Ever wonder why English-speaking Italians say things like, “This pizza she’s no good.”
Why the “she” there? Don’t they know pizza’s an it?
The answer may lie in a concept common to all languages derived from Latin (of which Italian is one), along with many others around the world, the concept of “grammatical gender”, today’s tutorino grammar topic.
At the heart of this concept is a part of speech known as a noun. A noun is a person, place or thing. If verbs are energy, nouns are matter. Nouns are what you stock your fridge with or buy on ebay. They’re the loveable clutter of our everyday lives.
In English, we normally think of gender as something belonging only to living creatures and, if you’re a plumber, to types of pipes. When someone says, “Did you hear Jen had a baby?” we say, “Oh yeah? Boy or girl?” This is what you call “biological gender.”
But Italian assigns all nouns a gender. That’s right, every person, place and thing from pizzas to piazzas and everything between is considered either masculine or feminine in Italian. When the noun is a living creature, its gender reflects biology: “uomo” (man) is a masculine noun, “donna” (woman) a feminine one. For everything else, the distinction is purely grammatical and arbitrary. Nothing in the thing itself will give you any hint about its grammatical gender. It’s just an old grammatical convention.
So how do you determine the grammatical gender of inanimate nouns in Italian? In a great many cases, the noun has a built-in hint: if it ends in “o”, it's masculine; if it ends in “a” it’s feminine.
The only tricky ones are the ones that end in “e”. These can be either or and you have to memorize their gender as you learn them, but here are a few guidelines:
Nouns that end in -ore or -iere are masculine. Nouns that end in -rice or -zione are feminine.
Nouns imported into Italian unchanged from English (which typically don't end in a vowel at all) are masculine.
Now you know all about Italian grammatical gender. It might seem like a silly thing to have learned but gender has a ripple effect all throughout the language, so you really have to master it. Visit the activities section for practice. Ciao for now!