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How to distinguish masculine and feminine nouns in Italian?

By: Debora Chellini Thu May 16 2024

To distinguish between masculine and feminine nouns in Italian, examine the noun’s ending and the article that precedes it. But what do you do when you don’t know the article and the ending is not clearcut?

In this post, you’ll learn about the difference between masculine and feminine nouns, how to identify the gender of a noun, and some clues for identifying gender when you don’t know the noun’s article. Read on to learn the rules and exceptions!

Table of Contents

    What are the two genders in Italian?

    All Italian nouns are split into two categories (or “genders”): masculine and feminine. It is important to know the gender of each noun since Italian adjectives and other parts of a sentence agree with, or change their endings, in order to “match” the gender of the noun.

    For example: If you were to look in an Italian/English dictionary, you would find that the way to say “small” is piccolo. This is because the dictionary form of adjectives is provided in the masculine gender. However, the way to say “house” in Italian is casa and it is a feminine noun. Therefore, to say “a small house” you would say una casa piccola . Notice that the masculine form of the adjective piccolo had to be changed to the feminine form piccola in order to match with the gender of the noun casa. Any other ending would make the sentence incorrect.

    How to identify the gender of the noun?

    To identify the gender of a noun, look at the ending of the noun and/or the article that accompanies the noun. Let’s go over the different endings nouns have in Italian.

    Nouns ending in ‘-o’ or ‘-a’

    For nouns describing people and animals that end in -o or -a, those ending in -o are masculine and those ending in -a are feminine:


    un nonno

    a grandpa

    una nonna

    a grandma

    un gatto

    a (male) cat

    una gatta

    a (female) cat

    Even if your mother tongue doesn’t have two distinct forms for feminine and masculine nouns, it’s easy to distinguish the grammatical gender of people and animals ending in -o and -a in Italian.

    The same holds for objects, places, etc.: those that end in -o are masculine; those that end in -a are feminine:


    un teatro

    a theater

    una piazza

    a public square

    un libro

    a book

    una scatola

    a box

    It can be weird to determine the gender of the noun when referring to words for objects, places, ideas, etc. since in English, for example, books are not thought of as being masculine and boxes are not thought of as being feminine.

    Considering the above examples, you might think that learning that nouns ending in -o are masculine and nouns ending in -a are feminine is the end of the story! But not all nouns end in -o or -a. How can we determine the gender of nouns ending in -e?

    Nouns ending in ‘-e’

    For nouns ending in -e, it is easy to identify the gender of nouns whose physical gender is recognizable, for example padre(father – masculine) and madre(mother – feminine). More generally though, it can be tricky to determine the gender of nouns ending in -e, so for these nouns, you’ll need to know the article.

    For example, the Italian noun ristorante(a restaurant), ending in -e, is preceded by the masculine article un (a), so we know it is masculine.

    Articles in Italian always agree with the gender of the nouns they precede: if the indefinite article introducing the noun ending in -e is masculine (un or uno) the noun will be masculine as well; if the article is feminine (una or un’), the same can be said for the noun.

    However, you may be thinking: does it matter which article we reference? Should you look only at the indefinite article or does the definite article work as well? Let’s have a look at the table:


    il / un bicchiere

    the / a glass

    la / una religione

    the / a religion

    l' / un elefante

    the / an elephant

    l' / una /un'arte

    the / an art

    If the noun starts with a consonant, either article will give you a clear answer, but if you have a noun that starts with a vowel, the masculine and feminine definite articles look the same.

    But while the definite article l’(the) can be used before any noun beginning with a vowel, regardless of gender, the indefinite article un/uno(masculine) vs. una/un’ (feminine) will always be distinct from each other. Therefore, relying on the indefinite article is your best bet for determining the gender of an Italian noun.

    Here is a table summarizing what has been explained so far:


    Nouns ending in -o

    un bambino

    a little boy

    uno zaino

    a backpack


    Nouns ending in -a


    una bambina

    a little girl


    a friend

    Nouns ending in -e

    un tostapane

    a toaster

    uno studente

    a student

    una stazione

    a station


    a car


    There are a few exceptions to these rules. As it always happens, when you learn a rule and are happy, you then find out that there are exceptions that trigger the undo button…but think of these as additions to your repository of knowledge and dive into it!

    Misleading nouns

    In Italian, some nouns are misleading. Not all nouns follow the above rules; there are some exceptions and that is why, once again, we stress the article as the most important element to look for when identifying the gender of Italian nouns. We call these rule breakers “misleading nouns” because they look masculine (ending -o) or feminine (ending -a) but — surprise! — they are not. For example:

    • la mano

      the hand — feminine

    • il poeta

      the poet — masculine

    This is a list of some frequently used masculine nouns ending in -a. In our list we offer some rules on how to recognize some of these misleading nouns in Italian.

    How to tell the gender if you do not know the article?

    To tell the gender of a noun when you don’t know the article, there are a few clues you can look for. You can look the noun up in a dictionary to see whether it is feminine or masculine, but if you don’t have one on hand, our clues for gender identification should be a helpful guide.

    Check the endings!

    By checking the ending, you can easily determine the gender of the noun if it fits into one of the following four groups (but always remember that this is a general rule and there are exceptions):


      • Nouns ending in -ione or in -ie
        Examples: la decisione(the decision), la superficie(the surface)

      • Nouns ending in -i
        Examples: la crisi(the crisis), l'analisi(the analysis)

      • Nouns ending in -tà and -tù
        Examples: la felicità(the happiness), la gioven(the youth)


      • Nouns of foreign origin ending in a consonant
        Examples: il toast(the toast), il bar(the café)

    Clues for how to form the feminine gender from masculine professions

    You can easily form the feminine from masculine professions, or vice versa, in two cases:

    • Nouns for professions ending in -tore change to -trice in the feminine.


      lo scrittore → la scrittrice

      the writer

      il pittore → la pittrice

      the painter

    • Nouns for professions ending in -ista or -a, are the same in the masculine and feminine forms and only change their articles according to the context.


      • il/la pianista

        the pianist

      • il/la dentista

        the dentist

      • il/la collega

        the colleague

      • l’atleta

        the athlete

    Meaning changes

    Finally, to stress how the gender system affects Italian nouns, we conclude by introducing a group of words that change their meanings entirely based upon their change in gender. For example, il banco(the desk — masculine) and la banca(the bank — feminine); il pasto(the meal — masculine) and la pasta(the pasta/pastry — feminine).

    If you want to learn more, we have gathered some examples of meaning changes for Italian nouns for you.

    After taking a look at the above rules you might think that remembering the gender of each noun takes practice. Yes, it’s true! So, if you’d like some more practice, you can do our Italian noun exercises and check your answers with the included key. Before doing them, don’t forget to take a look at the table we have created for you to review and learn more misleading Italian nouns along with those from the above four groups you’ll find in the exercises as well as exceptions.


    In conclusion, no matter how many exceptions we might list, our suggestion is to check the article preceding the noun. As we have seen, it’s best to rely on the indefinite article whenever you have doubts on the gender of any Italian noun. The indefinite article will be your key to opening all doors, since articles and nouns always agree in gender!

    Remember, even if you still make some mistakes with vowel endings, Italians will still be able to understand you — the message will go through, as we say!

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