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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Genere dei Nomi


Note: My background is a Bachelor’s in Linguistics. This field of Linguistics is not to be confused with linguists who speak multiple languages, as there are two types. My field of knowledge is in Linguistics, which is the study of language structures, as I prefer to define it. By language structures, this means the studying of phonology (language’s ‘sound’ system), syntax (a language’s sentence structuring), and the like. There are many, many areas in Linguistics, and far too many to name at this time. In spite of the background, and touching in areas of Linguistics at times, I find that it is best not to go to in depth with the linguistical explanations of the Italian language. It can get a bit complicated, and for the most part would think my audience does not have a basic knowledge of Linguistics studies. Therefore, any lettering referencing in this post, and those that follow, are not in reference to the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), to keep things as simple as possible. The IPA is used by Linguists worldwide in order to properly represent the sounds found in a language.


Noun Genders in the Italian Language

In the English language, speakers do not have to worry about the gender of nouns. However, Italian has a two gender system for its nouns – masculine and feminine. This trait developed from Latin, which originally had a three gender system – masculine, feminine, and neuter. Accompanying adjectives must agree with the assigned gender of the noun. There are also masculine and feminine plural endings, -i for masculine and –e for feminine, in most cases. Plural endings will be discussed in a separate post. Of course there are always exceptions to the rules for determining noun gender, which take into account things like, language origin – such as Greek and English words.

Well how can I determine the origin of the word, you ask? That is also a separate topic. Back to basics!

Noun gender is defined by the vowel endings. What is a vowel? The following letters are vowels – a,e,i,o, and u, just as you would find in the English language. 


Typically, masculine nouns end in –o, whereas feminine nouns end in –a.

Some examples of masculine nouns:


Italian
English
Italian
English
 tavolo
 table
 cerchio
circle
cielo
 sky
cucchiaio
fork
albero
 tree
uccello
Bird
gatto
cat
cavallo
horse
libro
book
piatto
plate

Some examples of feminine nouns:

Italian
English
Italian
English
forchetta
Fork
zanzara
Mosquito
scarpa
Shoe
luna
Moon
macchina
Car
scala
Stair/step
Ragazza
Girl
figlia
Daughter
gonna
Skirt
Pupetta
doll


As previously stated, for the most part, masculine and feminine nouns are easily identifiable. However, there are exceptions.

Some Greek words are deceiving. In spite of its feminine ending, these Greek origin words are in fact masculine:

Italian
English
Italian
English
problema
Problem
Tema
Theme/subject

Rule: Greek words that end in –ema are masculine. What about Greek words that do not end in –a or –o? Example: tesì (thesis).

Tesì is feminine – la tesì.

What can we deduce from certain Greek words that do not follow the rules? It is unfortunately all about memorization.

Other deceiving foreign words:

La radio (English derived)
Lo smoking ( tuxedo, English derived)


Other helpful hints determining noun gender:

* Nouns that end in –zione are always feminine.

Italian
English
Italian
English
La stazione
Station
La distrazione
Distraction
La costituzione
Constitution
L’opzione
Option
La situazione
Situation
La costruzione
Construction
La distruzione
Destruction
L’operazione
operation


*Cities (le città) are always feminine.
 
Italian
English
Italian
English
La Lucca
----
La Parigi
Paris
La New York
----
L’Inghilterra
England
La Bologna
----
L’Amsterdam
----

*Regions (le regioni) are always feminine.
La Toscana
La Puglia
La Lazio
La Veneto
La Lomardia
La Calabria

*Islands (le isole) are always feminine.

La Sardegna
La Sicilia

*Countries (i paesi) are always feminine.

Italian
English
Italian
English
La Francia
France
L’Italia
----
L’America
----
La Svizza
Switzerland
La Germania
Germany
La Spagna
Spain
La Russia
----
La Cina
China


Hope this information is useful to those beginning to learn Italian. My hope is that I’ve made your life a bit easier. However, that is not to say that memorization of noun gender is not of importance.


Other helpful sites:

Orbilat: Linguistics site
Orbilat: Gender of Nouns (Genere dei nomi)
Orbilat: List of Greek masculine nouns ending in -ma.


Any other rules Italian speakers can think of? Please feel free to leave other rules in the comment area!


Buona giornata!!! And Happy Mother's Day tomorrow in the USA!!!


Photo: The above photo was taken by me. Please do not improperly use aforementioned photo elsewhere without asking for permission. Thank you!

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