Read this page, then try this practice.
A pronoun (pronome) is a part of speech that takes the place of a noun. For example:
Did you feed the dog? Yes, I fed him an hour ago.
Him is the pronoun that takes the place of the noun, dog, after the noun has already been stated. In Italian, just like in English, there is a difference between subject and object pronouns. A subject pronoun is the pronoun that carries out the action, whereas an object pronoun reflects the recipient of the action. In the second sentence above, I is the subject pronoun (carrying out the action), and him is the object pronoun (receiving the action).
In Italian, you learn subject pronouns when you learn to conjugate your first verb, like essere.
|io sono||I am|
|tu sei||you are|
|lui/lei è||he/she is|
|Lei è||you (formal) are|
|noi siamo||we are|
|voi siete||you all are|
|loro sono||they are|
✽ Note that you has a singular and a plural form and that in the singular, a distinction is made between a formal form of address and an informal form of address. These days it is typical to use the informal (tu) form among young people and among those of any age whom you know well. Among those you do not know well, especially those older than you, it is safest to use the formal form (Lei), and the verb form that corresponds to it.
✽ These pronouns are omitted in many Italian sentences, because the subject of the verb (the person who carries out the action) is identified by the ending of the verb itself. (e.g. mangio = I eat, mangi = you eat, etc.). The subject pronouns are used, however, for emphasis, or to counter-distinguish one subject from another, for example:
|Mio marito mangia la carne, ma io sono vegetariana.|
|My husband eats meat, but I am a vegetarian.|
✽ The subject pronouns for it or they (referring to objects) are rather formal and antiquated (esso, essa, essi, and
esse), and are thus typically omitted. If you study Italian long enough or live in Italy, you will also hear alternative subject pronouns for people (egli – he and ella – she), but these too are formal and antiquated and are typically reserved for special contexts (found in bureaucratic writing, for example, not so much in speaking).
In contrast with the subject pronouns, the object pronouns must always be used in Italian. The most common object pronouns in Italian are the direct object pronouns (pronomi di complemento diretto) and indirect object pronouns (pronomi di complemento indiretto). After observing the forms, read on to see how these two classes of pronouns are used and how you distinguish one class from the other.
|Direct Object Pronouns||Indirect Object Pronouns|
to you formal
✽ Note that La and Le (written with a capital L) are appropriate pronouns for the formal you, but only in the singular. There is no need to distinguish informal and formal in the plural, so if addressing multiple people (as direct or indirect object), you may always use vi.
The main thing about Italian object pronouns that causes difficulty for English speakers is their position in the sentence. Whereas in English, the object pronoun goes after the verb (e.g. I call him.), in Italian, it goes directly before the verb (e.g. Lo chiamo.) In the case of a negative sentence, non goes first, with the pronoun right before the verb: (e.g. Non lo chiamo.) This holds true for all verb tenses, including the compound verb tenses, like the passato prossimo (e.g. Lo ho chiamato.)
✽ There are two exceptions to the above rule on placement: (1) when there are two verbs attached to the same subject, in which one verb is conjugated and the other one is left in the infinitive (e.g. Devo chiamare Marco). In this case, the pronoun is attached to the infinitive of the second verb, after dropping the final –e (e.g. Devo chiamarlo); (2) when using a command or imperative, in which case you also attach the pronoun to the end of the verb (e.g. Chiamalo ora! – Call him now!)
Direct vs. Indirect Object Pronouns
The second challenge for English speakers is the distinction between the direct and indirect object pronouns. You may be wondering what the difference is between direct and indirect objects in the first place. Most commonly, indirect objects occur in a sentence in which there are two objects, e.g. I gave my Italian book to my friend. In a sentence such as this, the action (giving) is carried out upon a book (direct object), directed toward my friend (indirect object). A good way to identify the indirect object (noun) in an Italian sentence is by the placement of the preposition a or per right before it: Ho dato il mio libro d’italiano al mio amico (in this case al represents the contraction between a and il). In sentences with two objects, the indirect object is generally a person (or animal). To distinguish direct from indirect objects, see if you can set up a question that would elicit each object in the answer. In the case of the direct object, the question you ask would include the words What…? or Whom…?, whereas the question to elicit the indirect object would be To whom…? or For whom…?.
Elision is a common practice in Italian (and other languages) that occurs when one vowel sound (or letter) is dropped when it is followed by a word beginning with another vowel sound, in order to make the utterance more fluent or easy to say. Common examples include the articles used with nouns starting with a vowel (e.g. l’amica, l’orologio) and the final dropping of the -i at the end of the preposition di (e.g. d’Italia). You will also notice frequent elision with singular direct object pronouns in the passato prossimo. This means that when the pronouns lo or la occur before a verb beginning with a silent letter and sound (ho, hai, ha, etc.), you may contract it by dropping the vowel and replacing it with an apostrophe. For example:
|pronoun without elision||pronoun with elision|
|Lo ho visto.||L’ho visto.|
|La ho invitata.||L’ho invitata.|
|Ce la abbiamo.||Ce l’abbiamo.|
✽ You can only elide with lo and la, never with the plural direct object pronouns (le, li, etc.).
Direct Object Pronouns in the Passato Prossimo
When you use the passato prossimo with the direct object pronouns, you must have agreement between the pronoun and the ending of the past participle. For example:
|Hai preparato gli spaghetti?
(masculine plural noun)
|Sì, li ho preparati.
(masculine plural pronoun)
(masculine plural ending of verb)
|Chi ha fatto la torta?
(feminine singular noun)
|Marianna l’ ha fatta.
(feminine singular pronoun)
(feminine singular ending of verb)
Double Object Pronouns
When you have the need to use a direct object pronoun and an indirect object pronoun in the same sentence, you may need to use a double object pronoun. This is simply a new combination of the two pronouns, with the indirect object pronoun always coming first. As with most contractions, spelling changes are often involved, for example:
mi + lo = me lo; gli + la = gliela;
le + li = glieli, etc.
Study the chart below, which illustrates the combinations of the indirect object pronouns (left column) and the direct object pronouns (top row).
|mi||me lo||me la||me li||me le||me ne|
|ti||te lo||te la||te li||te le||te ne|
|ci||ce lo||ce la||ce li||ce le||ce ne|
|vi||ve lo||ve la||ve li||ve le||ve ne|