il mio vs. mio

What is the rule for using "il" or "la" in front of my?

Questo e il mio amico: This is my friend. questa e mia mamma: This is my mother.

Is it not needed when speaking of a specific person, thing?

October 12, 2016


Possessive adjectives (determiners) and pronouns always take the definite article (with one exception, see further):

il mio libro = my book → il mio  (also quello mio ) = mine

la tua bicicletta = your bicycle → la tua  (also quella tua ) = yours

i suoi amici = his / her friends → i suoi  (also quelli suoi ) = his / hers

il nostro cane = our dog → il nostro  (also quello nostro ) = ours

i vostri insegnanti = your teachers → i vostri  (also quelli vostri ) = yours

la loro casa = your house → la loro  (also quella loro ) = theirs

The only nouns before which possessive adjectives do not take the definite article are the common names of family members (i.e. relatives), when they are used in singular form. In this case, the definite article is dropped only before adjectives, not before pronouns:

padre = father → mio padre = my father ...but il mio = mine

madre = mother → tua madre = your mother ...but la tua = yours

fratello = brother → suo fratello = his/her brother ...but il suo = his/hers

sorella = sister → nostra sorella = our sister ...but la nostra = ours

figlio = son → vostro figlio = your son ...but il vostro = yours

Beware that the definite article is still required when:

① the 3rd person plural (adjective / pronoun) loro  is used:

tua figlia = your daughter → la tua = yours

nostro zio = our uncle → il nostro = ours


la loro figlia = their daughter → la loro = theirs

il loro zio = their uncle → il loro = theirs

② the noun is used in plural form:

nostro nonno = our grandfather → il nostro = ours

tua cugina = your (female) cousin → la tua = yours


i nostri nonni = our grandparents → i nostri = ours

le tue cugine = your cousins → le tue = yours

③ the noun is a term of endearment:

padre = father
papà  or  babbo = dad [term of endearment]

mio padre, tuo padre = my father, your father → il nostro = ours


il mio papà, il tuo babbo = my dad, your dad → il nostro = ours

madre = mother
mamma = mum [term of endearment]

nostra madre = our mother → la nostra = ours


la nostra mamma = our mum → la nostra = ours

Especially in the north of Italy, but also in other areas of the country, many people tend to say mio papà  instead of il mio papà , or sua mamma  instead of la sua mamma. Strictly speaking, this is ungrammatical, but it is now so commonly heard that nobody would raise an issue about it.

Other nouns that differ from the English usage, in that they do not usually take a possessive adjective, are body parts, e.g. my head, your eyes, his hand, her leg,  etc.
When they belong to a full sentence, i.e. when they act as a subject or a direct/indirect object, in Italian they usually turn into the head, the eyes, the hand, the leg, respectively, being understood that these parts belong to the same subject of the sentence.

I close my eyes  in Italian turns into I close the eyes  (which are obviously mine).

she raises her hand  in Italian turns into she raises the hand  (which is obviously hers).

Otherwise, an indirect object clitic pronoun is used:

I touch your hand  in Italian turns into I touch the hand to you  (to you  is expressed by means of an indirect object clitic pronoun, placed before the verb).

Similar rules also apply to several nouns that in English usually take a possessive adjective, such as clothes (e.g. my shirt, your trowsers,  etc.), personal belongings (my watch, your pen,  etc.), vehicles (my bicycle, your car,  etc.), in some cases to pets (my dog, your cat,  etc.)

The full set of rules is somewhat complicated, as they depend on whether the noun is the subject, the direct object or the indirect object of the sentence.

I don't know whether Duolingo dedicates a specific lesson to this, but should this topic be brought up in the future I'll try to squeeze the rules into one post.

······[edited 31 Aug 2017]······

One part of the rules can be now found in this discussion:

October 12, 2016

You mentioned that the rule is "broken by adjectives"-- by that, do you mean this?

mia sorella → my sister
la mia grande sorella → my big (older) sister
-- there are other adjectives used to say this, I know...

mio marito → my husband
il mio nuovo marito → my new husband

(I'm having trouble coming up with adjectives that work with family members that you can't normally just add behind the noun instead... e.g. mia zia bella)

October 12, 2016

I forgot to mention this particular case in my previous note.

  • If the adjective stands before the noun (this typically occurs with ordinal numerals), it forces the relative's common name to take an article :

mia moglie = my wife

la mia prima moglie = my first wife

mio figlio = my son

il mio secondo figlio = my second son

mia nipote = my niece (...or my grand-daughter)

una mia giovane nipote = a young niece of mine (...or a young grand-daughter)

  • When adjectives follow the noun, they do not take a definite article. In this case, also a second noun (e.g. a working position) can sometimes act as an adjective:

mio fratello = my brother

mio fratello minore = my younger brother

mio fratello più piccolo = my younger brother [colloquial]

mia sorella = my sister

mia sorella maggiore = my elder sister

mia sorella più grande = my elder sister [colloquial]

mio cugino = my cousin

mio cugino avvocato = my cousin (who is a) lawyer

mia zia = my aunt

mia zia dentista = my aunt (who is a) dentist

When the adjective stands after the noun, as in this second set of examples, it can take an indefinite article, but not a definite one (some debate exists on this rule):

una mia sorella maggiore = one of my elder sisters ✱

un mio fratello minore = one of my younger brothers ✱

un mio cugino avvocato = a cousin of mine (who is a) lawyer

una mia zia dentista = an aunt of mine (who is a) dentist

✱ these would be usually rephrased as:
una delle mie sorelle maggiori
uno dei miei fratelli minori

Also the demonstrative quello  can be used as an identifier for adjectives used after the relative's noun, but this sounds very colloquial (i.e. not to be used in a written text):

mio fratello quello alto = my tall brother (literally, 'my brother the tall one')

mia sorella quella giovane = my younger sister (literally, 'my sister the young one')

mio zio quello più anziano = my elder / eldest uncle (literally, 'my uncle the elder / eldest one')

mio nonno quello di Firenze = my grandfather from Florence (literally, 'my grandfather the one from Florence')

I realize that such intricate and whimsical rules might seem crazy, but that's the way it goes!

October 12, 2016

An excellent summary.
I wish that Duolingo reinforced the "body parts" exceptions more often, but here they accept both "il mio orecchio" and "l'orecchio", for "my ear", for example.
One assumes that you could use "mio/ mia" with your body parts for emphasis, I suppose?

October 12, 2016


This fits the case of body parts being the subject of the sentence, when the English verb is 'to be', e.g. my ear is clogged, your hands are cold, his hair is blond, etc..

In Italian, two constructions are possible:

  • the most common one makes use of the verb avere  ('to have') and sounds as a plain statement:

ho un orecchio ostruito = literally, I have a clogged ear

hai le mani fredde = literally, you have the cold hands

  • the more emphatic construction runs in the same way as the English sentence, including the verb essere  and the possessive adjective:

il mio orecchio è ostruito = my ear is clogged

This would be said to remark the ear condition, e.g. in reply to How come you can't hear well on that side?  (but most people would still reply using the plain form).
Or - this sounds less likely - it could be said if a doctor asked Whose ear is clogged?  (but in this case simply il mio  would be enough).

le tue mani sono fredde = your hands are cold

This sounds rather emphatic. You would expect this sentence to be used in a film, or in a theatre play, rather than in everyday's speech.

Note that in the common construction (plain form), the owner of the body part is the subject of the sentence, the body part is the direct object of the verb avere, and the condition ('clogged', 'cold', etc) is an adjective referring to the direct object:

noi abbiamo le gambe stanche = we have weary legs → our legs are weary.

noi  [subject]
abbiamo  [verb]
le gambe  [direct object]
stanche  [adjective] 

In the emphatic construction (which corresponds to the English one), instead, the body part becomes the subject, the owner is identified by means of the possessive adjective, and the condition is an adjectival predicate that follows the copula (i.e. the verb essere):

le nostre gambe sono stanche = our legs are weary

le nostre  [possessive adjective]
gambe  [subject]
sono  [copula]
stanche  [adjectival predicate].

October 12, 2016

Thank you for the explanation

September 19, 2018

You wrote, "la loro casa = your house"

Is that correct? If it is, how do you say "their house" in Italian?

Thank you

July 5, 2018

[deactivated user]

    This is my friend= questo è mio amico/ questo è IL mio amico. This is my mother = questa è mia mamma/ questa è LA mia mamma.

    October 12, 2016
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