Glossary of grammatical terms


A shortened form of a word or phrase: etc., ecc.; DNA


In the active form the subject of the verb performs the action: Anna [subject] parla quattro lingue, Anna speaks four languages. See Passive

Adjectival phrase

A phrase that functions as an adjective: out of place, the remark was quite out of place


A word describing a noun: una matita morbida, a soft pencil


A word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb: partiamo presto, we leave early; abbastanza spesso, quite often

Adverbial phrase

A phrase that functions as an adverb: less and less, sempre meno


Articles are used before a noun. The definite article: in Italian il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, le; in English the. The indefinite article: in Italian un, uno, una, un’; in English a/an.


An adjective or noun is attributive when it is used directly linked to a noun: la città vecchia, the old town; a family business, un’azienda a conduzione familiare; un bambino addormentato a sleeping child. See predicative

Auxiliary verb

A verb used with another verb to form compound tenses; in Italian avere and essere: ho fatto un affare, I got a bargain; è partito cinque minuti fa, he left five minutes ago.

Cardinal number

A whole number representing a quantity: uno/a, due, tre, one, two, three


A self-contained section of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb

Collective noun

A noun that is singular in form but refers to a group of persons or things, e.g. la squadra, il governo, the team, the government


A word that regularly occurs with another; for example, typical collocates of leggere, to read are [parola, word; giornale, newspaper; autore, author; lingua, language]


The form of an adjective or adverb for comparing two or more nouns or pronouns, often using: più, meno, altrettanto, more, less, as: più piccolo, smaller; più frequentemente, more frequently; altrettanto strano, as strange


A unit of two or more separate words with a specific meaning: key ring, portachiavi

Compound tense

A tense made up of two parts, auxiliary verb and past participle: sono andato/a da Roma a Venezia, I went from Rome to Venice; avranno finito domani, they will have finished tomorrow

Conditional tense

A tense of a verb that expresses what might happen if something else occurred: non vorrei essere al suo posto, I wouldn’t like to be in his/her shoes


Variation of the form of a verb to show tense, person, etc.


A word used to link clauses: e, and; poiché, since

Conjunctional phrase

A phrase that functions as a conjunction: your report, in case you've forgotten, was due in yesterday, la relazione, nel caso l'abbiate dimenticato, era per ieri


All the letters other than a, e, i, o, u


Countable nouns are those that have both singular and plural forms and can take determiners that accompany distinctions in number: the book, il libro; the books, i libri; un gatto, a cat; alcuni gatti, some cats

Definite article

the, il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, le

Demonstrative adjective

An adjective indicating the person or thing referred to: questa macchina, this car; quel cappello, that hat

Demonstrative pronoun

A pronoun indicating the person or thing referred to: prendi un’altra sedia, questa è rotta, take another chair, this one is broken


A word used before a noun to make clear what is being referred to: the, some, my

Direct object

The noun or pronoun directly affected by the verb: mangio un panino, I eat a sandwich; non lo vedo, I can’t see him

Direct speech

A speaker’s actual words or the use of these in writing


Having a word or words omitted, especially where the sense can be guessed from the context


Letters added to the stems of verbs, nouns and adjectives, according to tense, number, gender


A sound, word, or remark expressing a strong feeling such as anger, fear, or joy: attenzione!, look out!


One of the two genders in Italian: la donna, the woman; la carta, the card

Future tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that will happen in the future: I will go, andrò


One of the two groups of nouns in Italian: masculine and feminine


In Italian a verb form that ends in –ando (andando) or –endo (essendo) and in English is translated with an –ing form: sfogliando il giornale ho visto la sua foto, flicking through the paper I saw his picture


A form of a verb that expresses a command: venite subito!, come at once!

Imperfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to an uncompleted or a habitual action in the past: tutti gli anni andavano a sciare, they used to go skiing every year

Impersonal verb

A verb used in English only with ‘it’ and in Italian can only be used in the third person singualr: it’s raining, piove; è facile, it’s easy

Indefinite adjective

An adjective that does not identify a specific person or object: hai molti amici?, have you got many friends?; lei non ha nessun difetto, she has no faults

Indefinite article

: un, uno, una, un’, a/an

Indefinite determiner

A determiner that does not identify a specific person or object: there are too many accidents, ci sono troppi incidenti; have some more meat, prenda altra carne

Indefinite pronoun

A pronoun that does not identify a specific person or object: chiunque, anybody; qualcosa, something

Indicative form

The form of a verb used when making a statement of fact or asking questions of fact in various tenses: dove abiti?, where do you live?

Indirect object

The noun or pronoun indirectly affected by the verb, at which the direct object is aimed: gli ho dato le chiavi, I gave him the keys

Indirect speech

A report of what someone has said which does not reproduce the exact words


The basic form of a verb: to play, giocare


To change the ending or form of a word to show its tense or its grammatical relation to other words: fai and fate are inflected forms of the verb fare

Interrogative adjective

An adjective that modifies a noun in a question: in quali paesi hai vissuto?, which countries have you lived in?; che film vuoi vedere stasera?, what film do you want to see tonight?

Interrogative determiner

A determiner used to form a question: which car is yours?, quale auto è la vostra?; quanto zucchero vuoi? how much sugar would you like?

Interrogative pronoun

A pronoun that asks a question: chi?, who?

Intransitive verb

A verb that does not have a direct object: è morto a 95 anni, he died at 95

Invariable adjective

A Italian adjective that is unchanged in the singular and the plural, as Italian rosa, pink; radio, radio

Invariable noun

A noun that is unchanged in the singular and the plural, as English sheep, species; Italian caffè, film

Irregular verb

A verb that does not follow one of the set patterns and has its own individual forms, e.g. English to be, to bring; Italian essere, correre


One of the two genders in Italian: il ragazzo, the boy; il libro, the book

Modal verb

A verb that is used with another verb to express permission, obligation, possibility, such as can, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will. The Italian modal verbs are dovere, potere, volere


Expressing refusal or denial: non è a casa, she isn’t at home; non molto tempo fa, not long ago


A word that names a person, thing, or concept such as Peter, Pietro; a child, un bambino; a book, un libro; peace, la pace

Noun modifier

A modifier that adds extra information about a noun: altitude training, addestramento in quota; transition period, periodo di transizione


The state of being either singular or plural


The word or words naming the person or thing acted on by a verb: ho finito il romanzo, I have finished the novel; vedrà suo fratello, he will meet his brother

Ordinal number

A number that shows the position of a person or thing in a series: la seconda volta, the second time; la Terza Repubblica, the Third Republic

Part of speech

A grammatical term for the function of a word; noun, verb, adjective, etc., are parts of speech


In the passive, the subject of the verb experiences the action rather than performs it: è stato sconfitto in finale, he has been defeated in the final. See Active

Past historic

In Italian the past historic is used to refer to events in the relatively distant past: partirono il giorno dopo, they left the day after; Canaletto lavorò a Londra, Canaletto worked in London

Past participle

The part of a verb used to form past compound tenses with essere and avere: l’avevo letto anch’io, I had read it too

Past participle adjective

An adjective formed from the past participle of a verb in the perfect tense: dressed, vestito/a; furnished, ammobiliato/a

Perfect tense

In Italian the perfect tense is used conversationally to refer to an event in the recent past: si è appena svegliata, she has just woken up; ha traslocato un anno fa, he moved a year ago (note the use of the English simple past in this translation)


Any of the three groups of personal pronouns and forms taken by verbs. In the singular the first person (e.g. I) refers to the person speaking; the second person (e.g. you) refers to the person spoken to; the third person (e.g. he, she, it) refers to the person spoken about. The plural forms are we, you, they

Personal pronoun

A pronoun that refers to a person or thing

Phrasal verb

A verb in English combined with a preposition or an adverb to give a particular meaning: run away, wash up. There are no phrasal verbs in Italian


A self-contained section of a sentence that does not contain a full verb

Pluperfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that happened before a particular point in the past: non lo avevo visto prima di allora, I had not met him before then


Meaning more than one: the children, i bambini

Possessive adjective

An adjective that shows possession, belonging to someone or something: mio/a, miei, mie. In Italian the possessive adjective agrees in gender and number with the noun they go with: la mia macchina, my car; mio fratello, my brother. Note that unlike English the Italian doesn’t specify the gender of the possessor as it agrees with the thing owned: Marco/Rita mi ha dato il suo indirizzo, Marco/Rita gave me his/her address

Possessive pronoun

A pronoun that shows possession, belonging to someone or something: il mio/la mia, i miei, le mie, mine. In Italian the possessive pronoun agrees in gender and number with the noun it refers to: non aveva il telefono e gli ho dato il mio, he didn’t have his phone, so I gave him mine


An adjective is predicative when it comes after a verb such as be, become, look etc. in English, or after essere, diventare, sembrare etc. in Italian: il palazzo sembra vecchio, the building looks old; il bambino era addormentato, the child was asleep. See attributive and note the different translation given there for the adjective ‘addormentato’


Letter or letters added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning, e.g. anti-, ultra-, non-


A word standing in front of a noun or pronoun, usually indicating movement, position or time: at home, a casa; on the chair, sulla sedia; the thief came towards me, il ladro venne verso di me

Prepositional phrase

A phrase that consists of a preposition and a complement: below the knee sotto al ginocchio; in compagnia di, in the company of

Present participle

The part of a verb in English that ends in –ing. In Italian it is quite rare and irregular, and often works as an adjective or noun; the endings can be –ante (funzionante, andante), -ente (facente, vedente). See gerund

Present participle adjective

An adjective formed from the present participle of a verb in the present tense: competing, rivale; moving, emozionante

Present tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something happening now: faccio, I make, I am making


Another term for the simple past tense in English, eg I went, andai. The English simple past often corresponds to the perfect tense in Italian: I went, sono andato/a


A word that stands instead of a noun: I, io; we, noi; mine, il mio, la mia, i miei, le mie

Proper noun

The name of a person, place, institution, etc, generally written with an initial capital letter: Italia, the Alps, Maddalena, Europa are all proper nouns


A word or phrase that specifies the quantity of a noun: several, parecchi; a lot of, molto/a

Reflexive pronoun

A pronoun that goes with a reflexive verb: in English: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves; in Italian: mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si and me, te, sé, noi, voi, loro when following a preposition

Reflexive verb

A verb whose object is the same as its subject. In Italian it is used with a reflexive pronoun and conjugated with essere: il gatto si è nascosto sotto la macchina, the cat hid under the car; vestiti!, get dressed!

Regular verb

A verb that follows a set pattern in all its different forms

Relative pronoun

A pronoun that introduces a subordinate clause, relating to a person or thing mentioned in the main clause: il libro che ho scelto, the book which I have chosen

Reported speech

Another name for Indirect speech


A sequence of words, with a subject and a verb, that can stand on their own to make a statement, ask a question, or give a command


One only: the tree, l’albero


The part of a verb to which endings are added; ved-is the stem of vedere


In a clause or sentence, the noun or pronoun that causes the action of the verb: Tina drove them to the station, Tina li ha accompagnati alla stazione. In Italian the subject pronoun is often omitted possiamo andare in macchina, we can go by car


A verb form used in Italian after certain conjunctions and with verbs of wishing, fearing, ordering, forbidding often followed by che: spero che venga, I hope she’ll come; la gita ci è piaciuta, benché facesse molto caldo, we enjoyed the trip even though it was very hot

Subordinate clause

A clause which adds information to the main clause of a sentence, but cannot function as a sentence by itself, e.g. I knew him when he was plain Mr Spencer, lo conoscevo quando era semplicemente il signor Spencer


A group of letters added to the end of a word to form another word, e.g. -able in work able; tore in presenta tore


The form of an adjective or adverb that makes it the ‘most’ or ‘least’: the biggest house, la casa più grande; the cheapest CD, il CD meno caro


The verb form that tells when the action takes place: present, future, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect are all tenses

Transitive verb

A verb used with a direct object: ha bevuto tre caffè, he drank three coffees


Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form: water, l’acqua; understanding, la comprensione


A word or group of words that describes an action: i bambini giocano, the children are playing


One of the following letters: a, e, i, o, u

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