direct-object-pronouns-italian

Direct Object Pronouns in Italian: A Complete Guide to These Important Little Words

Pronouns are one of those complex grammar points in Italian.

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?

Learning Italian direct object pronouns, naturally.

Let’s take a look at these more directly!

Contents

When Do You Use Direct Object Pronouns?

A direct object pronoun replaces what would otherwise be a noun in a sentence.

Nouns can be people, places or things:

  • They can be concrete objects such as un bicchiere  (a glass) or abstract concepts such as l’amore  (love).
  • They can also be animate (alive), such as il cane  (dog) or inanimate (not living), such as il libro  (book).

Direct object pronouns replace a sentence’s direct object—the object acted on by the subject. For example:

Io mangio la pizza. (I eat pizza).

In this sentence, the noun pizza  (pizza) is the direct object. 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). Let’s take a look at this sentence:

Io do la pizza a Maria. (I give the pizza to Maria).

Here, the noun Maria  is the indirect object, not 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 biggest difference between English and Italian direct objects is their placement. In Italian, direct object pronouns come before the verb, unlike in English, where they come after the verb:

Maria mi ama. (Maria loves me).

Mi is the direct object of the verb ama  (loves), and it’s placed before 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. Let’s look at the different direct object pronouns first!

Direct Object Pronouns for People

These direct object pronouns commonly replace animate objects such as people.

EnglishItalian
Singularme mi
you ti
Pluralus ci
you vi

To use the correct direct object pronoun, you have to consider the direct object’s gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural). 

Direct Object Pronouns for Both People and Objects

There’s also 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.
  • They can also replace an object or more than one object and mean it or them.

There are four of them: 

EnglishItalian
Singularhim, it (masculine) lo
her, it (feminine) la
Pluralthem (masculine) li
them (feminine) le

Check out these examples of direct object pronouns replacing animate objects:

Original SentenceSentence with Direct Pronoun
Conosco il cameriere. 
(I know the waiter.)
Lo conosco. 
(I know him.)
Conosco la cameriera. 
(I know the waitress.)
La conosco. 
(I know her.)
Conosco i camerieri. 
(I know the waiters.)
Li conosco. 
(I know them.)
Conosco le cameriere. 
(I know the waitresses.)
Le conosco. 
(I know them.)

Here’s how you would use direct object pronouns to replace inanimate objects:

Original SentenceSentence with Direct Pronoun
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.)

Emphasizing the Direct Object: La Forma Tonica 

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.)

This really emphasizes that I am unable to see that specific person.

These pronouns are in what’s called la forma tonica .

Follow this table to formulate la forma tonica:

Direct ObjectEnglishItalian
SingularHe loves me. Lui ama me.
She loves you. Lei ama te.
She loves him. Lei ama lui.
He loves her. Lui ama lei.
PluralYou all love us. Voi amate noi.
They love you all. Loro amano voi.
We love them. Noi amiamo loro. 

Using Direct Object Pronouns with Special Tenses

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).

It’s helpful to remember that the pronouns lo and la shorten to l’ whenever 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.)

Another helpful note is that for the passato prossimo, the ending of the past participle changes based on the gender and number of the direct object pronoun:

Number of Direct ObjectGender of Direct ObjectPast Participle Ending
SingularFeminine -a
PluralMasculine -i
Feminine -e

Here are some example sentences:

Original SentenceSentence with Direct Pronoun
Ho comprato la pizza.
(I bought the pizza.)
L’ho comprata.
(I bought it.)
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.)

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.)

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!

 

Now that you have a guide about how and when to use direct object pronouns in Italian, you’re ready to start using them in your everyday Italian usage!

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