How to say "the" in Italian: the basics

21st April 2019

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Do you know how to say "the" in Italian?

It's a simple question, with a complicated answer.

There are actually 7 different ways to say "the" in Italian! One of the reasons people find them so tricky is that they try to learn them all together, which isn't usually a good idea as it could make your brain explode.

Today, let's start by reviewing the basics: il, la, i and le. We'll show you using examples of the food we ate in Milan recently when we met up with one of our Italian teachers, Stefano. Find out more in episode 64 of 5 Minute Italian.

In our Facebook group, you'll find the original conversation with Italian nibbles. You can watch the video here - click on join and we'll let you in :)

To remember what you learnt in today's lesson, below you'll find bonus materials including word lists, quizzes and flashcards. But first...

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Today's Italian Vocabulary

il formaggio = (the) cheese

Mi piace il formaggio = I like (the) cheese

il prosciutto crudo = (the) Parma ham (a cured meat)

prosciutto = ham

crudo = raw

i pomodorini = (the) cherry tomatoes

il pomodorino = the cherry tomato

il grissino = the breadstick

i grissini = (the) breadsticks

La pancetta = (the) bacon

La mortadella = a type of Italian cold cut from Bologna.

La carota = (the) carrot.

Le carote = (the) carrots.

La mela = (the) apple.

Le mele = (the) apples.

Take the quiz

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Click here to take the quiz for this episode: How to say "the" in Italian: il, i, la, le


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Please note, this is not a word for word transcript.

Katie: Ciao a tutti e benvenuti a 5 Minute Italian, I’m Katie.

M: And I’m Matteo. Ciao! 

K: And today, we're going to talk about something that feels like it should be simple, but it's actually not... all of the different ways to say "the" in Italian. But don't worry, we're going to break it down over the next few episodes so by the end it will be much clearer.

M: And we're going to give you the examples by talking about some Italian food we ate recently when we met our friend Stefano.

K: Yes, I hope you're not hungry! If you like, you can watch a video of the Italian conversation we had, with transcripts in our Facebook group, you'll find the link in the show notes.

M:  In the video, I'm explaining all the Italian food that we have on the table in front of us.

K: Sì. What was on the table? Let's listen in Italian first.


  • il formaggio
  • il prosciutto crudo
  • i pomodorini
  • i grissini
  • la pancetta
  • la mortadella

K: Alright, so we started with:

M: il formaggio

K: The cheese. One of the first things to notice here, is that Italians use the word "the" much more often than we would in English. In the video, Matteo sometimes omits "il" and "la", because it's a list, but generally, Italian words are sociable, they don't like to hang around alone, so you almost never say a word like "formaggio" on its own. It's usually "il formaggio".

M: Per esempio: Mi piace il formaggio.

K: For example, I like cheese. In Italian, we say "il formaggio". I like the cheese. And we see our first "the", which is "il". We use "il" to say "the" for masculine words. We know that Italian assigns gender to words - a word can either be masculine or feminine. And for this, I would say, don't worry too much about logic - why a word is masculine or feminine - just remember that Italian has two groups of words. With the masculine group of words, you should use "il". What else did we have on the table?

M: il prosciutto crudo.

K: Parma ham. Which is cured ham, that's not cooked. In fact, prosciutto means ham, and crudo means raw, so Italians literally say "ham raw". And it's buonissimo.

M: Sì.

K: Poi, what else?

M: We also had "i pomodorini"

K: i pomodorini. Pomodorini literally means "little tomatoes". We'd call them "cherry tomatoes" in the UK. And here, we have our first plural. The singular "il pomodorino" is masculine. And as a plural it becomes "i". i pomodorini. You may also notice that the "o" at the end of the word becomes i: pomodorini.

M: We had another word like this on the table too.

K: Yes, I'll tell you the singular word and we'll see if you can guess the plural. So the word was breadsticks. For one breadstick, we say "il grissino". So how would you turn this into a plural?

M: "i grissini"

K: Perfect. What else did we eat?

M: La pancetta.

K: Bacon. La pancetta. And here, we have our first example of a feminine word, which takes the word "la". La pancetta.

K: This means that when you learn a new word, you should always learn its word for "the" too, so you know whether to say "il" or "la". What else is on the table?

M: La mortadella

K: Another feminine word, la mortadella. What's mortadella, Matteo?

M: It's another type of Italian cold cut from Bologna. It's cooked, made from pork, and sometimes comes with bits of pistacchios in it, which is my favourite.

K: Finally, what about feminine plurals? Well, we didn't have any on the table, unfortunately, but we can give you a few examples: How about "la carota" (the carrot) which is feminine. What's the plural?

M: Le carote.

K: With feminine plurals, we use "le": Le carote. And the "a" at the end of the word becomes "e". So carota becomes "carote". Let's try with "la mela" (the apple). How would you make it plural?

M: Le mele.

K: Perfetto. So that was a nice review of the basics, next week, we'll explain a couple more ways. You can watch the video from today's lesson and practise chatting in Italian with us in our 5 Minute Italian facebook group, follow the link in the show notes and we'll let you in as soon as we see your request. We'd love to see you in there. You can also get bonus materials, like a quiz, flashcards, and see all the phrases for today's lesson written down by going to and scrolling down to episode 64, or by following the link in the show notes.

Ciao for now, see you next time or as we say in Italian,

M: Alla prossima!

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