Leonardo da Vinci, arguably the most famous Italian ever, once said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
But what does simplicity really mean?
In the case of Italian nouns, it means replacing those long and sometimes arduous words with simpler ones to make our sentences crisp and concise.
We call these words pronouns.
Pronouns can make a sentence wonderfully simple and save us from having to repeat nouns over and over.
But for the beginning learner, Italian pronouns can take some time to get used to.
Let’s find out how to properly and effectively use them, and make some beautiful sentences.
What Is an Italian Pronoun?
Quite simply, a pronoun is used to replace a noun in a sentence.
For example, we can replace the noun la ragazza (the girl) in the sentence “la ragazza legge il libro” (“the girl reads the book”) with lei (she) to get “lei legge il libro” (“she reads the book”).
Because of the nature of pronouns, their meaning is often taken from context.
That means that lei can mean a multitude of nouns that can be replaced by “she”: la madre (the mother), Maria, someone’s sister or even feminine nouns such as la lavagna (the desk). This all depends on having prior knowledge of what the pronoun is referring to.
In Italian, pronouns can replace people or things. In both cases, the gender of the pronoun must reflect the gender of the noun it is replacing (more on this later).
Further, there are three main types of pronouns in Italian: subject, direct object and indirect object.
Let’s take a look at these pronouns more deeply!
Where to Practice Italian Pronouns
I have to tell you, this is a lot of information on Italian pronouns coming up, so you’ll need plenty of ways to practice.
The Iceberg Project is the ultimate challenge where you can practice all types of Italian pronouns in the same practice session.
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Master Italian Pronouns with This Essential Beginner’s Guide
Italian Subject Pronouns
The first type of pronouns in Italian we will introduce you to are called subject pronouns.
The subject pronoun in a sentence replaces the subject, or the “doer,” of the sentence. This is often the noun that is performing the verb.
For example, in the sentence, Io vado al cinema (I go to the movies), Io (I) is the subject pronoun because it is doing the action of going to the movies.
There are seven subject pronouns in Italian. Check them out in context:
Io mangio il cibo. (I eat the food.)
Tu sei un ragazzo. (You are a boy.)
Lui parla italiano. (He speaks Italian.)
Lei vuole andare al negozio. (She wants to go to the store.)
Noi cantiamo. (We sing.)
Voi potete venire alle 7. (You all can come at 7 o’clock.)
Loro ballano. (They dance.)
In addition to being able to replace people, lui, lei and loro can also be used to mean “it” or “they” in order to replace animals and things.
Lui replaces a masculine, singular noun as in:
Lui (il cane) è bianco. (It [the dog] is white.)
Lei replaces a feminine, singular noun as in:
Lei (la macchina) è veloce. (It [the car] is fast.)
And loro replaces a plural noun as in:
Loro (i ragazzi) fanno i compiti. (They [the kids] do their homework.)
Additionally, the pronoun Lei is used to mean “you” in formal situations (when used in this way, it is always written with a capital letter). For example, when speaking formally, one could say:
Lei va con noi? (Are you [formal] coming with us?)
Lastly, Italian is also a language that allows speakers to drop the subject pronoun.
For example, instead of saying tu vedi il libro (you see the book), you can simply say vedi il libro (you see the book). Again, this dropping is heavily dependent on context, so be sure this is clear before dropping a subject pronoun from the sentence.
Italian Direct Object Pronouns
In addition to subject pronouns, Italian also has pronouns for direct objects: nouns that get acted upon by the verb.
For example, in the sentence “bevo il caffè” (“I drink coffee”), il caffè is the direct object because it is the noun being impacted by the action of the verb (the drinking).
In Italian, there are two types of direct object pronouns: ones that go before the verb (called “unaccented”) and ones that go after the verb (called “accented”).
Depending on their positions (before or after the verb), these unaccented and accented pronouns have slightly different forms. As with subject pronouns, the direct objects lo, la and li can replace both people and objects.
Check out these examples of unaccented direct objects:
Lui mi ha colpito. (He hit me.)
Io ti amo. (I love you.)
Tu lo troverai nel cassetto. (You will find it in the drawer.)
Io la porterò al negozio. (I will take her to the store.)
Loro ci visitano. (They are visiting us.)
Io vi saluto. (I greet you all.)
Luigi li finisce. (Luigi is finishing them.)
Keep in mind that the unaccented direct pronouns mi, ti, lo and la can be shortened to m’, t’ and l’ before a vowel or before an h-:
Lui m’ha colpito. (He hit me.)
Io t’amo. (I love you.)
Tu l’hai trovato nel cassetto. (You found it in the drawer.)
Io l’ho portata al negozio. (I took her to the store.)
Notice something different about that last one?
When using a direct object pronoun with a compound verb, like the passato prossimo here, the last letter of the past participle must agree in gender and number to that of the direct object pronoun. For instance: li ho letti (I read them); le ho lette ieri (I read them yesterday).
Conversely, accented direct objects come after the noun. Let’s look at the sentences above again with accented pronouns:
Lui ha colpito me. (He hit me.)
Io amo te. (I love you.)
Tu troverai lui nel cassetto. (You will find it in the drawer.)
Io porterò lei al negozio. (I will take her to the store.)
Loro visitano noi. (They are visiting us.)
Io saluto voi. (I greet you all.)
Luigi finisce loro. (Luigi is finishing them.)
Italian Indirect Object Pronouns
The last type of Italian pronouns are indirect object pronouns. Indirect objects are nouns that are the receiver of the verb’s action.
For example, in the sentence “Do il vino a Maria” (“I’m giving the wine to Maria”), Maria is the indirect object because she is receiving the action of the verb.
Often, indirect objects are preceded by prepositions such as a (to).
Like direct objects, there are also two types of indirect object pronouns: “unaccented” ones that go before the verb and “accented” ones that go after the verb with the preposition a (to).
Check out these unaccented direct objects:
Il professore mi dà i compiti. (The teacher gives me homework.)
Io ti scrivo ogni settimana. (I write to you each week.)
Il cameriere gli dice che non ha il vino bianco. (The waiter tells him that he doesn’t have white wine.)
Sua madre le ha telefonato. (Her mother called her.)
Non ci hanno mandato un messaggio. (They didn’t send us a message.)
Lei vi ha letto il libro. (She read the book to you all.)
Lo studente gli ha insegnato una nuova parola. (The student taught them a new word.)
Unlike direct object pronouns, none of the indirect object pronouns shorten before a vowel or an h-.
Now, let’s check out those sentences again with accented indirect object pronouns that come after the verb. Note that each of these includes the preposition a (to):
Il professore da i compiti a me. (The teacher gives me homework.)
Io scrivo a te ogni settimana. (I write to you each week.)
Il cameriere dice a lui che non ha il vino bianco. (The waiter tells him that he doesn’t have white wine.)
Sua madre ha telefonato a lei. (Her mother called her.)
Non hanno mandato un messaggio a noi. (They didn’t send us a message.)
Lei ha letto il libro a voi. (She read the book to you all.)
Lo studente ha insegnato una nuova parola a loro. (The student taught them a new word.)
Now you should be an Italian pronoun pro. Get ready to speak Italian as elegantly as da Vinci, Italian learner!
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