Italian grammar: feminine of nouns

Formation of feminine of nouns in Italian

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Nouns designating animated beings, can be masculine, if they refer to a man or male animal or, conversely, feminine if they refer to a woman or female animal.

In most cases, the basic form of nouns is masculine and therefore, when these nouns need to be used to indicate a female living being, must be transformed into feminine.

These nouns can be divided into two types: Nouns that distinguish the masculine from the feminine by the variation of the ending and nouns that for the feminine have a totally different form.

Finally, there are some nouns that have the same form for both masculine and feminine.

Let's see how these nouns vary depending on gender:

Feminine by variation of the ending

1. Nouns ending in "-o":

In Italian, when a masculine nouns ends in "-o" the feminine form is obtained by changing "-o" to "-a".

Examples:
il ragazzo (the guy) --> la ragazza (the girl), il gatto (the male-cat) --> la gatta (the female-cat), etc...

2. Nouns ending in "-a":

In Italian, when a masculine nouns ends in "-a" the feminine form is obtained by changing "-a" to "-essa".

Examples:
il poeta (the male poet) --> la poetessa (the female poet), il duca (the duke) --> la duchessa (the duchess), etc...


3. Nouns ending in "-e":

Masculine nouns ending in "-e", in Italian, form the feminine in two different ways: some nouns change the ending in "-a" and others, mostly indicating professions, offices, titles and names of animals, add the suffix "-essa".

Examples:
l'infermiere (nurse - masculine) --> l'infermiera (nurse - feminine), il cassiere (the cashier - masculine) --> la cassiera (the cashier - feminine), il principe (the prince) --> la principessa (the princess), etc...



4. Nouns ending in "-tore":

The vast majority of the nouns ending in "-tore", in Italian, form the feminine by changing the suffix in "-trice", although some nouns transform the suffix in "-tora".

Examples:
Il pittore (the painter - masculine) --> la pittrice (the painter - feminine), il pastore (the shepherd) --> la pastora (the shepherdess), etc...


But...

Different forms for masculine and feminine

There are nouns that have completely different forms for the masculine and feminine. Below is a list of the most common ones:

Uomo (man) --> donna (woman)
Marito (huseband) --> moglie (wife)
Padre (father --> madre (mother)
Babbo / papà (dad) --> mamma (mom)
Fratello (brother) --> sorella (sister)
Maschio (male) --> femmina (female)
Cane (dog) --> Cagna (bitch)
Re (king) --> regina (queen)


Same form for masculine and feminine

Finally, in Italian there are few nouns that use the same forms for both the masculine and the feminine. In this case the gender can only be understood from the context.

1. A few nouns (ending in "-e"):

A very small number of nouns (ending in "-e") and the present participle used as a noun, have the same form for both the genders.

Example:
nipote (nephew / niece), custode (guardian), cantante (singer), insegnante (teacher), parente (relative), etc...

2. A few nouns ending in "-a" and all nouns ending in "-ista" and "-cida":

These nouns, mostly of Greek origin, have the same form for masculine and feminine in the singular, but in the plural they have different forms.

Singular Plural
Masculine / Feminine Masculine Feminine
Pediatra (pediatrician) Pediatri Pediatre
Fisiatra (physiatrist) Fisiatri Fisiatre
Giornalista (journalist) Giornalisti; Giornaliste
Artista (artist) Artisti Artiste
Omicida (murderer) Omicidi Omicide


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