Definite article in Italian?

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Definite article in Italian?

Postby peggymckee » 19 Oct 2007, 15:41

Hi--

For subjects of study and languages, when does one use the definite article and when not? I know that after "in" or "di" one doesn't use the definite article.

But what about "I study Italian" or "He teaches Italian" or "I speak Italian" or "I like Italian" or "Italian is my favorite subject" or "Economics is my favorite subject" or "My favorite subject is economics" or "Economics is difficult" or "Economics solves financial problems" or "I like history" or "I like Italian history" or "I like English, Latin and German".

I've managed to get very confused about what I imagine is a simple point. I've tried asking my teacher, but everytime I think I understand what she told me, I get it wrong the next time!

All the best--from a frustrated studentessa d'Italiano
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Re: Definite article in Italian?

Postby Poipuo4 » 19 Oct 2007, 16:42

Hi, Peggy, I am frustrated too! LOL! I am now in a class where it is presumed you know about 6 verb tenses and I only know three, so I am in BIG trouble. I don't know the rule on your question, but I think you use the article in your examples. Studio l'italiano. I study Italian. Mi piace l'italiano. I like Italian. I did a quick check of letters from my Italian cousin and in these situations, she used a definite article before the name of a language. I wish I could tell you more. Hopefully, someone else can.
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Re: Definite article in Italian?

Postby Poipuo4 » 19 Oct 2007, 16:46

When I get home I can look this up in my text book. :D
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Re: Definite article in Italian?

Postby Maurizio » 19 Oct 2007, 18:15

peggymckee wrote:Hi--
For subjects of study and languages, when does one use the definite article and when not?


Hello, Peggy.

peggymckee wrote: I know that after "in" or "di" one doesn't use the definite article.


That's not properly correct: "in" and "di", together with other ("Di-a-da-in-con-su-per-tra-fra" is the refrain we learn since our first elementary class) are what we call "Preposizioni semplici". What you said is true: you can't use a definite article after any of them ("in il" or "in lo", for example, are not correct). But that doesn't mean you can always simply make them followed by a noun: if the sentence requires it, you have to use a "Preposizione articolata", i.e. a word created by the fusion of a "Preposizione semplice" and a "definite article" ("nel" or "nello" in the two example I mentioned before). It may look complicate, but it isn't: these two links I found with Google contain a better explaination of what I tried to say.
http://venus.unive.it/italslab/quattropassi/1prepro.htm
http://icp.ge.ch/sis/manuale_1_2/primo- ... /prep/view

peggymckee wrote: But what about "I study Italian" or "He teaches Italian" or "I speak Italian" or "I like Italian" or "Italian is my favorite subject" or "Economics is my favorite subject" or "My favorite subject is economics" or "Economics is difficult" or "Economics solves financial problems" or "I like history" or "I like Italian history" or "I like English, Latin and German".


Interesting question, indeed.
As a mother-tongue, I obviously know how to correctly translate these sentences in current Italian, but I could see your point at the moment I tried to think and define a grammar rule. I believe there isn't one (at least, there isn't one I was thaught), so I guess it's the common use we have to refer to.
Generally speaking, the definite article can/must be avoided when you are referring to a subject of study: in any Italian school, students will say "Devo studiare Italiano, Inglese e matematica" or "Economia è difficile".
You have to use the article when you are referring to a discipline, a branch of human knowledge or a language out of a school or teaching context: "L'Economia risolve i problemi finanziari", "L'italiano e lo spagnolo sono lingue neolatine".
Anyway, this is a border situation. Both "Mi piacciono Italiano, Inglese e Latino" and "Mi piacciono l'italiano, l'inglese e il latino" are correct sentences and that makes difficult to give you a rule not based on common sense: what I can assure you is that a mother-tongue Italian would understand that in the first case the speaker is talking about school-subjects, in the second one about foreign or ancient languages.

peggymckee wrote: I've managed to get very confused about what I imagine is a simple point. I've tried asking my teacher, but everytime I think I understand what she told me, I get it wrong the next time!
All the best--from a frustrated studentessa d'Italiano


You absolutely don't have to feel frustrated! If you only have to refine complicated details like these, that means that your teacher is very strict and that your language skills are already very good.
My English is surely worst than your Italian ("Il mio inglese è sicuramente peggiore del tuo Italiano", just to stay on the topic) and so I'm sorry for not being able to help you more.

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Re: Definite article in Italian?

Postby peggymckee » 20 Oct 2007, 00:06

Dear Maurizio--

Thank you so much for your answer. Your answer is extremely helpful and informative!

When I said, "no definite article after 'in' or 'di'", I was thinking of situations such as "the Latin book"/"il libro di latino" or "The letter is written in English"/"La lettera è scritta in inglese"--not "in generale"!

As you intuitively understood, my problem is when to put in the definite article, either with the "Preposizioni semplici" or when using the noun in a sentence.

But, the distinction you mention between a subject as something studied in school versus as a part of the general field of knowledge is extremely useful. My teacher (an Italian) is always saying that one doesn't use the definite article for a proper noun. Unfortunately, this is very confusing because in English proper nouns are almost always names, e.g. James. She says, e.g., "vado a casa"--no definite article because there is only one home. "Casa" is a proper noun (as she sees it!). "Vado alla casa" would prompt the question: "Quale casa?" (If I have understood her correctly!)

So it seems like "Studio Italiano" (meaning "I study Italian at school"), I am refering to only one thing (my Italian course). But "Studio l'Italiano" (meaning "I study the Italian language but am not taking a course"), I am referring to a much more general concept of the Italian language.

I'm not an advanced student at all--I just started learning Italian in September. I'm taking a beginners course at my local community college. Again thank you so much for your clear explanation!

Peggy M
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