Are you struggling to perfect your Italian grammar skills? Below, Italian teacher Nadia B. highlights the 10 most common grammar mistakes to help you get on the path to success…
When you’re first learning Italian, it can be hard to keep track of all the complex grammar rules. Understanding all of the differences in how ideas are expressed in Italian versus in English, for example, can be hard to remember. Nonetheless, it’s important that you master your Italian grammar skills if you wish to be successful.
Below are the 10 most common Italian grammar mistakes. By reading this, you’ll learn how to avoid making these common errors!
1. Noun/adjective agreement
One of the most difficult things for English speakers to remember is to make the noun and the adjective agree in Italian. Just remember, no matter what the noun or the adjective is, you should always check to make sure the agreement between them makes sense. Always take into account number and gender. See examples below:
- Singular: un ragazzo amabile (a friendly boy)
- Plural: due ragazzi amabili (two friendly boys)
- Gender: una lezione lunga (a long lecture)
Note: feminine nouns have the adjective ending in –a, while masculine nouns have the adjective ending in –o.
2. Correct verb conjugation
Oftentimes, verb conjugations can seem complex. Making sure the verb conjugation always reflects the subject–even when the subject isn’t explicitly stated–is important. For example, in the sentence, “Lucia ed io andiamo a scuola,” (Lucia and I go to school) the verb conjugation is in the we form (noi) because it’s referring to Lucia and I.
Another common mis-conjugation is in the use of the voi form (you all). In this case, you’ll be directly addressing a group of two or more people; for example, “Ragazzi, siete bravissimi” (“Guys, you are very good”). Often, Italian language learners mistakenly use the loro (they) form when they’re directly addressing a group.
3. Collective nouns viewed as singular
Some nouns in Italian appear plural because they are a unit of several, but they act as singular nouns with regard to the verb conjugation. Two examples of this are la famiglia (the family) and la gente (the people). Even though they are referring to multiple people, they are treated as singular nouns. See examples below:
- La famiglia è andata alla chiesa (The family went to the church)
- La gente dice che… (People say that…)
4. Conditions of being
When we explain how we’re feeling in Italian, some of the ways we express this vary from English. For example, many conditions (such as being cold, fearful, etc.) use the verb avere (to have) instead of essere (to be). So, when you want to say you’re feeling cold in Italian, you would say “Ho freddo” not, “Sono freddo.” Similarly, when you’re talking about age, you would say “Ho 24 anni” (I am 24 years old) instead of “Sono 24 anni.”
5. Mi piace vs. mi piacciono
Expressing what you like and dislike can often get you into trouble in Italian. The verb piace (to please) is used in a phrase to refer to an item you like. The first common error students make is to conjugate the verb based on the person who likes it. In other words, “Mi piaccio” or “I like myself” which is not what you’re generally trying to convey.
The second mistake that can occur is to forget to make the verb agree with the subject in number. If what you like is plural ( i.e. the books, the topics, the shirts) then you would say “Mi piacciono…” If what you like is singular, then you should say “Mi piace…” See example below:
- Plural: Mi piacciono i libri (I like the books)
- Singular: Mi piace il libro (I like the book)
6. Shortened nouns
Some words in Italian are very long. Because of this many words are shortened. For example, la bicicletta (the bicycle) can be shortened to la bici, and la fotografia (the photograph) can be shortened to la foto. In these cases, the noun is still feminine in the shortened version, even though the word ends in -i or -o. When using these shortened nouns, remember to make the noun agree with the adjective. For example, La bici è rossa (The bicycle is red).
7. Irregular past participles
Once you learn how to form the past participle, don’t forget that irregular past participles exist! Some of the commonly misused verbs include: aprire (aperto), bere (bevuto), chiedere (chiesto), correre (corso), dire (detto), essere (stato), fare (fatto), leggere (letto), mettere (messo), perdere (perso), scrivere (scritto), vedere (visto) and venire (venuto).
8. Essere vs. avere with the past participle
Another common grammar mistake is using the wrong verb before the participle. While there are only two choices ( i.e. essere and avere), it’s easy to get confused about which one to use. The basic rule is that most transitive verbs are conjugated with avere, while intransitive verbs are conjugated with essere.
In some cases, both avere and essere can be used. However, be careful because the meaning can be very different depending on which you use. With the verb finire, for example, “ho finito” means “I finished,” while “sono finito” means “I’m dead”!
9. Making the direct object preceding the past participle agree when using avere
When you have a past participle with avere, you most likely have a direct object following it. For example, Ho scritto le lettere (I wrote the letters). If you wish to use a direct object pronoun, you would put it before the past participle and avere. If you do this, however, you must make the past participle agree with the direct object pronoun that precedes it. For example, Le ho scritte (I wrote them). This is a very common mistake as it is a fine point of Italian grammar. If you use this correctly, you will impress whomever you’re speaking with!
Commands are not very complicated in Italian; however, there is an exception that is often forgotten. While the tu form is expressed in the affirmative by dropping the –re of the infinitive, the tu form is expressed in the negative by using non plus the infinitive. Oftentimes, students use the same tu form for both affirmative and negative commands, which is incorrect. See example below:
- Affirmative: “Ascoltami!” (“Listen to me!”)
- Negative: “Non mi ascoltare!” (“Don’t listen to me!”)
Practicing using these grammar concepts in conversation is a good way to check if you’re able to use them correctly. Knowing the most common Italian grammar mistakes should help you notice when you make an error and help you to correct it yourself, or with the help of your Italian teacher.
Nadia B. teaches Italian in New York, NY. She graduated summa cum laude from New York University, with a double degree in Italian Language and Literature and Classical Music Performance. Learn more about Nadia here!