Venice has a lot of water.
The sky is blue.
You need to know Italian grammar in order to speak Italian confidently and fluently.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Grazie (thanks), Captain Obvious!”
But let me be direct here: To speak Italian effortlessly, you’ll need to master complex Italian grammar.
Pronouns are one of those complex grammar points in Italian. Mastering them and using them in your speech will give your Italian a boost and make you sound more like a native speaker.
By now, you’ve probably already learned the Italian personal or subject pronouns, so you don’t have to keep repeating people’s names.
So, what’s the next step?
Direct object pronouns, naturally.
Let’s take a look at these more directly!
When Do You Use Direct Object Pronouns?
A direct object primarily replaces what would otherwise be a noun in a sentence. Nouns can be people, places or things, and they can be concrete objects that we can interact with in the world such as un bicchiere (a glass) or abstract concepts such as l’amore (love).
Additionally, nouns can be animate (alive), such as il cane (dog) or inanimate (not living), such as il libro (book).
Direct object pronouns specifically replace a sentence’s direct object; the object acted on by the subject as a complement of the verb.
For example, the noun pizza (pizza) in the statement io mangio la pizza (I eat pizza) is the direct object.
This is because it’s the noun being acted upon by the subject through the verb mangio (eat).
Direct objects differ from indirect objects in that they’re not preceded by a preposition such as a (to).
For example, the noun Maria in the sentence io do la pizza a Maria (I give the pizza to Maria) is the indirect object in the sentence rather than the direct object.
This is because Maria is the receiver of the verb dare (to give), and it’s connected to the phrase by the preposition a (to).
Direct Object Pronouns in Italian: The Complete Guide to These Important Little Words
The Direct Object Pronouns in Italian
As mentioned previously, direct object pronouns commonly replace animate objects such as people.
For example, in the sentence Maria mi ama (Maria loves me), mi is the direct object of the verb ama (loves).
Mi takes the place of the person’s name, who is the “me” in the sentence.
The biggest difference between English and Italian direct objects is their placement. Notice that these direct object pronouns come before the conjugated verb in Italian, unlike in English, where they come after the verb.
This is the most common way to use direct object pronouns. This is called la forma atona (the unstressed form).
There’s a form that goes after the verb, but we’ll discuss that later.
The pronouns that replace animate direct objects in Italian are:
- mi (me)
- ti (you)
- ci (us)
- vi (you—plural)
Lo, la, li and le
In addition to direct object pronouns that strictly replace animate objects, there’s a set of direct object pronouns that can replace both animate and inanimate objects. These pronouns have a dual meaning. They can be used to replace a person or people and mean him, her or them, or they can replace an object or more than one object and mean it or them.
The correct direct object pronoun is based on whether the direct object in the sentence is masculine or feminine and singular or plural.
- a singular, masculine object use lo (him/it)
- a singular, feminine object use la (her/it)
- a plural, masculine object use li (them)
- a plural, feminine object use le (them)
Check out these direct object pronouns replacing animate objects:
- Conosco l’uomo. (I know the man.) → Lo conosco. (I know him.)
- Conosco la donna. (I know the woman.) → La conosco. (I know her.)
- Conosco gli uomini. (I know the men.) → Li conosco. (I know them.)
- Conosco le donne. (I know the women.) → Le conosco. (I know them.)
Check out these direct object pronouns replacing inanimate objects:
- Vedo il giocattolo. (I see the toy.) → Lo vedo. (I see it.)
- Vedo la macchina. (I see the car.) → La vedo. (I see it.)
- Vedo gli alberi. (I see the trees.) → Li vedo. (I see them.)
- Vedo le case. (I see the houses.) → Le vedo. (I see them.)
La forma tonica (The stressed form)
While all the direct object pronouns we’ve worked with so far go before the conjugated verb, speakers can also place direct object pronouns after the verb. This practice is less common, but is used to emphasize the direct object pronoun.
For example, I could say something like non vedo lui (I don’t see him) to really emphasize that I am unable to see that specific person.
These pronouns are in what’s called la forma tonica.
Follow this format to formulate la forma tonica:
- Lui ama me. (He loves me.)
- Lei ama te. (She loves you.)
- Lei ama lui. (She loves him.)
- Lui ama lei. (He loves her.)
- Voi amate noi. (You all love us.)
- Loro amano voi. (They love you all.)
- Noi amiamo loro. (We love them.)
The Direct Object Pronouns in Compound Verb Tenses
In compound verb tenses (tenses that have two or more elements in the verb structure), direct object pronouns continue to go in front of the verb—even the auxiliary verb in tenses such as passato prossimo (present perfect tense).
For this, it’s helpful to know that the pronouns lo and la shorten to l’ when they come in front of the auxiliary verb avere (to have) in the passato prossimo.
Ho comprato il biglietto. (I bought the ticket.) → L’ho comprato. (I bought it.)
This happens with all other forms of avere used as an auxiliary verb in the passato prossimo.
Another helpful note is that the –o at the end of the past participle changes to an –a when a feminine direct object pronoun is used with the passato prossimo.
Ho comprato la pizza. (I bought the pizza.) → L’ho comprata. (I bought it.)
This change occurs because the direct object is feminine.
This also happens with plural direct object pronouns. The –o becomes an –i for masculine, plural direct objects, and it becomes –e for feminine, plural objects.
Ha comprato i pomodori. (He bought the tomatoes.) → Li ha comprati. (He bought them.)
Hanno comprato le sedie. (They bought the chairs.) → Le hanno comprate. (They bought them.)
The Direct Object Pronouns in the Imperative Tense
In the imperative (command form), the direct object pronoun gets tacked onto the end of the verb form. This forms commands such as mangiala (eat it) and leggiamolo (let’s read it).
In the negative form, the direct object pronoun can be tacked onto the end of the infinitive (unconjugated) verb or placed before the verb form. This means that you could say both non mangiarla and non la mangiare (don’t eat it).
Notice that the –e of the infinitive gets taken off when the direct object pronoun is tacked on in this form.
Where to Practice Direct Object Pronouns in Italian
Now that you’ve learned the rules of the direct object pronouns in Italian, you’ll need to practice!
- Lo studio italiano has a few quizzes for practicing the correct direct object pronoun depending on the gender of the noun and whether or not it’s plural.
- FluentU Italian is a great way to reinforce what you’ve learned and see direct object pronouns used in context.
- One World Italiano lets you practice putting sentences with direct object pronouns in the correct order.
- ToLearnItalian offers two quizzes. The first is simply for practicing personal direct object pronouns, which is great for targeted practice. The second is for practicing pronouns with the passato prossimo, as well as the agreement between the pronoun and the past participle.
Now that you no longer feel directionless with how and when to use direct object pronouns in Italian, you’re ready to start using them in your everyday Italian usage!
Michael Cristiano is a Canadian writer, YouTuber and polyglot. He began learning French at six years old, and he currently studies Italian, German, Afrikaans, Russian and Danish. When not studying, he can be seen writing fiction, teaching languages or traveling the world. Check out his YouTube channel, “The Polyglot Files.”