loro fanno (They do/make)

Andare (to go):

  • Io vado (I go)
  • Tu vai (You go)
  • Lui/Lei va (He/She goes)
  • Noi andiamo (We go)
  • Voi andate (You all go)
  • Loro vanno (They go)

Venire (to come):

  • Io vengo (I come)
  • Tu vieni (You come)
  • Lui/Lei viene (He/She comes)
  • Noi veniamo (We come)
  • Voi venite (You all come)
  • Loro vengono (They come)

8. To Speak Italian, You Need to Differentiate Between Types of "You"

Italian grammar uses four different versions of "you," depending on who you're talking to or talking about. Each type of "you" will be used to address someone depending on the level of formality, number (singular or plural), and whether you're using the polite form. These include tu, Voi, Lei, and Loro.

Tu is the singular, informal way of saying "you" in Italian. It's used when addressing someone you know, such as family members, friends, or peers.

  • Tu sei molto gentile. — You are very kind.

Voi is the plural, informal form of "you" that's used when addressing multiple people you're familiar with. 

  • Voi siete i miei migliori amici. — You all are my best friends.

Lei is the singular, formal form of "you." It's used when addressing one person formally or respectfully, such as with strangers, elders, or in professional contexts.

  • Lei è molto cortese. — You are very courteous.

Loro is the plural, formal form of "you." If you're speaking to a larger group of people and want to show respect, this is the best option. 

  • Loro sono i nostri ospiti. — You all are our guests.

9. Even Italians Break Italian Grammar Rules

Italian grammar follows plenty of rules, but even native speakers sometimes veer away from them to break the rules. There are several reasons you might hear a native speaking differently than what they teach you in Italian grammar books, ranging from dialects and formality to conversational efficiency and even language evolution.

Like many countries, Italy has a rich diversity of regional dialects, each following its own grammar and vocabulary rules. Italian slang may also be heavily used by some people, which can make it difficult to follow. However, conversational efficiency is one of the most interesting reasons for grammatical changes. People speak fast, and intent and clarity usually take priority over the rules, so they may shorten or omit certain grammatical elements to make their message more direct. But don't worry, every Italian will still understand you if you follow the rules.

10. Questions Are Easily Formed

In Italian, questions can easily be formed by simply adding a "?" to the end of a statement sentence or speaking with rising intonation. For example:

  • Statement: Ho finito il compito. (I finished the homework.)
  • Question: Ho finito il compito? (Did I finish the homework?)
  • Statement: Lui parla italiano. — He speaks Italian.
  • Question: Lui parla italiano? — Does he speak Italian?

However, yes-no questions can also be formed by changing the word order from SVO to VSO, such as in the examples below.

  • Statement: Tu parli italiano. — You speak Italian.
  • Question: Parli tu italiano? — Do you speak Italian?
  • Statement: Loro mangiano la pizza. — They eat pizza.
  • Question: Mangiano loro la pizza? — Do they eat pizza?

11. Putting It All Together with Italian Sentence Structure

Italian sentence structure follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) pattern, similar to English, French, and a few other languages. However, like French grammar, Italian grammar is a bit more flexible than English. In reality, you can change up the sentence order depending on context or if you want to place emphasis on a certain part. 

Still, the basic format is subject-verb-object, like in the example below:

  • Marco (subject) mangia (verb) la pizza (object). — Marco eats the pizza.

But, if you want to change some things around and impress your native Italian friends or create a bit of emphasis, the following sentence is also grammatically correct:

  • La pizza (object) Marco (subject) mangia (verb). — The pizza Marco eats.
  • Oggi (adverb) mangia (verb) Marco (subject) la pizza (object). — Today, Marco eats the pizza.
  • Mangia (verb) Marco (subject) la pizza (object)? — Does Marco eat the pizza?
  • Quando (subordinate clause) Marco (subject) mangia (verb), si sente felice (main clause). — When Marco eats, he feels happy.

How to Practice Italian Grammar

Mastering Italian grammar requires patience, practice, and a willingness to immerse yourself in the language. However, by starting with some fundamental basics in Italian grammar, you'll create a strong foundation to build your fluency and learn how to express yourself in Italian. 

To help you make the most of practicing grammar in Italian, download Tandem. Tandem is a personalized language learning experience that allows you to match with native Italian speakers and continue perfecting your use of basic Italian grammar in real-life situations, regardless of where you are.

Tandem works to help our members foster a deeper understanding of language while improving fluency and building long-lasting friendships. All you need to do is sign up, match with a native speaker of your target language, and start communicating. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for Tandem today!

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