Dare del Tu vs. Dare del Lei in Italian

The sentence “Dare del tu” in Italian refers to the act of transitioning from formal to informal speech.

Literally translated, it means “to give the tu“. “Tu” is the singular and informal personal pronoun for “you” in Italian.

If someone says “Possiamo darci del tu,” they mean that you’re given permission to shift towards a more casual and friendly level of communication (informal speech). You could equally ask “Posso darti del tu?” if you are asking someone to give you permission to address them informally.

The opposite of “dare del tu” is “dare del lei”” which means addressing someone politely.

If you’re not familiar with the distinction we make in Italian between formal and informal speech, keep reading:

Formal vs. Informal Speech in Italian

In Italian, similar to other Romance languages like French or Spanish, it is important to differentiate between formal and informal settings when choosing pronouns (Tu or Lei) and conjugating verbs.

For instance, we would say “Come stai?” if the setting is informal or “Come sta?” if the setting is formal.

  • Come stai? (2nd person conjugation of the verb stare – informal speech)
  • Come sta? (3rd person conjugation of the verb stare – formal speech)

This applies to all questions using all verbs, of course.

  • Parli italiano? (2nd person conjugation of the verb parlare – informal speech)
  • Parla italiano? (3rd person conjugation of the verb parlare – formal speech)

In Italian, we would address someone using the informal second-person pronoun “tu” if the setting is informal, or we would use the formal second-person pronoun “Lei” if the setting is formal.

But… What is considered a formal setting in Italy?

Formal Setting vs. Informal Setting in Italy 

A typical formal setting involves you conversating with people you are not familiar with and with whom you have a professional relationship: a student/teacher, patient/doctor, lawyer/client, real estate agent/client. The general rule is that if you don’t know someone, you should always address them using the formal “lei”.

A typical informal setting is when you’re talking with people you know very well or people in your same age range. For examples, family, friends, schoolmates, colleagues, etc.

When is it possible to transition from formal speech to informal speech?

Sometimes, especially among people of the same age or profession, it is possible that someone would suggest “dare del tu”, which literally means “using the informal ‘you’ and indicates a switch from formal to informal speech. This transition implies that the relationship has reached a certain level of familiarity or trust, or simply that there is a desire to establish a more personal connection.

In Italian, the transition from formal to informal speech cannot happen without mentioning these little phrases:

  • Dammi del tu! 
  • Possiamo darci del tu?
  • Posso darti del tu?
  • Non c’è bisogno di darmi del lei

Examples of  dialogues that includes a transition from formal into informal speech. 

ItalianEnglish
Person AÈ qui per vedere l’appartamento?Are you here to see the apartment?
Person BBuongiorno, sì.Good morning, yes.
Person ABenvenuta, venga pure. Vedo che lei è molto giovane.Welcome, come in. I see that you are very young. Can we use “tu” with each other?*
Person BCertamente, non c’è problema. Penso che abbiamo più o meno la stessa età.Certainly, no problem. I think we are more or less the same age.
*this is a literal translation as there’s no correspondence in English
SpeakerItalianEnglish
Person ASalve, lei è il nuovo tirocinante?Hello, are you the new intern?
PietroSì, sono Pietro Di Pietro. Volevo chiederle una cosa…Yes, my name is Pietro Di Pietro. I wanted to ask you something…
Person ADammi del tu, Pietro. Siamo colleghi di lavoro, dopotutto.“Let’s use the “tu”*” Pietro. After all, we are colleagues.
PietroVa bene. Volevo chiederti se…Okay. I wanted to ask you if…
*this is a literal translation as there’s no correspondence in English

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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