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).
|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|
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|
|cheese||branza||feminine||(ă for a)||branza|
|sea||mare||feminine||+a because it ends in e||marea|
|copy||copie||feminine||last e becomes a because it ends in 2 vowels||copia|
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)|
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)|
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|
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|
Wow see, not so bad is it?
So let’s make some fun new sentences with our words that we’ve just learned!
|the surface of the newspaper||suprafata ziarului|
|the surface of the newspapers||suprafata ziarele|
|the surfaces of the newspaper||suprafetele ziarului|
|the surfaces of the newspapers||suprafetele ziarele|
|the surface of the coffee||suprafata cafelei|
|the surface of the coffees||suprafata cafelelor|
|the surfaces of the coffee||suprafetele cafelei|
|the surfaces of the coffees||suprafetele cafelelor|
|the surface of the sea||suprafata marii|
|the surface of the seas||suprafata marilor|
|the surfaces of the sea||suprafetele marii|
|the surfaces of the seas||suprafetele marilor|
|the surface of the child||suprafata copilului|
|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”?
Are you ready?!
Let’s mix them all together to GO FOR THE GOLD!
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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