One of the more confusing things about the Italian language is that gender assignment is totally arbitrary. There is no real logic behind the word sedia (chair) being feminine and tavolo (table) being masculine.
Finding an agreement between the noun and the article can also prove challenging for a beginner (i.e. since sedia is feminine, the article la is required, while the article il is required for the masculine tavolo).
In general, Italian nouns can be classified into three primary categories.
- Nouns which end with -o are usually masculine, but there are exceptions. Consider la foto and la moto for instance. Due to being abbreviated forms of feminine words (fotografia, motocicletta), they must be treated as such and therefore take the feminine article.
- Nouns which end with -a are usually feminine (singular forms), but there are some (il problema, il clima, il panorama, etc.) that are masculine.
- Nouns which end with -e can be both masculine and feminine.
There are other useful guidelines as well (ALL with various exceptions).
- Nouns can have a completely different meaning depending on whether they are masculine or feminine (il capitale/la capitale, il fine/la fine).
- Nouns ending with -ore, -one or -ale are usually masculine.
- Nouns ending with -ione are usually feminine (especially abstract nouns).
- Most nouns ending in -tore form the feminine by changing the suffix to -trice (attore/attrice, scrittore/scrittrice).
- Nouns ending with -e are often used to refer to professions.
- Nouns ending with -ista and -cida have the same form for masculine and feminine in the singular, but different forms in the plural (la giornalista/il giornalista, le giornaliste/i giornalisti).
Unfortunately, a great deal of memorization and immersion will be required in order to obtain a sufficient grasp on all of the exceptions and idiosyncrasies.
Frequently used words that are unmistakably understood in another language are referred to as “cognates”. Many of these words are not only similar in appearance, but sometimes identical.
- telefono (telephone)
- oceano (ocean)
- automobile (automobile)
Be careful though, as languages can be tricky and present false cognates (words that look similar, but have different meanings) as well.
- estate (summer)
- parenti (relatives)
- genitori (parents)
Listed below are some cognates that can be easily memorized and quickly added to your Italian vocabulary.