Italian grammar: Nouns with two (singular or plural) forms

Italian nouns with two singulars and / or two plurals (Nomi sovrabbondandi)

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In Italian, there are a few nouns with:

- a double form of singular;
- a double form of plural (masculine and feminine);
- nouns with two singulars and two plurals (masculine and feminine).

Let's go into each one in depth:

Nouns with two singular forms

Italian nouns with two singulars, are all masculine and can have an ending in "-iero" or in "-iere".

Nowadays, in the common language, the ending in "-iere" is not used anymore and can only be encountered in literature.

Il destriero (steed) Il destriere I destrieri
Il nocchiero (coxswain) Il nocchiere I nocchieri
Lo sparviero (sparrowhawk) Lo sparviere Gli sparvieri
Il forestiero (foreigner) Il forestiere I forestieri

Nouns with two plural forms

With reference to nouns with two plurals (masculine and feminine), they can be classified into two groups, depending on the meaning of their plurals:

- Nouns whose plurals have two different meanings
- Nouns whose plurals have the same meaning

1. Nouns that have two plurals with different meanings:

In the singular form, these nouns take on the meaning of both the plurals. Here is a list of the most importat ones:

SINGULAR PLURAL (masculine) PLURAL (feminine)
Il braccio I bracci (arms of a river / jib) Le braccia (arms)
Il ciglio I cigli (edges) Le ciglia (eyelash)
Il corno I corni (horns - instruments) Le corna (horns of animals)
Il gesto I gesti (gestures) Le gesta (deeds)
Il dito I diti (fingers - considered individually) Le dita (fingers - considered collectively)
Il labbro I labbri (lips of a wound / a vase, a cup, etc...) Le labbra (lips of mouth)
Il frutto I frutti (fruits on a single tree / outcome of an activity) La frutta / Le frutta (fruits in a collective sense)
Il filo I fili (threads) Le fila (threads of a plot)
Il fondamento I fondamenti (basic principles) Le fondamenta (foundations of buildings)
L'osso Gli ossi (slaughtered animal bones) Le ossa (bones of a human skeleton)
Il muro I muri (walls of a building) Le mura (walls of a city)
Il grido I gridi (cries of animals) Le grida (cries of a person / people)
Il membro I membri (members of a community, a family, etc..) Le membra (Limbs of body)
Il lenzuolo I lenzuoli (sheets, two or more considered separately) Le lenzuola (the pair of sheets to make the bed)

2. Nouns that have two plurals with the same meaning:

There are not many nouns with this peculiarity. Here is a list of the most common ones:

SINGULAR PLURAL (masculine) PLURAL (feminine)
Il ginocchio (knee) I gionocchi Le gionocchia
Il gomito (elbow) I gomiti Le gomita
Il sopracciglio (eyebrow) I sopraccigli Le sopracciglia

Nouns with two singulars and two plurals

Finally, in Italian, there is a couple of nouns with two singular and two plural forms, with no difference in meaning:

L'orecchio (ear) L'orecchia Gli orecchi Le orecchie
La strofa (strophe) La strofe Le strofe Le strofi

Posted by Arnaldo Colonna on Jaunary 5, 2010 - All rights reserved

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