Italian For Beginners: Describing Possession

Now that we understand noun gender and articles, the next thing to explore is possession, and the adjectives used to describe it.

Fortunately, in Italian, possession is only described by way of possessive adjectives (similar to English). Unlike languages with noun declension (eg, German, Russian, Polish), I don't have to worry about learning genetive cases and endings. Your mileage may vary.

Six subjects of possession

As always, there are six possible subjects, so there must be six possible possessors. Thus, there is a possessive adjective which corresponds to each subject: io, tu, lui/lei, noi, voi, and loro.

1st personmionostro
2nd persontuovostro
3rd personsuoloro

However, because the endings on Italian nouns and adjectives also reflect gender and plurality, this means there are four different ways of describing each of these six — with the exception of loro, which does not change.

Thus, we have not only mio, but also mia, miei, and mie. And likewise for the other four subjects:

mio, mia, miei, mie
tuo, tua, tuoi, tue
suo, sua, suoi, sue
nostro, nostra, nostri, nostre
vostro, vostra, vostri, vostre

And as I said, loro does not change to match gender.

Now, for the twist

The Italian language has a peculiar trait regarding possessives which I have never seen in another language. In most languages, the possessive adjective replaces the article, but in Italian, you keep the article.

While it might sound strange in English to say "my the car", it is absolutely correct in Italian to say la mia macchina. And where it would grind nerves in English to say "the their houses", in Italian you must say le loro case.

The only time you do not keep the article is in front of a family member in the singular. It is correct to describe "my brother" as mio fratello. However, in the plural you still keep the article, and "my brothers" are still i miei fratelli.

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Author: Yearlyglot
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  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I'm learning Czech and I've found one thing odd that's sort of weird to get used to. You can't use the possessive pronoun if the subject and the possessive are the same. For example, you can't say "I like my house," you must use another word other than "my". One would think you would say "Mám rád můj dům" (I like my house), but you have to replace the possessive pronoun "můj" with a possessive pronoun meaning "one's own", so you would have to say "Mám rád svůj dům." The same thing would apply if I were to say "You like your house," but it would not apply in a situation such as "I like your house" or "You like my house."
    Is this a common feature of Slavic languages? I know you've learned a few.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Correct. In Czech, you will use svůj (in Russian свой, in Ukrainian свій, in Polish swoj) any time that the object of possession matches the subject of the sentence.
    While this is a little bit confusing at first, you will grow to love it when you start getting sentence like "my brother gave the barber his book". In English, it's unclear to whom the book belongs, but in a slavic language there is no question.
    Thanks for commenting!

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