In Italian, there are many words which can confuse you and which also confuse Italian people. I'd like to talk to you about some of these, concerning body parts, which are:
1. ‘Il braccio’ (the arm)
In English we can say ‘I am moving my arm’ if you are moving only one arm, and ‘I am moving my arms’ if you are moving both. As you can see, in English we do not need to change the grammar if the object is singular or plural. However, in Italian, we must say:
‘Sto muovendo un braccio’ (I'm moving one arm)
‘Sto muovendo entrambe le braccia’ (I'm moving both my arms)
It's not only a question of singular and plural form, but also a change from a masculine word to a feminine one (gender forms are very important in Italian).
Strictly following Italian grammar rules, a foreigner may instead say:
‘Sto muovendo un braccio’ (I am moving my arm)
‘Sto muovendo entrambi i bracci’ (I am moving both my arms)
As you can see, the English equivalents of these two phrases do not change their grammar simply because the word ‘arm’ is in the plural form. However, the Italian here spoken by the foreigner is totally wrong! So, that's why it is really important to memorize these Italian language exceptions, otherwise you'll make a mistake.
To be honest, a lot of Italian people get these words wrong too. That's because, in their dialect, they are wrong on purpose.
Dialects are a real problem in learning the correct Italian grammar, not only because of the variations in words, but also in accents as well. While they are a valuable cultural resource for our country, they can still be a problem.
2. ‘Il dito’ (the finger)
Concerning the word ‘dito’ (finger) we can say:
‘Al mio dito c’è un anello’ (There's a ring on my finger)
‘Le mie dita sono corte’ (My fingers are short)
So with the word ‘dito’ (finger), a common grammatical mistake made would be:
‘I miei diti sono corti’ (My fingers are short)
But the correct sentence, as we can read above, should be:
‘Le mie dita sono corte’ (My fingers are short)
3. ‘Il labbro’ (the lip) and ‘L’orecchio’ (the ear)
This first word is really similar to the word ‘il dito’ (finger). You'll see that in the following examples:
‘Il mio labbro è gonfio perché un’ape mi ha punto’ (My lip is swollen because a bee bit it)
‘Le mie labbra sono rosse’ (My lips are red)
We see again in this case that that there has been a change between singular and masculine to plural and feminine in the two example sentences.
Another word like ‘lip’ and ‘finger’ is ‘L’orecchio’ (the ear):
‘Sull’orecchio destro ho due piercing’ (I have two piercings on my right ear).
‘‘Le mie orecchie sono troppo grandi!’ (My ears are too big!)
4. ‘La gamba’ (the leg)
Let's go on in our list of words with this one. We only mention it in comparison to the previous ones because it's not irregular. Some examples of using the Italian word for ‘leg’:
‘Io cammino con le mie gambe’ (I walk with my legs)
‘La mia gamba fa molto male’ ‘(My leg is really painful)
This is an easier example, because the word ‘gamba’ (leg) doesn't change between feminine or masculine form. For an English speaker this could be a really difficult concept to understand, because every word in English is neutral and doesn't change in its meaning. Concerning English, we all know that there are singular and plural words, but we do not have to worry about their gender as well.
5. ‘Il piede’ (the foot) in comparison to ‘La mano’ (the hand)
Analyzing the word ‘piede’ (foot), we notice that it doesn't respect the grammar rule that masculine words always end with an ‘O’.
Even the word ‘mano’ (hand) doesn't respect grammar rules, in this case the rule that: feminine words always end in ‘A’.
In fact we say ‘la mano’ and not, as the grammar rule would suggest ‘il mano’. And we say ‘il piede’ rather than ‘il piedo’.
The proper use of these words in a sentence is:
‘Io uso il mio piede destro per giocare a calcio’ (I use my right foot to play football)
‘I miei piedi sono freddi’ (My feet are cold)
‘Per scrivere uso la mano sinistra’ (I use the left hand to write)
‘Le mani di Andrea sono calde’ (Andrew's hands are hot)
6. ‘I capelli’ (the hair) or ‘Il capello’ (the hair)
This is almost like a false friend, because we can use both the singular or plural form depending on the situation we are in. In English, “hair” is usually an uncountable singular word--you rarely talk about how your “hairs” are messy. In Italian, sometimes we use a singular form, and sometimes we use a plural form. Imagine you are at the hairdresser's talking about your hair. Maybe you have oily hair, so you would say:
‘Il mio capello è molto grasso, quindi usa lo shampoo all’aloe, per favore’ (My hair is very oily so, please, use aloe shampoo on me)
Here the word ‘capello’ (hair) is used. It's used for more formal situations, for instance when you have to talk about your hair with a professional, such as a hairdresser or a doctor (if you have problems with your scalp, for example).
In a less formal case, maybe you're talking to a friend about your hair colour, you should say:
‘Mammamia, i miei capelli stanno malissimo così biondi!’ (Oh my Gosh, my hair is really bad with a blonde shade!’)
What you have just read is almost everything you have to know about irregular Italian words concerning your body.
I know that there are many rules. In English, we also have irregular ones, such as foot/feet or tooth/teeth. But it's easier to be be good at English, because today everyone in the world knows that language. Italian is more difficult because Italy is a restricted place, and the language is not spoken as widely globally, so without that widespread familiarity, mistakes are more frequent with particular words. The only way to correctly learn these words is to memorize them.
Here is some advice for you: look at yourself in the mirror, and try to repeatedly say out loud the body parts, remembering to say them both in the singular and plural form. Do it like a medical student would in order to memorize anatomy for a university exam.
To properly learn these rules and exceptions, means you will also need to learn to pronounce a word both in its masculine and feminine form, and then use them correctly in a sentence. If you improve in your Italian, you should be able to hear that one of them doesn't sound good as the others.
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