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!
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 ArgentinoPlay Caption
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).
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 indeterminativoPlay Caption
Caption 27, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonaraPlay Caption
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.Play Caption
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.Play Caption
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 - FiabaPlay Caption
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.Play Caption
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 5Play Caption
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 ErasmusPlay Caption
Uno quando ha un talento, lo deve coltivare.
When someone has talent, he has to cultivate it.Play Caption
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.
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!
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Here are some of the video lessons that might be helpful for learning about using indefinite articles (called articoli indeterminativi).