Italian grammar: Defective nouns

Defective nouns (nomi difettivi)

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In Italian, there are some nouns that only have a singular form, and others that only have a plural form. Because of this reason these nouns are called defectives.

Let's see which ones:

Nouns used in the singular form only

In general, in Italian, the nouns that indicate things or indistinct concepts and that objectively are non-countable, are normally used only in the singular.

The nouns that fall into this category are:

1. the majority of abstract nouns:

Examples: La pietà (compassion), la bellezza (beauty), il coraggio (courage), l'orgoglio (pride), il valore (valour), l'intelligenza (intelligence), etc...

Some of these nouns can also be used in the plural, but in this case they change their meaning.

Examples: Il valore (valour) --> i valori (values), la bellezza (beauty) --> le bellezze (beautiful places or beautiful women), etc...

2. Nouns referring to metals and chemical elements:

Examples: L'oro (gold), il bronzo (bronze), l'idrogeno (hydrogen), il ferro (iron), etc...

Even in this case, some of these nouns can also be used in the plural, but with a different meaning.

Examples: Il ferro (iron) --> i ferri (tools), il bronzo (bronze) --> i bronzi (bronzes / bronze statues), etc...

3. Some nouns referring to food and drinks:

Examples: Il latte (milk), il grano (wheat), l'orzo (barley), il miele (honey), il pepe (pepper), etc...

Even in this case, some of these nouns can also be used in the plural, but with a different meaning.

Examples: Il grano (wheat) --> i grani (grains / beads), etc..

4. The names of months:

Examples: Gennaio (January), febbraio (February), etc...

5. The names of deseases:

Examples: L'influenza (flu), il morbillo (measles), il colera (cholera), etc...

6. Other names such us:

The noun "aria" can also be used as a regularl noun with the meaning of "song sung in an opera".


Nouns used in the plural form only

1. Names of objects formed by two identical components:

Examples: Le forbici (scissors), le mutande (underwear), i calzoni (trousers / pants (US)), gli occhiali (glasses), etc...

2. Nouns referring to a group of things of the same type:

Examples: Le stoviglie (dishes), le vettovaglie (provisions), i dintorni (surroundings), le macerie (ruins), etc...

3. Some nouns of Latin origin:

Examples: Le nozze (wedding), le esequie (funeral), le ferie (holiday), le tenebre (darkness), i posteri (descendants), etc...
Posted by Arnaldo Colonna on Jaunary 9, 2010 - All rights reserved


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