Beginner's Guide to Learning Italian

Kickstart your Italian journey and learn basic grammar points and topics you’ll need to get started, in this comprehensive Italian learning guide.

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If you’re a beginner in Italian and want to reach fluency, then you must start with knowing the basic rules and patterns of Italian grammar. Immersion and real-life practice are great approaches. However, before any of that, you need to understand how the fundamentals of the language work.

If the idea of learning Italian grammar scares you, don’t worry. Busuu’s simple guide to Italian for beginners will give you all the basics – from the most common adjectives to conjugating regular verbs – and it’ll set you up well for the future and give you the foundation you need to begin making conversations in Italian.

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Italian adjectives

Let’s start with Italian adjectives! As you know, in any language adjectives describe a person, place or thing.

In Italian, every noun has a gender (masculine or feminine) and a number (singular or plural) and Italian adjectives will always agree with the gender and number of the noun they’re modifying.


La pizza buona (the good pizza)

Before adding an adjective, always pay attention to whether the noun you’re using is:

  1. Singular or plural
  2. Masculine or feminine

Then, you can add in your adjective. There are two types of adjectives: those that, in their dictionary form (which corresponds to the singular masculine form) end in -o and those that end in -e. Most Italian adjectives are part of the former group, so let’s start with that

Examples of -o adjectives

Person Masculine Feminine
Singular -o -a
Plural -i -e
Singular l’amico allegro l’amica allegra
Plural gli amici allegri le amiche allegre

Now, let’s see what we do with adjectives that end in -e:

-E adjectives

Whether they modify a masculine or feminine singular noun, it doesn’t matter: adjectives that end in -e won’t change depending on gender. They’ll keep that -e ending.

But in the plural, the -e ending becomes -i, no matter whether the noun is masculine or feminine. Here’s a chart to demonstrate this:

Examples of -e adjectives

Singular Plural
il ragazzo forte i ragazzi forti
la ragazza forte le ragazze forti

That’s a quick overview of adjectives. Next up is another kind of adjective: comparatives.

Comparative adjectives in Italian

Italian comparatives or comparativi are a kind of adjective that we can use to compare two things, people, places or objects.

There are two kinds: comparatives of inequality (when you are saying something has a different quality or property than another) and equality (when you are saying two things have the same quality or property.) For now, we’ll only look at comparatives of inequality.

In Italian, the basic construction for comparatives of inequality is this:

  • più…di

  • more…than

  • meno…di

  • less…than

Here are some examples in a sentence:

  • Francesco è più interessante di Julia. (Francesco is more interesting than Julia.)
  • Stefania è meno stanca di me. (Stefania is less tired than me.)

Now let’s move onto our last adjective for today: possessive adjectives.

Italian possessive adjectives

Possessive adjectives tell us who or what owns something. In English, we say “my bag” or “your dog” or “his jacket”.

Just like regular adjectives, Italian possessive adjectives will change depending on the number and gender of the noun they refer to. Here’s the breakdown:

Possessive adjectives in Italian

Person / Gender My Your (singular) His, her, its Our Your (plural) Their
Masculine / Singular mio tuo suo nostro vostro loro
Feminine / Singular mia tua sua nostra vostra loro
Masculine / Plural miei tuoi suoi nostri vostri loro
Feminine / Plural mie tue sue nostre vostre loro

Some examples would be:

  • La sua casa (his or her house)
  • Il tuo gatto (your cat)
  • I loro figli (their children)

Italian possessives always agree with the thing that is being owned – not the owner. For instance, if we’re talking about her book, we would say, il suo libro because libro (book) is masculine, even though the owneris a woman.

If you’re curious about what the la or il in front of the possessive adjective are, good news – those are Italian articles and we’re going to discuss them now.

Italian articles

Italian articles introduce people, places, things or ideas. There are two kinds:

  1. Definite articles, which go before specific nouns, like “the dog”.

  2. Indefinite articles, which go before non-specific nouns, like “a dog”.

Our guide on Italian articles has more explanations and examples for when you’re ready. For now, let’s start with definite articles:

Definite articles

In English, “the” is our only definite article. Meanwhile, Italians have seven! Why so many? Because their articles match their nouns. They change depending on:

  • Gender (masculine or feminine)
  • Number (singular or plural)
  • The first few letters of the noun

Here’s all seven of the Italian definite articles:

Definite articles in Italian: Masculine

Masculine Singular Plural
begins with a consonant il il libro i i libri
begins with a vowel l’ l’albero gli gli alberi
begins with s + consonant, i + vowel, gn, pn, ps, x, y or z lo lo stadio gli gli stadi

Definite articles in Italian: Feminine

Feminine Singular Plural
begins with a consonant la la donna le le donne
begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) l’ l’amica le le amiche

Hint: Italians use definite articles more often than we do in English!

Indefinite articles

There are only four Italian indefinite articles: un, uno, una and un’. They translate to “a” or “an” in English, so there’s no plural form. Instead, pay attention to the gender of the noun they’re introducing and what letters it starts with.

See all four indefinite articles below in this chart:

Italian indefinite articles: Masculine

Masculine Article Example When to use it
un un libro (a book) un amico (a friend) un autore (an author) Nouns starting with a vowel or most consonants
uno uno zaino (a backpack) uno scontrino (a receipt) uno studente (a student, male) Nouns starting with s + consonant, i + vowel, gn, pn, ps, x, y or z

Italian indefinite articles: Feminine

Feminine Article Example When to use it
una una ragazza (a friend) una zia (an aunt) una studentessa (a student, female) Nouns starting with a consonant
un’ un’amica (a friend) un’ora (an hour) un’acqua minerale (a mineral water) Nouns starting with a vowel

Now that you know Italian articles, we can move onto Italian prepositions.

Italian prepositions

Prepositions express where we are, where we’re coming from, where we’re going and how people or things are connected. In English, they look like “at”, “in”, “of”, “about”, “with”, “from”, etc.

Here are our preposizioni in Italian:

1. Di – of, from, about, in

  • Il cane è di Julia. (The dog is Julia’s.)
  • Sono di New York. (I’m from New York.)

2. A – to, at

  • Vado a Roma. (I am going to Rome.)
  • A che ora tornerai? (At what time will you return?)

3. Da – from, since, by

  • L’aereo arriva da Milano. (The plane is arriving from Milano.)
  • Vivi a Parigi da vent’anni? (You’ve lived in Paris for twenty years?)

4. In – in, by

  • Sono in Italia in questo momento. (I’m in Italy right now.)
  • Andiamo in macchina. (We’re going by car.)

5. Con – with

  • Vado al ristorante con mia madre. (I’m going to the restaurant with my mother.)

6. Su – on, about, above

  • Hai lasciato il libro sulla scrivania? (Did you leave your book on the desk?)
  • Il libro è sulla vita di Michelangelo. (The book is about Michelangelo’s life.)

7. Per – for, to

  • Sono venuto a Roma per imparare la cucina italiana. (I have come to Rome to learn Italian cooking.)
  • Ho studiato arte per quattro anni all’università. (I studied design for four years in college.)

8. Tra / fra – in, between, among

  • Siamo persi fra la folla. (We’re lost in the crowd.)
  • Tra questi due, preferisco quello più piccolo. (Between these two, I prefer the smaller one.)

Italian prepositions might have a rough translation to English ones, but they aren’t always used in the same way. Plus, Italian prepositions can be combined with Italian articles.

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Pronouns in Italian

Pronouns replace a person, place or thing in a sentence to make it all sound more natural. In English, some examples are “she,” “you,” or “them”. There are many kinds of pronouns to learn, but today we’ll only look at the most important one: subject pronouns.

These pronouns are a huge building block to making Italian sentences. They replace the subject of a sentence. These also go in place of names, so instead of saying “your friend, Maria”, you could say lei.

Italian subject pronouns

English Italian Example in Italian English translation
I io Io sono americano. I am American.
You (informal, singular) tu Tu sei uno studente. You are a student.
You (formal, singular) Lei Lei è un professore, no? You are a professor, right?
He lui Lui è andato ieri. He went yesterday.
She lei Lei è mia zia. She’s my aunt.
We noi Noi mangiamo l’insalata. We eat salad.
You (plural) voi Voi studiate? Do you all study?
They loro Loro sono italiani. They are Italian.

Two important things to know:

  1. Italians will often drop these subject pronouns from sentences, so instead of always saying io parlo italiano they might say, parlo italiano.
  2. Italian has a formal pronoun, Lei. While it looks the same as the singular feminine third person pronoun, it’s not the same and it can be used both with men and women.

Once you’ve got the hang of these subject pronouns, you can proceed to our guide on Italian pronouns for the five other types of pronouns in Italian. Knowing pronouns will make your Italian conversations much more fluid and natural.

Without further ado, the next step to your structure plan for learning Italian will be to learn the most important Italian verbs.

Italian verbs

Remember that a verb is the part of the sentence that describes an action or state of being. Some examples in English are “run”, “eat” or “talk”.

When a verb is in itsbasic dictionary form, it’s called an infinitive. In English, this corresponds to “to + verb”. In Italian, it is a verb that ends in -are, -ere or -ire.

Conjugated means that the verb has been changed to fit the subject and tense. “Eat”, “eating”, and “will eat” are all examples of a conjugated verb in English. To see how to conjugate verbs in Italian,we’ll begin with the most common verb: “essere” (“to be”) and show you how to conjugate it in the present tense.

Verb conjugation in Italian

There are three steps to conjugating a regular verb in Italian:

  1. Find the subject of the sentence. (Remember our subject pronouns from earlier.)
  2. Look at the verb’s infinitive form (the base form) and then take away the last three letters. This will leave you with the verb stem.
  3. Add the right ending to the verb.

When you see a verb that ends in -are, -ere or -ire, that’s an infinitive. Drop the last three letters of the verb, and that’s the verb stem!

  • Mangiare (to eat) - mangi-
  • Vivere (to live) - viv-
  • Dormire (to sleep) - dorm-

Once you have the verb stem, you can add various endings to demonstrate different subjects or tenses:

  • Abit-o (I live)
  • Abit-avo (I was living or I used to live)
  • Abit-erò (I will live)
  • Abit-i (you live)
  • Abit-avi (you were living or you used to live)

Of course, there are irregular verbs that make things more complicated. We know this can get tricky, so we have a complete guide to conjugating Italian verbs.

Essere – to be

Essere o non essere? (To be or not to be?) Here’s the most common verb in Italian.

Present tense of essere

Italian singular pronouns Present tense Italian plural pronouns Present tense
io (I) sono noi (we) siamo
tu (you) sei voi (you plural) siete
lui/lei (he/she) è loro (they) sono
  • Example: Sono un’infermiera. (I’m a nurse.)

This verb is extremely important to learn, so we suggest reading Busuu’s dedicated article on essere to understand more about how it works and how it looks in other tenses (past, future, etc.)

Fare – to do

Fare translates to “to do” and sometimes also “to make” in English. This verb is very irregular, and Busuu also has a guide to fare and how to use it in Italian. For now, here’s a a table of the present tense of fare:

Present tense of fare

Italian singular pronouns Present tense Italian plural pronouns Present tense
io (I) faccio noi (we) facciamo
tu (you) fai voi (you plural) fate
lui/lei (he/she) fa loro (they) fanno
  • Example: Facciamo le pulizie ogni mattina. (We do the cleaning every morning.)

Volere – to want

Volere is unique to the other verbs you’ve just learned, because it’s also a “helping” verb. It can pair with other verbs, like in the example below.

Present tense of volere

Italian singular pronouns Present tense Italian plural pronouns Present tense
io (I) voglio noi (we) vogliamo
tu (you) vuoi voi (you plural) volete
lui/lei (he/she) vuole loro (they) vogliono
  • Example: Vuole partire. (She/He wants to leave.)

Because this verb is a modal or “helping” verb, and because Italians use it in its conditional form to request things or order food, we recommend reading Busuu’s guide to volere to fully master this verb.

Avere – to have

Our next verb means “to have.” It’s also very important, so see the breakdown of avere in the table below:

Present tense of avere

Italian singular pronouns Present tense Italian plural pronouns Present tense
io (I) ho noi (we) abbiamo
tu (you) hai voi (you plural) avete
lui/lei (he/she) ha l oro (they) hanno
  • Example: Ho quattro mele. (I have four apples.)

Remember: The “h” letter is silent in Italian, so ho will sound like “o”.

Dovere – must / to have to

Dovere is another modal or “helping” verb in Italian, so it can be paired with other verbs – see how it does so with fare in the example below.

Present tense of dovere

Italian singular pronouns Present tense Italian plural pronouns Present tense
io (I) devo noi (we) dobbiamo
tu (you) devi voi (you plural) dovete
lui/lei (he/she) deve loro (they) devono
  • Example: Dobbiamo fare colazione. (We have to have breakfast.)

These are the most common verbs, but your next goal should be to learn reflexive verbs.

Reflexive verbs in Italian

Reflexive verbs are verbs that have a reflexive pronoun. They indicate that an action is being performed on us, like getting dressed, brushing your hair and so on. In English, this is saying “of the self” or “myself”, “each other” and so on.

Non-reflexive Italian verbs end with -are, -ere or -ire. Reflexive verbs end with -si in their infinitive form.

Here are some examples:

  • Lavarsi (to wash oneself)
  • Sedersi (to sit oneself down)
  • Innamorarsi (to fall in love)

Remember our subject pronouns from earlier? Every subject pronoun has a corresponding reflexive pronoun. See the chart below for the breakdown:

Reflexive pronouns

Subject pronoun Reflexive pronoun Divertirsi (to have fun)
Io I mi myself diverto I have fun
Tu you ti yourself diverti You have fun
Lui/lei he/she si himself/herself diverte He/she has fun
Noi we ci ourselves divertiamo We have fun
Voi you plural vi yourselves divertite You all have fun
Loro they si themselves divertono They have fun

The process for conjugating these is easy once you know the pattern:

  1. Take any reflexive verb and drop the -si at the end.
  2. Add on an -e and treat it like a normal Italian verb. Conjugate it as normal (see our section below for how to do that).
  3. Add in the reflexive pronoun (mi, ti, ci, etc.). It goes after the subject pronoun and before the verb.

And there you go!

Here’s an example of this process with vestirsi (to get dressed):

  1. Vestirsi becomes vestir-
  2. Add on an -e and it becomes vestire. We’ll conjugate it to the first person, io, so it becomes io vesto.
  3. Add in the reflexive pronoun for io, which is mi: io mi vesto (I dress myself.)

Don’t worry if this seems advanced. Once you read the explanations of present tense and conjugating verbs below, it’ll make more sense. Now, it’s time to learn the Italian present tense.

The Italian present tense – presente indicativo

The present tense, also called the present indicative or presente indicativo, is the first tense you should learn in Italian. It’s very similar to English’s present tense and we use the Italian present indicative for actions that are happening in the moment or that happen on a regular basis.

Here’s the quick run-down: in Italian, there are three endings of verbs in their infinitive form: -are, -ere and -ire. Take off the last three letters of any verb, and that’s the verb stem.

  • The verb stem of cantare (to sing) is cant-
  • The verb stem of sentire (to hear, feel) is sent-

Once you have the verb stem, you can add the appropriate ending to the verb. This is a pattern that, once you memorize it, you can apply to hundreds of Italian verbs.

See the chart below to start with the present tense of the regular verb mangiare (to eat).

How to conjugate verbs ending in -are

English pronoun Italian pronoun Conjugation ending Present tense
I io -o mangio
you tu -i mangi
he/she lui/lei -a mangia
we noi -iamo mangiamo
you (plural) voi -ate mangiate
they loro -ano mangiano
  • Io mangio la pasta. (I eat/am eating pasta.)
  • Mangi carne? (Do you eat meat?)
  • Mangiano la pizza insieme. (They eat/are eating pizza together.)

Verbs ending in -are are the most common, but many others end in -ere or -ire and will follow a different pattern. Some verbs are totally irregular. Study our lesson on the indicativo presente and you’ll be a pro at the present tense in no time.

The most common past tense in Italian – passato prossimo

In Italian, passato prossimo translates to both the simple past (“I did”) and present perfect (“I have done”) in English. It’s the most common past tense in Italian, and we use it to talk about completed actions in the past that still feel relatively recent.

Note: This is a slightly more advanced topic that requires knowing essere (to be) and avere (to have). After reading this explanation, see our article dedicated to passato prossimo with more details.

Passato prossimo is a compound tense, meaning it’s made with two parts:

  • The auxiliary (the present tense of either essere or avere) + a past participle

Here’s an example:

  • Ho comprato. (I bought.)

In the case above, ho is the auxiliary while comprato is the past participle of comprare (to buy). Usually, the past participle of any verb is formed by taking off the last three letters (-are, -ere or -ire) and replacing it with -ato, -uto or -ito:

Here are some examples using mangiare (to eat):

  • (Io) Ho mangiato una mela. (I ate an apple.)
  • (Tu) Che cosa hai mangiato? (What did you eat?)
  • (Lei) Ha mangiato la pasta. (She ate the pasta.)

Ready, set, learn a language!

Achieving fluency in Italian takes time but using Busuu’s beginner’s guide as a structured plan will break down your language learning goals into steps. Start with adjectives and articles, then move onto harder subjects like reflexive verbs or the perfect present tense. Take it slow—and remember, it will all pay off. With our guides to Italian grammar, you’ll form a great foundation for becoming truly proficient in Italian.

At Busuu, we empower language learners to reach their Italian learning goals. We provide clear and fun online lessons that will reinforce the Italian grammar topics you learned today. Keep practicing and never stop learning!

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