Several Italian words have become part of our lexicon in English and are familiar to us: graffiti, spaghetti, paparazzi--but did you know that these are all plural nouns? We would rarely want to use the singular form of spaghetti (spaghetto), but what if we want to refer to one piece of graffitti? Whether you are studying the language or simply are interested in language use, here are some guidelines for determining what a singular form of a plural noun in Italian would be.
Determine the gender. Nouns in Italian are either masculine or feminine and demonstrate gender with the word ending. Usually, nouns ending in "o" are masculine (singular), "i" (plural), while nouns ending in "a" are feminine (singular) "e" (plural). There are exceptions and irregular noun endings, but let's focus on the basic forms first:
ragazzo--boy; ragazza--girl ragazzi--boys; ragazze--girls
In the above case, gender is apparent. However, for inanimate objects, gender also exists: libri--books (libro, masculine singular); case--houses (casa, feminine singular).
Masculine plural nouns ending in "i" generally have a singular form ending in "o":
graffiti (pl.); graffito (sing.) words written or painted onto a wall paparazzi (pl.); paparazzo (sing.) intrusive newspaper reporter carri (pl.); carro (sing.) car, carriage
Replace the final "i" with an "o," and you have the singular form of the noun.
Feminine plural nouns ending in "e" generally have a singular form ending in "a":
penne (pl.); penna (sing.) pen (penne pasta? Pasta shaped like pens.) pizze (pl.); pizza (sing.) large round dough base with sauce and cheese scrivanie (pl.); scrivania (sing.) desk
We never see the plural form, pizze, in English, as we have made the word part of our lexicon--so we say and write pizzas.
There are many irregular noun endings that simply have to be learned in order to recognize whether they are singular or plural (or even masculine or feminine). That's why it is recommended that you use a dictionary to check the forms. For example, the word for a university, "università" is the same whether it is singular or plural:
l'università--the university; le università--the universities la città--the city; le città--the cities il tassì--the taxi; i tassì--the taxis il caffè--the coffee; i caffè--the coffees;
Check a dictionary if you are unsure about a noun's gender. Check a dictionary for irregular nouns.