Why "Il toro" but "Lo squalo"?

October 22, 2018



Definite articles are:

singular il | lo/l' | la/l'

plurali | gli | le

and the indefinite equivalents are:

singular il = un , lo/l' = uno/un, la/l' = una/un'

plurali , gli , le = partitive articles / indefinite adjectives

They are used speaking of:

something already known
e.g. La casa di Marta.
(Marta's house.)
something already mentioned
e.g. C'è una signora alla porta. La signora vuole parlarti.
(There's a lady at the door. The lady wants to talk to you.)
specific things like "that thing"
e.g. Mangerò la torta che è in frigo.
(I'll eat the cake that is in fridge.)
something unique
e.g. La luna è splendente.
(The moon is shining.)
Ha il naso piccolo.
(He has a small nose.)
kinds or categories / generic things
e.g. Le auto di lusso sono costose. / Mi piace il caffè.
(Luxury cars are expensive. / I like coffee.)
Metto la gonna o i pantaloni? / Non ho l'accendino.
(Shall I wear a skirt or pants? / I don't have a lighter.)

but remember that they can be dropped in a few specific cases.

How to choose definite articles


| lo (singular masculine) | gli (plural masculine) |
before masculine words that begin with the following

s + consonant
e.g. lo Stato / gli Stati

sci - sce
e.g. lo sciatore / gli sciatori, lo sceriffo / gli sceriffi

e.g. lo gnomo / gli gnomi

e.g. lo xilofono / gli xilofoni

e.g. lo zio / gli zii

i - j - y + vowel
(like semi-consonants in this pattern)
e.g. lo juventino / gli juventini, lo iettatore / gli iettatori,
lo yen / gli yen

e.g. lo pneumatico / gli pneumatici
(but about this word, in the everyday language you also say
il pneumatico / i pneumatici)

e.g. lo psichiatra / gli psichiatri

▪ other groups of consonant + consonant (e.g. pt, ct, mn, ft)
e.g. lo pterodattilo / gli pterodattili, lo ptialismo / gli ptialismi,
lo ctenidio / gli ctenidi, lo mnemonismo / gli mnemonismi,
lo ftalato / gli ftalati

but the second letter always different from L or R
e.g. il flusso, il grigio

| lo→l' (singular masculine) | gli (plural masculine) |
before masculine words that begin with vowels
and only lo is modified by an elision

l' attore, l'albero, l'elefante
gli attori, gli alberi, gli elefanti.

| il (singular masculine) | i (plural masculine) |
before masculine words with consonants that don't
fall into the case mentioned above:

e.g. il clima / i climi, il gioco / i giochi.

◊ NOTE 1

With foreign words you use the singular form even though we are speaking of more things; further, you use the article that you would find before an Italian word with the same sound:

il giallo → il jazz (/un)
lo sciame → lo champagne (/uno)
lo smottamento → lo smoking (/uno)
lo stato → lo shopping (/uno)

Particular cases

□ Before j, it needs il/i - la/le (un/una) being the sound equated
with the consonant g (like Giallo), so a sound different from the
semi-consonantic one j + vowel above indicated e.g.

il/i jet-set, il/i juke-box, il/i judo, la/le jam-session

and lo juventino / gli juventini.

□ Before h, according to the general rule:

before silent h l'/gli - l'/le (uno/una)
considering the vowel that follows it

before aspirated h lo/gli - la/le (un/un'-una)
considering that it's a consonant

but in the concrete usage you use l'/gli and l'/le both for silent h and aspirated h considering that the pronunciation of the aspirated letter is silent i.e. italianized (usually with reagard to english words) e.g.

l'/gli habitat, l'/gli hotel, l'/gli henné, l'/gli harem, l'/gli hamburger, l'/gli hotdog, l'/gli hairstylist, l'/gli hacker, l'/gli happy hour, l'/gli handicap, l'/le hostess, l'/ gli/le habitué, l'/le holding

instead when it's aspirated and this original pronunciation is followed, or at least it's an alternative to the italianized pronunciation, you can also use lo/gli and la/le i.e. no elision
for the singular form e.g.

lo (/l') hot dog, lo (/l') hair stylist , la (/l') holding

finally foreign words to which an italian suffix is added can take both l' and il depending on the noun e.g.

l'hitlerismo, l'hackeraggio, il heiniano

□ Before w, if its pronunciation is as the semi-consonant " U " (i.e. u followed by vowel, like l'Uomo) you should use l'/gli (/un) e.g.

l'/gli whisky, l'/gli watt, l'/gli webmaster

whereas if it's pronounced as the consonant " V " (like il Vento) or it's not pronounced at all you must use il/i (/un) e.g.

il/i wafer, il/i weekend, il/i waltzer

however, also in the first case il/i (/un) are often preferred because w usually sounds like " V " to Italian ears, as a consequence those examples normally become il/i whisky, il/i watt, il/i webmaster;

since" U " acts as a semi-consonant in this context, it could even be equated with other semi-consonants that normally take lo/gli (/uno) such as i/j/y already indicated above, and in that case we'd have for instance lo/gli (/uno) whisky, this is less common though.

◊ NOTE 2

There are some exceptions to those rules above:

□ since in ancient Italian lo also had other and different uses, in fact nowadays these uses are still present but in some consolidated expressions e.g.

per lo più / per lo meno (mostly / at least).

□ with some words the plural is not the normal ones e.g.

il dio / gli dei and not i dei as above.

□ in old literary works you could find the elision for gli before vowels e.g. gli alberi → gl'alberi, once this was common.


| la (feminine singular) |
before feminine words that begin with consonants

e.g. la macchina

| la→l' (feminine singular) |
before feminine words that begin with vowels

e.g. l'amica

| le (feminine plural) |
before consonants and vowels but in this last case
without any elision

e.g. le macchine - le amiche.


October 22, 2018

Interestingly, loan words that begin with W cause uncertainty as to how this letter should be considered, and therefore which article should be used.
The most typical case is whisky, which allows any of the three masculine articles:

  • L'whisky / un whisky is based on the sound of W, which recalls that of U, and therefore the word is dealt with as others that begin with a diphthong (e.g. l'uomo / un uomo, l'uovo / un uovo).

  • Lo whisky / uno whisky is the least common choice, based on the unusual sound (there are no Italian words that begin with ui-), which causes this word to be dealt with as other 'unusual combinations' (e.g. lo ione / uno ione, lo yogurt / uno yogurt).

  • Il whisky / un whisky is the most common choice, based on the perception of W as a consonant (despite its sound), therefore on the spelling of the word (e.g. il bicchiere / un bicchiere).


October 22, 2018

Yes Civis, it's very interesting, there is also a debate on this theme...

October 22, 2018

Emy, thank you for the supplemental information, I was not aware about the pterodattilo :)

October 22, 2018

You are welcome Joseph : )

October 22, 2018

Thanks for the help! Just to be clear, a "vocal" is a vowel, correct?

October 22, 2018

Yes, excuse me, sometimes I mix the languages..I'm creative : )

October 22, 2018

"Lo" is used before the singular masculine noun that begins with s + consonant, ps, gn, y, and z. The plural form is "gli"


Lo sport, gli sport

Lo zaino, gli zaini

Lo psicologo, gli psicologi

Lo scienziato, gli scienziati

And of course, lo squalo, gli squali

October 22, 2018

I thought there was no y in Italian?

October 22, 2018

Yes, we also use some words with "Y", e.g.


they are words that come from other foreign languages or with foreign roots anyways.

October 22, 2018

All words that begin with Y are loan words (or are formed on the stem of a loan word).

October 22, 2018

Lo zucchero. I always forget lo zucchero in the food section and get the corresponding problem wrong, hahaha.

October 22, 2018
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