The Definite Article in Romanian


Following my post on plural words and my introduction to noun cases it’s now time to address the third component: the definite article.

In English, this is always super simple, being the use of the word the.

Whether it’s the book or the books, in English it’s always the same – just add the word “the” in front of the words (or clause) and you’re set. In Romanian it’s a lot trickier.

Since I’m assuming you speak or understand at least a little Spanish, we’ll start there, although in reality Romanian is much closer to Swedish or Dansk in this regard (as we’ll see later).

English Spanish Definite Article
The (male) cat El gato El
The (female) cat La gata La
The (male) cats Los gatos Los
The (female) cats Las gatas Las

So far, so good. Spanish has four definite articles (as listed above) and are fixed, immutable and permanent. Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan and other related languages are set up much the same way, being “definite article + noun”. All you have to do is pick the right definite article and you’re on your merry way.

Unfortunately, Romanian is set up like Swedish in the sense that the definite article doesn’t go in front of the noun but is added onto the end of it. The technical term for this is “post-fixed”.

Let’s look at a simple word, “drum”, which we know from the expression “drum bun“, meaning (generally) “road”.

So how do we say “the road”? Using our handy online dictionary and plugging the word into “Get Declensions” we see that the singular form with definition article is: drumul.

Therefore: “road” is drum and “the road” is drumul.

Unfortunately, if you look you’ll see no fewer than 8 different versions of how to use the definite article and sadly, I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. It’s actually 16 in many cases. Gasp!

The good news is that there are only a few variations in how the definite article gets appended in Romanian and once you learn them, you’re set. It only seems overwhelming at first but trust me, this is one of the easier things to get a handle on.

Let’s stick with drumul for the moment, meaning “the road” in the N/A or “objective” case. Since you’re thoroughly up to date on ALL of my language posts (*LOL*) then you know that the “objective case” means that the noun is doing all of the action. We’re going to stick with that for the time being.

Therefore: “the road” is simply drum (the noun) + ul (meaning “the”).

Let’s have a look at some common words (in the singular, objective case) and their definite article.

Word Word + Def Article Gender
pix pixul neuter
baiat baiatul masculine
soare soarele masculine
limba limba feminine
munte muntele masculine
tata tatal masculine
pijama pijamaua feminine
rosie rosia feminine
masina masina feminine
cablu cablul neuter
floare floarea feminine

Are you banging your head yet? No, well don’t. Even though that seems like a really complicated list, that’s the entirety of it.

Remembering that neuter is masculine in the singular, it’s easy to see that there are only a few ways to add the definite article in the masculine version:

  • Add “ul” to the end
  • Add just “l” if the last letter is a vowel (other than e); or
  • add “le” if it ends in e

Almost all of the time, it is one of the first two. Just add “ul” or “l” to the end of any masculine (or neuter) word in the singular.

In general, if the last letter is “e” and the noun is singular and masculine (or neuter), the rule is to add +le to the word.

As for the feminine words, you’ll notice that they only take a few forms:

  • Do nothing
  • Add “ua” to the end
  • Add an “a” to the end of a word ending in “e”
  • Change the last “e” to an “a” if the word ends in two vowels

Really that’s it. Most of the time, if you have to guess and the word ends in “a”, there’s no change. Actually I’m simplifying things for you because this is the actual, correct version:

Singular version – maşină and definite article version – maşina. In other words the “a with a bowl on top” gets dropped in the definite article form. The pronunciation difference between “regular a” and “a with a bowl on top” is virtually nil for a new speaker. This in essence gives you a free pass to say both words the same way.

Now let’s take a look at a series of new words in the singular:

English Word Gender Definite Article Word + Definite Article
newspaper ziar masculine +ul ziarul
snake sarpe masculine +le sarpele
cheese branza feminine (ă for a) branza
cheese cascaval neuter +ul cascavalul
apple mar neuter +ul marul
sea mare feminine +a because it ends in e marea
copy copie feminine last e becomes a because it ends in 2 vowels copia
child copil masculine +ul copilul
back spate neuter +le spatele
gutter jgheab neuter +ul jgheabul

Hehehe, I threw that last one in there just to keep you on your toes in terms of pronunciation. “Jgheab” is probably one of the most difficult words to say but it has declensions and other forms in the normal style, so don’t let it intimidate you.

Sadly, there are some exceptions to the rules I listed above. Yes, I know you’re probably sighing with frustration but hey, imagine how it is for me to write this whole thing, especially with Romanians watching me like a hawk! :P

Again, do not let these giant lists of rules confuse you or intimidate you. As you begin to read (and speak!) Romanian, the various ways these words are modified begins to make sense and “sound right”.

Romanians know these forms only because they’ve memorized them and heard them millions of times.

Now let’s mix things up just a teensy bit and combine plural forms plus the definite article:

English Singular Gender Word + Definite Article (Sing) Plural Word + Definite Article (Plural)
mattress saltea feminine salteaua saltele saltelele
gutter jgheab neuter jgheabul jgheaburi jgheaburile
back spate neuter spatele spate spatele
child copil masculine copilul copii copiii
copy copie feminine copia copii copiile
sea mare feminine marea mari marile
apple mar neuter marul mere merele
cheese cascaval neuter cascavalul cascavaluri cascavalurile
cheese branza feminine branza branzeturi branzeturile
snake sarpe masculine sarpele serpi serpii
newspaper ziar neuter ziarul ziare ziarele

Although that seems like a hell of a lot to learn, you can see it’s relatively easy.

Most masculine nouns in the plural end in “i” and the definite article is just adding another “i” to the end.

And whether a noun is masculine or feminine, in general if it ends in “e” in the plural the definite article is to simple add “le” to the end, making for some real tongue twisters (like saltelele above).

Nonetheless, once you’ve learned the plural form of a noun, the definite article ending is usually pretty straightforward and easy to learn.

I purposefully included two words “copie” and “copil” to show how they intersect in the plural forms. “Copii” can mean either “children” or “copies”. But “the children” becomes “copiii” while “the copies” becomes “copiile”.

Ok time to take a breather because now we get into the rest of the forms for the definite article. So far we’ve been dealing with just two, the objective case in the singular and in the plural.

The other two forms are the “subjective” case, when the noun is “receiving the action”, which is actually pretty easy to formulate. It helps if you think of the subjective case as “of the (noun)” whereas objective case is “the (noun)”.

Let’s start with the singular version:

English Word Gender Word + Definite Article (Objective) Word + Definite Article (Subjective)
newspaper ziar neuter ziarul ziarului
snake sarpe masculine sarpele sarpelui
cheese branza feminine branza branzeturii
cheese cascaval neuter cascavalul cascavalului
apple mar neuter marul marului
sea mare feminine marea marii
copy copie feminine copia copiei
child copil masculine copilul copilului
back spate neuter spatele spatelui
sea mare feminine marea marii
coffee cafea feminine cafeaua cafelei
mattress saltea feminine salteaua saltelei
father tata masculine tatal tatalui

I’m sure that seems overwhelming but it’s not. With masculine words, if the objective case of the definite article ends in “ul” then the subjective case is just “ului” in almost all cases.

In case where a masculine word ends in “le” then it just switches to “lui”, a very similar ending.

For feminine words, the objective format is going to probably end in “e” and the subjective format in “ei” somehow with perhaps some interior changes.

Some feminine words in the subjective format of the definite article end in “ii” though. This makes a lot more sense when you combine the whole she-bang and look at the singular AND plural forms of these words:

English Word (Sing) Gender Word + Def. Art (Obj) Sing Word + Def. Art (Subj) Sing Word (Plural) Word + Def. Art (Obj) Plural Word + Def. Art (Subj) Plural
newspaper ziar neuter ziarul ziarului ziare ziarele ziarelor
snake sarpe masculine sarpele sarpelui serpi serpii serpilor
cheese branza feminine branza branzeturii branzeturi branzeturile branzeturilor
cheese cascaval neuter cascavalul cascavalului cascavaluri cascavalurile cascavalurilor
apple mar neuter marul marului mere merele merelor
sea mare feminine marea marii mari marile marilor
copy copie feminine copia copiei copii copiile copiilor
child copil masculine copilul copilului copii copiii copiilor
back spate neuter spatele spatelui spate spatele spatelor
coffee cafea feminine cafeaua cafelei cafele cafelele cafelelor
mattress saltea feminine salteaua saltelei saltele saltelele saltelelor
father tata masculine tatal tatalui tati tatii tatilor

Whew, I know, I know! But aside from the tongue-twisting aspect, it’s easy to see that when you know the plural forms, the definite article is a cinch since it’s always some form of adding “lor” to the end of the plural definite article form.

In case you’re getting confused about the difference between objective and subjective cases, it’s easy to keep in mind the word “suprafata” which means “surface”. In fact, this is kind of a fun trick which I’ll show you after looking at all its forms:

English Word (Sing) Gender Word + Def. Art (Obj) Sing Word (Plural) Word + Def. Art (Obj) Plural
surface suprafata feminine suprafata suprafete suprafetele

Wow see, not so bad is it?

So let’s make some fun new sentences with our words that we’ve just learned!

English Romanian
newspaper ziar
the newspaper ziarul
the surface of the newspaper suprafata ziarului
the newspapers ziarele
the surface of the newspapers suprafata ziarele
the surfaces of the newspaper suprafetele ziarului
the surfaces of the newspapers suprafetele ziarele
coffee cafea
the coffee cafeaua
the surface of the coffee suprafata cafelei
the coffees cafele
the surface of the coffees suprafata cafelelor
the surfaces of the coffee suprafetele cafelei
the surfaces of the coffees suprafetele cafelelor
sea mare
the sea marea
the surface of the sea suprafata marii
the seas marile
the surface of the seas suprafata marilor
the surfaces of the sea suprafetele marii
the surfaces of the seas suprafetele marilor
child copil
the child copilul
the surface of the child suprafata copilului
children copii
the children copiii
the surface of the children suprafata copiilor
the surfaces of the child suprafetele copilului
the surfaces of the children suprafetele copiilor

Whew, you did it! Well, almost. Now let’s go completely insane and dig down deep and huff and puff and grunt and combine all of this with adjectives that agree in number and gender.

Do you remember the word for “hot”?

English Singular Plural Gender
hot calda calde feminine
hot cald calzi masculine

Are you ready?!

Let’s mix them all together to GO FOR THE GOLD!

English Romanian
newspaper ziar
the hot newspaper ziarul cald
the hot surface of the hot newspaper suprafata calda ziarului cald
the hot newspapers ziarele calde
the hot surface of the hot newspapers suprafata calda ziarele calde
the hot surfaces of the hot newspaper suprafetele calde ziarului cald
the hot surfaces of the hot newspapers suprafetele calde ziarele calde
coffee cafea
the hot coffee cafeaua calda
the hot surface of the hot coffee suprafata calda cafelei calda
the hot coffees cafele calde
the hot surface of the hot coffees suprafata calda cafelelor calde
the hot surfaces of the hot coffee suprafetele calde cafelei calda
the hot surfaces of the hot coffees suprafetele calde cafelelor calde
sea mare
the hot sea marea calda
the hot surface of the hot sea suprafata calda marii calda
the hot seas marile calde
the hot surface of the hot seas suprafata calda marilor calde
the hot surfaces of the hot sea suprafetele calde marii calda
the hot surfaces of the hot seas suprafetele calde marilor calde
child copil
the hot child copilul cald
the hot surface of the hot child suprafata calda copilului cald
hot children copii calzi
the hot children copiii calzi
the hot surface of the hot children suprafata calda copiilor calzi
the hot surfaces of the hot child suprafetele calde copilului cald
the hot surfaces of the hot children suprafetele calde copiilor calzi

Oh my gosh, break out the champagne time, eh?

Yes I realize this is mind-splittingly difficult to learn but the good news is that this stuff is just about the hardest part of Romanian to learn. Everything after this gets a whole lot easier, especially verbs and the like.

Once you know the gender and different forms any Romanian noun will take, the rest becomes easy as it will begin to “just sound right”. That’s about all the words of encouragement I can give you at this point.

Actually there’s a bit more on this subject but if you’ve gotten this far, I think you’re 90% of the way there.

HANG IN THERE! YOU CAN DO IT! :D

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Kozminovici says:

    Hello! :) I discovered your blog a couple of days ago during that “learning Romanian in 37 steps” craze and I’ve been reading your posts ever since. Thank you for taking the time to write everything – your insights are fresh and sometimes really amazing. You even inspired me in choosing the subject of my college graduation paper, haha :D

    With all that being said, I wanted to give you a hand with the G/D forms, as used in the last table. You wrote this post quite a while ago so you might have mastered the whole issue already, but here it goes anyway.

    As Cristian above me already noticed, there’s a small aspect you ignored when you went “for the gold” :) That is – the sneaky little “possessive article”. As its name might suggest, you use it to show possession, so it’s somewhat similar to the ” ‘s/s’ ” in English. I called it sneaky because, naturally, you don’t use it all the time. Let’s work on your examples:

    “suprafaţa ziarului” – perfectly right. It literally means “the surface of the newspaper”. The possessive article stays hidden, shying away from the definite article in “suprafaţa”.
    To make the possessive article pop up, you need to switch the noun and the adjective (in Romanian you can do this quite freely, for a different emphasis). So you will now have
    “a ziarului suprafaţă” – some sort of “the newspaper’s surface”. Notice the “a” before “ziarului – that’s the possessive article. It also shows when you transform the whole structure into a sentence: “suprafaţa ziarului” => “Suprafaţa este a ziarului.” (The surface is the newspaper’s.)

    This article comes together with the noun in the subjective case, but actually follows the declension of the noun in the objective :)) So we have:
    masc. sg.: AL (Elefantul cald AL suprafeţei calde. o_O)
    masc. pl.: AI (Elefanţii calzi AI suprafeţei calde.)
    fem. sg.: A (Suprafaţa caldă A ziarului cald.)
    fem. pl.: ALE (Suprafeţele calde ALE ziarului cald.)

    Whoa! I wanted to detail this even further (barely scratched the surface so far, haha) but my grammar brain is in pain already. And this is a native speaking. God DAMN!
    Anyway, consider yourself introduced to yet another strange creature in Romanian morphology :D

    PS: Another thing in your last table, you sometimes used the objective form of the last noun, when you should have used the subjective one. As in “suprafaţa caldă ziarele calde” actually should be “suprafaţa caldă a ziareLOR calde”, complete with the possessive article I mentioned earlier. And so on and so forth. Outstanding work, anyway.

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      wow! Thanks… that’s far more advanced than where I was going but I’ll definitely get into this… ONE DAY :D Thanks for writing it all out so succinctly. People will read this one day and go “aha”.

      Like

  2. Cristian says:

    the hot surface of the hot newspapers
    suprafata calda a ziarelor calde

    Noroc bun!

    Like

  3. Megan says:

    Can I also ask, I watched a video which was interviewing some gymnasts (in Romanian with English subtitles) and one of them said (what sounded like) ‘kda kda kda kda’ and the subtitles said “yeah yeah yeah yeah”. Is that common? Or have I somehow misheard? I know about ‘mda mda mda’ but not with a ‘k’… *is confused*

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      hmm don’t think I’ve ever heard “kda” :( maybe someone else has?

      Like

  4. Megan says:

    O.o

    Skimmed through….. it at least has explained my confusion about the ending “lui”, especially when I would see a word ending like “ulului” and think *is that correct or am I somewhat dyslexic?*

    I need to make time to sit down and really try to absorb Romanian definite article rules.

    Although in saying that, I do know some words/phrases off by heart now! Partly thanks to your blog and partly thanks to Facebook. I do always think ‘pitipoanca’ now, instead of the English variant when I see one/group of some. Same with ‘da’, ‘nu’, ‘mersi/multumesc’, ‘te pup’, ‘te iubesc’, ‘zambeste’, ‘frumos’, ‘hai/haide (gymnastics related)’, ‘stiu/nu stiu’, ‘mda’ etc etc.

    Actually I find most of the people my age (teenagers) I know from Romania use phrases like ‘luviu’ and ‘misiu’ and ‘sis’ for sister. It’s so cute! :D

    Like

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