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Uno: a Number, an Article, and More

In English, we have the pronoun "one" and the number "one." They both refer to something single but do not mean exactly the same thing. We have a similar phenomenon in Italian, but it goes a step further. This lesson will explore the word uno in various contexts, and since this will take us to the subject of "indefinite articles," we'll take the opportunity to look at those, too!

Number

Uno (one) can be the number "one":

 

Adesso proveremo noi insieme un passo base di Tango.

Now, together, we'll try out the basic steps of the Tango.

Uno, due, tre.

One, two, three.

Captions 38-39, Adriano - balla il Tango Argentino

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We can use uno as an adjective when we are talking about "how many?" One. 

Ho trovato solo uno stivale. L'altro l'ho perso (I found only one boot. I lost the other one).

 

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Indefinite article

Uno is an indefinite article, "a", used only when followed by a Z or by an S + a consonant:*

 

Uno scontrino, perché?

"Uno scontrino." Why?

Perché la parola inizia per s più consonante.

Because the word starts with "s" plus a consonant.

Captions 55-56, Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo

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Uno scolapasta.

A colander.

Caption 27, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara

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Other forms of the indefinite article

When the masculine word following the article begins with a vowel or single consonant (excluding Z) it's un.

 

Quello che è successo è un segnale.

What happened is a sign.

Caption 9, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 21

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This is the most common masculine indefinite article and as we mentioned above, it remains the same even when it comes before a vowel (no apostrophe).

 

Stiamo cercando un aviatore americano.

We're looking for an American pilot.

Caption 6, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 5

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When this article comes before a feminine noun (or the adjective that describes it), it's una.

 

Hai una bellissima voce.

You have a very beautiful voice.

Caption 9, Adriano - Fiaba

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If the feminine indefinite article una comes before a word that starts with a vowel, it becomes un'  so as not to break the flow.

 

Magari sarà per un'altra volta.

Perhaps, another time.

Caption 7, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 12

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A Pronoun 

Here, instead of saying give me una borsa (a bag), Eva just says give me one of them.

 

Dai, dammene una. -No, no, so' [romanesco: sono] abituata.

Come on, give me one of them. -No, no, I'm used to it.

Caption 6, La Ladra Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 5

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Attenzione! In order to speak correctly, you have to know the gender of the noun you are replacing!

 

But uno can also mean the pronoun "someone."

 

Allora, innanzitutto, quando uno studia a uni'... a una università,

So, first of all, when someone studies at a uni... at a university,

eh, per esempio in Italia, eh, a Firenze...

uh, for example, in Italy, uh, in Florence...

Captions 17-18, Arianna e Marika - Il Progetto Erasmus

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Uno quando ha un talento, lo deve coltivare.

When someone has talent, he has to cultivate it.

Caption 73, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 12

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Generally speaking, the masculine form is used to mean "someone," however, if you want to specify that that someone is a female, then una can serve the same purpose.

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For English speakers, getting the article right in Italian can be confusing, especially since in many cases, you have to know the gender of the noun you are using the article with and that can be daunting, too!

 

Translator's pitfall:

When translating, we often have to think twice. Does uno/un/una mean "one" or "a"? Since it's the same word in Italian, it's not always clear!

Tip

Doing the Scribe exercises at the end of the videos you watch can be a great way to learn how to use the articles — You ask yourself, "When do I use the apostrophe? And when not?" You'll make plenty of mistakes, but little by little it will sink in. 

 

If you want more lessons about using articles, let us know at newsletter@yabla.com.

 

*Here are some of the video lessons that might be helpful for learning about using indefinite articles (called articoli indeterminativi).

 

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 1

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 2

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 3

Two Words in One, with a Catch: Perché

When someone asks you perché? (why?), you can recycle the same word in your response because perché also means “because”! Yes, two in one! Let’s look at the following example, where Daniela is asking her students to justify using one article over another. Make sure to look at the context and listen to the inflection!

 

L'articolo è uno. Uno scontrino, perché?

The article is "uno." "Uno scontrino" (a receipt). Why?

Perché la parola inizia per s più consonante.

Because the word starts with "s" plus a consonant.

Captions 54-56, Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo

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So perché actually has two grammatical forms. One is as an adverb meaning “for what reason.” It’s used in forming a question:

Perché l’hai interrogato?
Why did you interrogate him?

The other grammatical form of perché is a “causal conjunction” meaning “because.” It’s used to introduce the cause when it follows the effect (which might be simply implied as in our first example above). If we use a full sentence to respond to the above question, it might go something like this:

L’ho interrogato perché non l’hai fatto tu!
I interrogated him because you didn’t do it!

In the above example, “I interrogated him” is the effect and “you didn’t do it” is the cause, so perché (because) goes in the middle: effect-perché-cause. 

But here’s the catch. If you want to put the cause first, such as when you’re explaining yourself without being asked, or elaborating on your reasons, then things change in Italian. In English you could technically start your full sentence answer with the cause, using “because.”

Because you didn’t interrogate him, I did.

However, in Italian you cannot use perché in this case. The word to go to is siccome (because, as, given that, whereas, or since), used exclusively to introduce the cause when it precedes the effect: siccome-cause-effect. Siccome and perché have similar meanings but are not interchangeable within the structure of the sentence. This may seem complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it will become natural. Here’s an example in context, where Lara is explaining her actions to Luca Manara.

 

Ginevra deve essere iscritta nella lista degli indagati e deve essere interrogata,

Ginevra must be recorded on the list of suspects and has to be interrogated,

e siccome non lo fai tu lo faccio io, tutto qui.

and because you're not doing it, I'm doing it, that's all.

Captions 17-19, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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In the above example you could replace “because” with “given that,” "as," “whereas,” or “since.” But you can’t replace siccome with perché!

As your Italian becomes more fluent, you’ll find siccome to be extremely handy when you’re telling stories and explaining things. There are other similar words to call on as well, but we’ll save them for another time.

 

Learning suggestion:
To get a feel for perché in both of its two contrasting but related meanings, “why” and “because,” check out their occurrences in Yabla videos (and figure out which is which). Do a search with siccome to get acquainted with it, and hear it in context. Then, to really grasp the mechanism, ask yourself some questions, and answer them. Get used to using perché as both the question “why” and the answer “because.” Then, elaborate on your answers using siccome and perché according to how you structure your sentence. Don’t forget the accent on perché!

 

Here’s a head start:

Perché sei così nervoso?
-Perché... è una storia lunga. Siccome avevo dimenticato di caricare la sveglia ieri sera, stamattina mi sono alzata tardi. E siccome avevo un appuntamento alle nove, non avevo tempo per fare colazione. Farò colazione al bar, perché ora ho fame. Dopo mi sentirò meglio, perché avrò la pancia piena. Siccome la pancia sarà piena, mi sentirò molto meglio.

Why are you so tense?
-Because... it’s a long story. Since I had forgotten to set the alarm last night, this morning I got up late. And because I had an appointment at nine, I didn’t have time for breakfast. I’ll have breakfast at the coffee shop because now I’m hungry. Afterwards I’ll feel better, because my stomach will be full. Since my stomach will be full, I’ll feel better.

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To enhance your skills, make sure you practice ad alta voce (out loud), too. 

Perché? Perché sì!

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