"A" and "An" in Italian
In English, we have the two words "a" and "an", meaning the same thing. This word is called the indefinite article, and exists in some form in many languages, Italian included. To distinguish between the two in English, we simply look at the word following the article --does it begin with a vowel sound? If so, then use "an," but otherwise, just use "a," giving us "a clock" but "an airplane." In Italian, there are actually four indefinite articles: un, uno, una, and un' ("un" followed by an apostrophe). To know which one to use with a word, first we must know its gender. The articles un and uno are used with masculine nouns, and the articles una and un' are used with feminine nouns.
The majority of masculine nouns use un to mean "a" or "an." The exception, those that use uno, are words that begin with the letter z, such as zaino (backpack), or words that begin with the letter s and another consonant, such as stereo (stereo). So looking at three masculine words, we say:
- un libro (a book)
- un giornale (a newspaper)
- uno studente (a male student)
Feminine nouns typically use the article una to mean "a" or "an." The exception, those that use un', are words that begin with a vowel, such as amica (female friend). So looking at three feminine words, we say:
- una farmacia (a pharmacy)
- una banca (a bank)
- un'amica (a female friend; notice that there is no space after the apostrophe)
That's all there is to saying "a" and "an" in Italian! Now you have a use for learning the gender of words, and can start to sound more like a natural speaker.