Il dito ma le dita?
I wonder what is the real gender of this noun. Are there any other exceptions like this case?
It is actually an exception: a really few words mantain the Latin neuter plural in -a (which was then considered as a feminine). Along with "dito (dita)", other frequent words are "braccio (braccia)" and "uovo (uova)". As you can see, the gender depends on the number, so you write "un dito rotto" but "le dita lunghe".
I love your explanation basically because I always want to know the origin of such exception!
You are welcome :)
If you are interested in this subject I may also add that there are sitautions where the two forms of plural (-i and -a) are possibile but they are used in different contexts: for example, "le membra del corpo" (concrete meaning) but "i membri del club" (abstract meaning).
Also the example "il braccio"; the more common plural is "le braccia", which indicate the arms in the human body, but you say "i bracci" in other contexts (for instance, if you talk about industrial devices which use mechanical arms). A further example is "l'osso" (masculine), which has a very common feminine plural "le ossa", which is used when you talk of the bones of the human body; but you can say "gli ossi" if you are talking about the bones in the meat you eat).
Do you know if there is any distinction in usage with "le ginocchia" and "i ginocchi" (knees) and "le grida" and "i gridi" (shouts/screams)? I've seen these in novels, sometimes both forms on the same page, with little apparent difference in meaning.
About "il muro", the masculine plural "i muri" indicates walls in general.
The feminine plural "le mura" is used when you need to indicate all the walls that surround an environment; in particular, it's used when you talk about walls who were used to protect ancient cities. As a result, "le mura" indicates walls used as borders of an environment.
Personally I say only "ginocchia" and "grida" (I guess I've never used "ginocchi" and "gridi" in my life). If you want to know what my dictionary says:
- ginocchi = "regular" plural vs. ginocchia = "collective sense";
- gridi = used mostly, but not exclusively, for animals vs. grida = only for humans.
As you can see, especially for "ginocchi/ginocchia" the differences are so subtle that even native speakers don't pay much attention to them! In conclusion, I would say that if you know dita, uova, braccia you will never have problems :)
This discussion has been very enlightening. I'm trying to think of other words where I've seen both types of plurals to pick your minds, but I think the most common ones have been mentioned. According to the dictionary, urli/urla works like gridi/grida (I guess animals don't get the fancy plurals for their sounds). If I think of any others, I'll post. These kind of subtleties are interesting to me. Why is my other post being downvoted, though? Am I being punished for writing in Italian? (I don't get many chances to do so these days; that was my only motivation.)
mmseiple, in answer to "Il senso collettivo di ginocchia...", my guess is that the collective sense of knees means you are speaking about a collection of knees in general, rather than a (smaller) collection of individual knees, if that makes sense. For example, "knees help your legs bend" might be a collective sense and "the girls' knees couldn't hold out any longer" might be a regular plural sense (individual knees). I imagine it's a bit the same as "il popolo" (the people in the collective sense) vs "la gente/ le persone" (individual people). It would be interesting to see more examples of technically correct Italian to see if my theory fits with the usage! By the way, I think the etiquette is to write in the language of the interface you are using, just because everyone is at different levels and some might feel excluded if they don't understand. I get plenty of practice writing Italian in the "Italian learning English" interface (which I think you are using too?) Explanations of preferences are much more helpful and friendly than downvotes, though...
See, I thought that was maybe the case, but it doesn't really work in practice. A quick Google search shows that "le mie ginocchia" gets more than four times as many results as "i miei ginocchi," and you can't really get much more specific than your own knees. : ) I'm still puzzling over what that really means.
Il senso collettivo di "ginocchia"... Ma quando non è collettivo un plurale? Questo lo devo pensare più, ahaha. Interessante la differenza fra "gridi" e "grida"; non l'avevo mai sentita. Domandavo solo per curiosità. Una volta ho fatto quella domanda a un amico italiano e mi ha detto solo: "Boh..." (la solita risposta alle mie domande di questo genere). : ) Ho cercato nel vocabolario Treccani anche "muro" e pure lì si parla di questo "valore collettivo" per l'uso di "le mura". Ma cosa vorrà dire? I misteri del dizionario...
If I ever form an Italian rock band, though, "Il valore collettivo delle ginocchia" would be an awesome name for it. : )
Yeah, it's puzzling for me too, so I thought maybe it is a technically correct usage that is becoming obsolete, but actually I had never even heard of "ginocchi", so it probably doesn't wash...
I see it in books every once in a while. Else Morante I know does a lot of switching between forms, not just ginocchi/ginoccia but others mentioned here. I can't remember if I've ever heard it from anyone in person, but I can't say I do much talking about knees, collective or otherwise. This discussion on Wordreference is interesting, even if they don't come to any clear conclusions either: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1768531
Today I learn about il labbro but le labbra, so I start to notice that all the exceptions seem to relate to parts of human body
Another weird body part one that I just thought of: there are two words for "ear," "orecchia" (feminine) and "orecchio" (masculine), but in practice, the masculine "orecchio" is more commonly used in the singular form and the feminine "orecchie" is more commonly used for the plural. Wordreference.com actually lists "orecchie" as the plural for "orecchio," even though they're technically different words.