I'm just muddling through this course too, but if I'm understanding things correctly, then il is used for masculine nouns that begin with a consonant, (il ragazzo)and l' is used for masculine nouns that begin with a vowel. (l'uomo) Can somebody more experienced chime in on this?
We have a similar convention in English. The singular article "an" is used instead of the article "a" when it comes before a word that starts with a vowel as in the following examples: He has a dog, a cat, and a bird. They have an elephant, an ostrich, and an octopus.
"An" is even used in cases where the word sounds like it starts with a vowel (instances with a "silent" consonant at the beginning of a word): We live in a house. (the "h" is not silent, use the article "a") Give me an honest answer. (silent "h" use the article "an") We talked for an hour. (silent "h" use "an")
If you want to know when to use "il, l', la, gli" etc. Go to this link it's VERY helpful:
Probably because it is one of the first nouns we learned in English as children. It's one of the first words we learn in English (at least in books or in school) because it is at the beginning of the English alphabet.
Also, apple is pretty widely distributed throughout the world, so it is a safe choice for a noun, unlike gooseberries or lychee fruit, for example. :-)
Short of an extended history of the evolution of a language, the answer to any "why is it this way" question is always "because it just is."
The best answer doesn't really address the question as it's asked, it just helps you to remember what the rules are.
In Italian, if a noun ends with "o" when it's singular and "i" when it's plural, then it's probably masculine. If it starts with a vowel, then singular "the" is
l' and plural "the" is
gli. If it starts with an "impure s" (which is to say, "z" or "s" as part of a consonant cluster") then singular "the" is
lo and plural "the" is
gli. If it starts with any other consonant (including "s + vowel") then singular "the" is
il and plural "the" is
If a noun ends with "a" when it's singular and "e" when it's plural, then it's probably feminine. Singular "the" is
la and plural "the" is
If a noun ends with "e" when it's singular, then you just have to memorize whether it's masculine or feminine.
Definite: particular, specific. "the" is the definite article because it specifies which particular thing you're talking about.
Indefinite: not particular or specific. "a/an" is the indefinite article because it doesn't matter which particular thing, any will do.
I saw a large dog today. (I'm assuming there are multiple large dogs in the world. I saw one of them, but I haven't gotten around to saying which one.)
I saw the large dog today. (Either there's only one large dog in the world, or I already mentioned it and now I'm referring back to it.)
Are you the president? (If you're in the USA, this can only refer to the current head of state.)
I am a president. (It's a title that can apply to many different positions. I'm the head of a company, but not the leader of a nation.)
"a boy" vs "the boy"
When we say "a boy", we are not specifying any particular boy. It could be any random boy at all.
When we say "the boy", we are referring to a previously specified boy.
Many languages do the same thing. "Un ragazzo" is "a boy" and "il ragazzo" is "the boy". Both are perfectly grammatical, but the meaning is different.
For the most part (because no natural languages are perfectly regular) you can tell the grammatical gender of a noun in Italian by how the word ends:
If a word ends in -o in the singular and -i in the plural, it is masculine.
If a word ends in -a in the singular and -e in the plural, it is feminine.
Some irregular nouns end in -e in the singular and -i in the plural. You just need to memorize whether they are masculine or feminine. Also, there are some masculine words that end in -ma. These tend to derive from non-Italian sources.
You can also tell from the article that comes right before it:
The second person singular imperative of "to eat" is "mangia".
The next time something like that happens, take a screen shot and submit a bug report:
No, that's not how it works. Verbs don't have gender agreement, only adjectives. And nouns don't change to agree with other nouns. "La mela" will always be feminine, no matter who is eating it. Your brother does not become your sister just because you are female. Also, the verb only conjugates to the subject. Nothing else matters.
Regular verbs follow a pattern:
So both "il ragazzo" and "la ragazza" use "mangia", and "io" uses "mangio" no matter whether the speaker is male or female.
The boy eats apples, plural.
The boy eats an apple, singular.
IF it's being used as though it were an adjective, then the article can be left off.
The girl eats blueberry pie, the boy eats apple [pie].
Why "apple" needs the indefinite article but "pie" does not, I don't know. Perhaps because "apple" is considered a count noun and "pie" can be treated as a mass noun.
Just because something is grammatically sound, that does not make it an appropriate translation. "I am sitting at my desk" is grammatically sound, but it's a terrible translation of "il ragazzo mangia la mela".
Languages that have the definite and indefinite article tend to make the same distinctions between them. "An apple" is any old arbitrary apple. "The apple" is a particular apple that was previously specified.