DIRECT and INDIRECT Pronouns in Italian: how to use them!

Ok… In this lesson we decided to explain (and make you understand) what direct and indirect pronouns in Italian are and how they are used! Let’s start!

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DIRECT and INDIRECT Pronouns in Italian

First of all, what’s a pronoun? A pronoun is a variable part of the language that is used to replace the noun; it indicates directly people or things that are present in reality or that have been already mentioned, otherwise it refers to the content of whole sentences.

 

The direct pronouns in Italian are:

Direct pronouns
mi
ti
lo, la
ci 
vi
li, le

Direct pronouns have the function of direct object. Therefore, they are used when the verb is not followed by any preposition and they answer the question “Who? What?”.

For example:

Anna compra il libro = Anna lo compra (Anna buys the book = Anna buys it)

In this case, the direct pronoun lo replaces the direct object: “il libro”.

 

Let’s make another example:

Luca sogna sempre le sue cugine = Luca le sogna (Luca always dreams about his cousins = Luca always dreams about them)

In this case, the direct pronoun le replaces the direct object: “le sue cugine”.

 

The replacement is very easy to do, you just have to keep this in mind:

Direct pronouns (weak) Direct pronouns (strong)
mi me
ti te
lo, la lui, lei
ci noi
vi voi
li, le loro

Let’s try to replace the “strong” direct pronouns with the “weak” direct pronouns. Here you are some examples:

Mario sogna me = Mario mi sogna (Mario dreams about me)

Roberta vedrà te = Roberta ti vedrà (Roberta will see you)

Dario compra la mela (lei) = Dario la compra (Dario buys the apple = Dario buys it)

Luigi ha visto me e mio fratello (noi) = Luigi ci ha visti(Luigi saw me and my brother = Luigi saw us)

Marta notava te e Luca (voi) = Marta vi notava (Marta noticed you and Luca = Marta noticed you)

Miriam ha venduto le case (loro) = Miriam le ha vendute(Miriam sold the houses = Miriam sold them)

 

*Why “visti” instead of “visto” and “vendute” instead of “venduto” even though there is the auxiliary verb avere?

The answer is quite easy: when you put a direct pronoun before a verb in the “passato prossimo”, its past participle has to agree with gender and number of the subject, even though you’re using the verb “avere” as an auxiliary.

For example:

– Hai comprato le mele? (Did you buy apples?)

– Sì, le ho comprate(Yes, I bought them!)

 

Italians use “weak” direct pronouns a lot! In fact, you will rarely hear sentences like:

Mario sogna me

or

Luca ha visto noi

 

As you might have noticed, direct pronouns usually go before the verb, except in five cases, in which they are put after the verb.

First case:

1) If there are two verbs joined by a preposition: 

Verrò a trovarti domani! (I’ll come see you tomorrow!)

Giungo per portarti cattive notizie. (I’m here to bring you bad news)

Passo a prenderla più tardi… (I’ll pick her up later…)

Be careful! In this case, the direct pronoun can also be put before the first verb!

For example:

Ti vengo a prendere dopo. (I’ll pick you up later)

 

Second case:

2) If the verb is in the imperative: 

Spostalo(Move it!)

Non tirarlo(Don’t pull it!)

If you still have doubts and you want to study the Italian imperative more in depth, take a look at the lesson we realized about this topic! 

 

Third case:

3) If the verb is in the gerund:

Guardandola attentamente, ho notato che stava piangendo. (Looking at her carefully, I noticed she was crying)

or 

Prendendolo violentemente, si rompe. (If you take it with violence, it might break)

 

Fourth case:

4) If the verb is in the infinitive:

Mangiarla potrebbe farti ingrassare. (Eating it can make you gain weight)

 

Fifth case:

5) If there’s the adverb ECCO:

Eccola(Here she is!)

Eccomi(Here I am!)

Eccoti(Here you are!)

 

It’s not that difficult after all… Let’s move to indirect pronouns now.

 

The indirect pronouns in Italian are:

Indirect pronouns
mi
ti
gli, le
ci
vi
loro

Indirect pronouns have the function of indirect object. Therefore, they are used when the verb is followed by the preposition “a” (to) and they answer the question “To whom? To what?“.

For example:

Miriana ha telefonato a Luca = Miriana gli ha telefonato (Miriana phoned Luca = Miriana phoned him)

In this case, the indirect pronoun gli replaces the indirect object: “a Luca”.

 

Let’s make another example:

Luca parlava sempre a me e a mia sorella (a noi) dei suoi problemi = Luca ci parlava sempre dei suoi problemi (Luca always told me and my sister about his problems = Luca always told us about his problems)

In this case, the indirect pronoun ci replaces the indirect object: “a me e a mia sorella (a noi)”.

 

The replacement is very easy to do, you just have to keep this in mind:

Indirect pronouns (weak) Indirect pronouns (strong)
mi a me
ti a te
gli, le a lui, a lei
ci a noi
vi a voi
loro a loro

Let’s try to replace the “strong” indirect pronouns with the “weak” indirect pronouns. Here you are some examples:

Paolo scrive a me = Paolo mi scrive (Paolo writes me)

Matteo telefona a te = Matteo ti telefona (Matteo phones you)

Gianni parla a sua sorella (a lei) = Gianni le parla (Gianni talks to his sister = Gianni talks to her)

Rita scrive a me e al mio cane (a noi) = Rita ci scrive (Rita writes to me and my dog = Rita writes us)

Martino telefona a te e alla tua amica (a voi) = Martino vi telefona (Martino phones you and your friend = Martino phones you)

Enzo risponde ai suoi genitori (a loro) = Enzo risponde loro(Enzo answers his parents = Enzo answers them)

 

*Have you noticed something weird with the third person plural “loro“? Yeah, this indirect pronoun is always used after the verb!

But, as an alternative, many grammars consider as correct the use of the indirect pronoun of third person masculine singular “gli” as the indirect pronoun of third person plural. In fact, we must admit that this last one is very widespread in everyday language.

For example:

Enzo parla ai suoi genitori → Enzo gli parla (Enzo talks to his parents → Enzo talks to them)

 

The only problem when using “gli” as indirect pronoun of third person plural is that it might create ambiguity with “gli” as indirect pronoun of third person singular!

In fact, out of context, if we said “Enzo gli parla”, someone could think that we are referring to just one person rather than to many people.

 

Everything clear so far?

As you might have noticed, even indirect pronouns always go before the verb, except in three cases, in which they are put after the verb.

First case:

1) If the verb is in the imperative: 

Non dirgli cosa è successo! (Don’t tell him what happened!)

Portale il regalo! (Bring her the present!)

 

2) If the verb is in the gerund: 

Scrivendogli una lettera, risolverai il problema! (You’ll solve the problem if you write him a letter)

If you still have doubts and you want to study the Italian gerund more in depth, take a look at the lesson we realized about this topic! 

 

3) If the verb in the infinitive: 

Parlarti mi aiuta a riflettere. (Talking to you helps me think)

 

Now there’s the most difficult part: using both indirect pronouns and direct pronouns in the same sentence!

For example:

Francesco dice a me la notizia → Francesco me la dice (Francesco tells me a piece of news → Francesco tells me it)

or

Luca scrive a Claudia una lettera (Luca writes a letter to Claudia)

 

According to you, how should this sentence be transformed by using both direct and indirect pronouns?

Oaky, let’s do this: first of all, we’ll give you three rules that are necessary to use direct and indirect pronouns together and then let’s see if you can transform this sentence!

 

1) The indirect pronoun always goes before the direct pronoun;

2) The indirect pronouns mi, ti, ci, vi followed by the direct pronouns lo, la, li, le become me, te, ce, ve;

3) The indirect pronouns gli and le followed by the direct pronouns lo, la, li, le join together by means of an “e” and form one single word: glielo, gliela, glieligliele (these are valid for both men and women: even “le” becomes “gli”).

 

Ok, now you have the three rules you needed. How should the previous sentence be transformed, then?

Luca scrive a Claudia una lettera

With this sentence we need rules #1 and #3:

Luca gliela scrive (Luca writes it to her)

 

It’s easy, isn’t it? But let’s make other examples!

Giulia dà a me un regalo [rules #1 and #2] → Giulia me lo dà (Giulia gives me a present → Giulia gives it to me)

 

Paola compra un computer al suo ragazzo [rules #1 and #3] → Paola glielo compra (Paola buys a computer for her boyfriend → Paola buys it for him)

 

I miei genitori hanno prestato un libro a me e mio fratello [rules #1 and #2] → I miei genitori ce lo hanno prestato (My parents lent me and my brother a book → My parents lent it to us)

 

Now, there’s only one last question to discuss… What happens with the pronoun of third person plural “loro“?

Federico regala a loro i suoi gioielli (Federico gives his jewels to them)

How should this sentence be translated?

Here you should take into account what we discussed before, that is the fact that there are two possible solutions:

1) to keep “loro” after the verb;

2) to use “gli“, with risk of ambiguity

 

Therefore, the sentence Federico regala a loro i suoi gioielli might be transformed in two ways:

Federico li regala loro or Federico glieli regala (Federico gives them to them)

 

Yes, we’re done! We did our best to explain to you one of the most difficult topics of Italian grammar…

But now it’s your turn! Use both direct and indirect pronouns to translate the following sentences:

 

Marcello e Federico hanno cucinato gli spaghetti a tutta la famiglia! (Marcello and Federico cooked spaghetti for the whole family!)

Loro hanno raccontato a te e tuo fratello tutta la verità. (They told you and your brother the whole truth)

I miei amici scrivono sempre a me dei messaggi! (My friends always writes me some messages!)

Hanno donato i loro abiti ai poveri. (They gave their clothes to poor people)

 

Now, if you learned how to use direct and indirect pronouns, you just have to go over the Italian subjunctive and then nobody will be able to stop you! You’ll really speak better than many Italians! 😉

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