Italian Gender of Nouns: Masculine and Feminine (explanation + exercises)

In Italian, we say “There’s always the exception to the rule”, but in this video-lesson there are more exceptions than rules!!!

How to form MASCULINE and FEMININE in Italian

In Italian, there are two genders: MASCULINE and FEMININE.

Generally, for the animated beings the grammatical gender is determined by their own gender (if it’s a woman, the gender will be feminine; if it’s a man, the gender will be masculine: il postino, la postina → the postman, the postwoman). For the non-animated things, instead, the gender is conventional and it has to be learnt as it is (il cioccolato, la schiuma → the chocolate, the foam).

A belief became widespread: that the nouns ending with -a are feminine, while those ending with -o are masculine. That’s true in many cases, BUT NOT ALWAYS!

Exceptions are:

  • Masculine nouns ending with -a: il problema (the problem), il tema (the theme)…
  • Feminine nouns ending with -o: la mano (the hand), l’eco (the echo)…
  • Nouns ending with consonant: il bar (the cafè), lo sport (the sport), l’email (the email)…

It is only a habit, like many others!

Nouns that tend to be feminine:

  • names of fruit: la mela (the apple), la banana (the banana), la fragola (the strawberry)…
  • names of sciences and disciplines: la matematica (the mathematics), la fisica (the physics), la pedagogia (the pedagogy)…
  • names of military activities: la guardia (the guard), la pattuglia (the patrol)…
  • names of cities, islands, regions, states, continents: Venezia è bella (Venice is beautiful), la Corsica (Corsica), la Germania (Germany), la Puglia (Apulia), l’Australia (Australia)…
  • names of sport associations: la Fiorentina, la Juventus…

Nouns that tend to be masculine:

  • names of trees: il pero (the pear tree), il pesco (the peach tree), il mandorlo (the almond tree), il pino (the pine tree)…
  • names of metals and chemical elements: il piombo (the lead), l’azoto (the nitrogen), l’idrogeno (the hydrogen)…
  • names of months and days: un bel maggio (a nice May), un bel giovedì (a nice Thursday)
  • names of seas, mountains, lakes, rivers: il Tevere (the Tiber), il Monte Bianco (the Mount Blanc), il Garda (the Garda), il Mediterraneo (the Mediterranean)…
  • names of wines, prayers, cardinal directions: il Chianti (the Chianti wine), il Padre Nostro (the Lord’s Prayer), il Nord (the North)…

Doubts about singular and plural in Italian? Review them with us!

How to transform a masculine noun into a feminine noun? 

It can be done in many different ways. The most frequent and natural way is to replace the ending of the masculine with -a: il pensionato, la pensionat(the retired man, the retired woman)/ il gatto, la gatt(the male cat, the female cat) But it is not always so easy!

Sometimes, for example, the feminine is formed by adding the suffix -essa:

Professore → Professoressa (professor)

PoetaPoetessa (poet – poetess)

PrincipePrincipessa (prince – princess)

LeoneLeonessa (lion – lioness)

Studente → Studentessa (student)

Conte → Contessa (count – countess)

Barone → Baronessa (baron – baroness)

Dottore → Dottoressa (doctor)

Except for this last one, the masculine nouns ending with -tore form the feminine with -trice:

Attore → Attrice (actor – actress)

Imprenditore   Imprenditrice (businessman – businesswoman)

Lettore  Lettrice (lecturer)

Pittore → Pittrice (painter)

Traduttore → Traduttrice (translator)

Few nouns, instead, form the feminine with -ina:

Eroe → Eroina (hero – heroine)

Gallo → Gallina (rooster – hen)

Re → Regina (king – queen)

Zar → Zarina (Tsar)

BE CAREFUL! Don’t forget that, in Italian, there are also the so-called common gender nouns, that is those nouns that never change according to the gender: in this case, articles and adjectives play an important role in order to understand if it’s a man or a woman (because they must agree to the gender)!

For example:

Il/la giornalista (the journalist), il/la turista (the tourist), un/un’insegnante (a teacher), il/la giudice (the judge)

Finally, it is useful to take into account those nouns that are completely irregular, which change completely in the feminine, that is certain nouns of people and animals:

Dio → Dea (god – goddess)

Marito → Moglie (husband – wife)

Fratello  Sorella (brother – sister)

Uomo → Donna (man – woman)

Maschio  Femmina (male – female)

Padre → Madre (father – mother)

Cane  Cagna (dog)

Maiale → Scrofa (pig – sow)

Toro  Vacca (bull – cow)

Doubts about how to agree the adjectives in Italian? 

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

If something is still not clear, leave us a comment!  😀

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