English has only one definite article, "the". Italian, however, has seven. The choice of article in Italian depends on number, gender and the initial segments of the adjective and noun.
The definite articles of Italian are la, l', le, il, lo, i and gli. Thus Italian uses seven different definite articles. For feminine nouns, Italian uses la, l' and le. The first is used before feminine singular adjectives and nouns that start with a consonant, the second before feminine singular and plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel and the third before feminine plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel.
For masculine nouns, Italian uses il, l', lo, i and gli. The first is used before masculine singular adjectives and nouns that start with a consonant, the second before masculine singular and plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel, the third before masculine singular adjectives and nouns that start with a "z" or an "s" followed by a consonant, the fourth before masculine plural adjectives and nouns that start with a "z" or "s" followed by a consonant and the fifth before masculine plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel.
The following examples will illustrate the use of Italian definite articles with feminine nouns.
la casa (the house)
l'acqua (the water)
le case (the houses)
Notice that "the house" and "the houses" use a different definite article in Italian.
These examples will illustrate the use of Italian definite articles with masculine nouns.
il ristorante (the restaurant)
l'ospedale (the hospital)
lo sbaglio (the mistake)
i ristoranti (the restaurants)
i sbagli (the mistakes)
gli ospedali (the hospitals)
The definite article "lo" is only used before consonant clusters. The "z" in Italian is an alveolar affricate as in "lo zio" (the uncle). The use of "i" instead of "il" results in a shorter consonant sequence in "i sbagli". This is typical of Italian because it is a language which favours a CV syllable structure and tends to avoid the consonant clusters that are common in other languages.
At first glance, it may appear that the rules for the use of definite articles in Italian are rather complicated. However, the definite articles of Italian can be learned with minimal effort because the rules are logical and consistent.
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