The use of definite articles before the common names of one's own relatives.
The common names of relatives (namely, "father", "mother", "son", "daughter", "brother", "sister", "uncle", "aunt", "grandfather", "grandmother", "nephew", "niece", "grandson", "granddaughter", "cousin") are the only ones before which a possessive adjective does not take a definite article (as it does with other nouns):
- Mio fratello studia il tedesco. = My brother studies German. (not Il mio fratello)
The general rules can be found in https://www.duolingo.com/comment/18288880.
But what happens when the names of one's own relatives do not take a possessive adjective?
For instance, talking to a relative one would say: "Dad was late" rather than "My dad was late", being clear that the speaker refers to his own father, without using the possessive adjective.
Also when speaking to a friend, the possessive adjective is often dropped.
This typically happens with common names of one's own elder relatives, i.e. the ones who are usually addressed with the same names when speaking directly to them, or when calling them:
- mamma (not madre) = mom
- papà or babbo (not padre) = dad
- zia = aunt
- zio = uncle
- nonna = grandmother
- nonno = grandfather.
When mentioning these names to someone, in Italian the definite article can be either used or dropped. Dropping the article sounds less formal, more colloquial, and is very common in ordinary conversation, especially when the listener is not a stranger:
Mamma / La mamma ha preparato una torta. = (My) mom (has) prepared a cake.
(Noi) prenderemo l'auto di papà. / del papà. = We'll take (my / our) dad's car.
Zio / Lo zio è andato in pensione. = (My) uncle has retired.
(Io) ho visto zia / la zia al mercato. = I saw (my) aunt at the market.
(Noi) abbiamo giocato a carte con nonno. / con il nonno. = We (have) played cards with (my / our) grandfather.
With zio / zia it is common to mention also the relative's proper name:
Zio Gianni / Lo zio Gianni è il fratello di mamma / della mamma. = (My) uncle John is (my) mom's brother.
(Io) sono andato a trovare zia Paola / la zia Paola. = I went to visit (my) aunt Paula.
This is common with nonno / nonna, as well, but the article is always dropped:
- Nonna Maria e nonno Pietro sono venuti a cena. = (My) grandma Mary and grandfather Peter came for dinner.
When these nouns are used in plural form (zie, zii, nonne, nonni), the article is always mandatory:
(Io) ho visto le zie al mercato. = I saw (my) aunts at the market.
I nonni vivono al nord. = (My) grandparents live in the north.
The same rules are often followed also when referring to a listener's relative, but only if the listener is a close acquaintance:
Come sta zio? / Come sta lo zio? = How is (your) uncle?
(Io) ho saputo che mamma / la mamma è partita. = I (have) learned that (your) mom (has) left.
In this case, using the definite article is advisable, as dropping it might sound somewhat too familiar.
Otherwise, using the possessive adjective fits well all types of listeners:
Come sta tuo (formal: Suo) zio? = How is your uncle?
(Io) ho saputo che la tua (formal: la Sua) mamma (or) tua (formal: Sua) madre è partita. = I (have) learned that your mom (or) your mother (has) left.
Instead, mentioning other relatives whose age is similar or younger than that of the speaker, either the possessive adjective is used (e.g. "my sister", "my brother", "my son", "my daughter", "my cousin", "my niece", "my nephew", "my grandson", "my granddaughter"), or the proper name of the relative is used (provided that the listener already knows such name), or both, always without the definite article (general rule for relatives' names):
Mio fratello / Stefano / Mio fratello Stefano studia il tedesco. = My brother / Stephen / My brother Stephen studies German.
Oggi è il compleanno di mia figlia. / di Giulia. / di mia figlia Giulia. = Today is my daughter's birthday. / Julia's birthday. / my daughter Julia's birthday.
Ieri (io) ho incontrato mia nipote. / Elena. / mia nipote Elena. = Yesterday I met my niece.(✱) / Helen. / my niece Helen.
The article is mandatory when the names are in plural form (general rule):
I miei fratelli studiano il tedesco. = My brothers study German.
Ieri (io) ho incontrato le mie nipoti. = Yesterday I (have) met my nieces.(✱)
(✱) Beware that nipote can also mean "nephew", "grandson", "granddaughter".
Also with the first set of names possessive adjectives can be used, but while papà / babbo and mamma are familiar terms (or terms of endearment), so they should always take an article before the possessive adjective (→ il mio papà / babbo, la mia mamma), the other four are standard names, which abide by the general rule, i.e. they do not take an article when a possessive adjective is used:
Il mio papà / Il mio babbo (or) Mio padre gioca a bocce. = My dad (or) My father plays / is playing bowls.
(Io) ho fatto un regalo alla mia mamma. (or) a mia madre. = I gave a present to my mom. (or) to my mother.
Instead no article is used with the other four names, when they are in singular form (general rule):
Mia zia / Mia zia Emilia lavora in un ufficio. = My aunt / My aunt Emily works in an office.
Mio nonno / Mio nonno Pietro era ferroviere. = My grandfather / My grandfather Peter was a railwayman.
but in plural form the article becomes mandatory again:
(Io) ho visto le mie zie al mercato. = I saw my aunts at the market.
I miei nonni vivono al nord. = My grandparents live in the north.
Buona Pasqua a tutti ...e anche buona Pasquetta! :-)
Grazie mille Civis. Very helpful... my file of helpful tips for learning Italian is growing quite large thanks to you. Much appreciated, as usual.
How does it apply to il genitore please? Is it mio genitore or il mio genitore? I think the plural is i miei genitori , as in your rules above.
My well worn dictionary tells me that il genitore is a masculine noun, meaning parent. Can one have a female parent, or does she become a 'madre' for clarity?
Genitore (in singular form) is not included in the list of relatives' names that drop the article, because rather than saying "my parent" one would use a more specific word, i.e. "my father" or "my mother".
Instead the plural form genitori can be considered among the relatives' common names (i.e. "father + mother"); but being plural, it takes the article anyway: i miei genitori, i tuoi genitori, i suoi genitori, etc.
The word genitore is masculine in gender, but it is used for either parent. For instance, when parents must sign something on behalf of a minor, you usually find Firma di un genitore or Firma di uno dei genitori (which can be either the father or the mother).
The feminine form of this word exists, as well, that is genitrice. It is rather uncommon, being mostly used as a synonym of madre, usually only in literature, or in poetry.
Grazie CivisRomanus. That must make it il mio parente and la mia parente for 'my relative', using the article.
Yes, il mio parente / la mia parente = "my relative" (any degree of kinship, including in-law relatives).
A more specific term for "blood relative" is consanguineo/ consanguinea, but it very rarely occurs in everyday's speech.