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  5. The definitive article Lo


The definitive article Lo

I know this comes before masculine nouns starting with S+consonant plus a couple of other situations but does anyone know why? And why is it not used for feminine nouns in the same circumstances?

October 8, 2014



My guess:

I note that Italian doesn't have many consonant clusters that go past two sounds. Exceptions exist, such as "str-" (e.g. "strega" and "destra"), but in general consonant clusters seem limited to two letters. So saying e.g. "il spaghetto" would introduce the three-letter cluster "-lsp-", which is avoided as hard to pronounce and unbeautiful.

Similarly, "z" is pronounced "ts" (or "dz") and "gn" is pronounced "nj" (where "j" is a semiconsonant like the English "y"), so Italians don't like to say "il zucchero" or "il gnocco".

This problem doesn't exist in the feminine, since the article "la" ends in a vowel and so doesn't introduce the three-consonant-sound problem that the masculine "il" does.

Note that Spanish has a different way of getting around this: They simply won't start words with s-consonant. Instead, they stick an "e" in front of it. For example, they call their language "español"; compare the Italian "spagnolo", without the initial "e". (Most Spanish speakers I have talked to literally cannot say "Steve" without thinking about it and trying really hard; it almost always comes out "estiv".) And in French, many words simply elide out the "s" altogether (e.g. "forêt"), I assume for the same general reasons.

October 9, 2014


That's true for spanish. As for Italian you're right, it is done to avoid a cacophony

October 10, 2014


According to my Italian friend (Secondo il mio amico italiano), it's "more pleasant" to listen to.

October 8, 2014


Hmm, I suppose that's true for the word il when it is before s+consonant, z etc. Perhaps a pattern was made some time ago.

October 8, 2014


I find answers to things like this tend to be that's just how the language developed. But if there's another reason I'm very curious to hear it too.

October 8, 2014


The articles lo and gli are used before masculine nouns beginning with: s + consonant, z and a very small number of nouns, mostly of foreign origin, beginning with: gn, ps, pn, x, i or y + another vowel.

I found this from a website as for why feminine nouns don't use it i have no idea it does just seem like thats the way it is.

October 8, 2014


I would love to know why too. I wondered if it was a throwback from Latin but although that has three genders, there is no definite and indefinite article. I wonder if it is just to sort of isolate foreign words as some of them are the ones that use this lo / gli / uno thing.

October 8, 2014

  • 1994

Remembering from school: the definitive articles derive from the Latin demonstratives illu(m)/illa(m), so vulgar latin illa(m) rosa(m) became la rosa, illu(m) pane(m) > il pane (but many southern dialects have lu pane or similar). The reason of this il/lo/gli/i switching is simply euphony, i.e. lo zaino is perceived as "good sounding" while il zaino is not.

October 8, 2014


Hmm, that would make sense.

October 8, 2014


yeah, that'd basically just mean it's a change in emphasis from the first syllable of the article to the last.

October 10, 2014
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