Direct Object Pronouns in Italian: An Easy Guide

What’s a pronoun? 

Pronouns are an essential part of speech that allow us to replace something that has already been said and avoid repeating ourselves. Pronouns are widely used in conversation as they help us to be more concise and speak faster. Italian, just like English, makes extensive use of pronouns.

For instance, in the sentence “I know it”, the word “it” represents a pronoun that replaces something that was already mentioned. Similarly, in the sentence “let’s meet them”, the word “them” is a pronoun that replaces the people who were mentioned before.

In Italian and many other languages, there’s a clear distinction between direct and indirect object pronouns. In this post, we’ll touch on the direct ones.

What’s a direct object pronoun? 

Direct object pronouns are used to replace a direct object, which is a part of the sentence that answers the question “what?” or “who?” For example, in the sentence “I want a coffee,” the phrase “a coffee” is the direct object because it answers the question “what?” Similarly, in the sentence “I’m going to meet my friends,” the phrase “my friends” is the direct object because it answers the question “who?”

Sometimes, when we speak we don’t need to repeat something that was previously said, and so we use a pronoun.

For example,

Vuoi il caffè?Do you want some coffee?
Sì, lo voglioYes, I want it.
Vedi i tuoi amici stasera?Are you seeing your friends tonight?
Sì, li vedoYes, I’m seeing them.

For instance, instead of saying “Yes, I want some coffee” in response to “Do you want some coffee?” we can use the direct object pronoun “it” and say “Yes, I want it.” Similarly, when asked “Are you seeing your friends tonight?” we can respond with “Yes, I’m seeing them,” using the direct object pronoun “them” to replace the noun phrase “my friends.

Direct object vs. direct object pronouns

ExamplesDirect Object: “Ho letto un libro.” (I have read a book.) “A book” or “Un libro” is the direct object.
Direct Object Pronoun: “L’ho letto.” (I have read it.) “L'”or “It” is the direct object pronoun.
Function in a SentenceDirect Object: Functions as the object of the verb, answering “What?” or “Whom?” questions.
Direct Object Pronoun: Replaces the direct object noun to avoid repetition and shorten sentences.

Direct Object Pronouns in Italian

Mi – “me”Mi chiami? – Can you call me?
TI – “you”Ti chiamo – I’m calling you
Lo – “him” or “it masc.”Lo chiamo – I’m calling him
La – “her” or “it fem.”La chiamo – I’m calling her
Ci – “us”Ci chiami? – Can you call us?
Vi – you “pl.”Vi chiamo – I’ll call you all
Li – “them pl. masc.”Li chiamo – I’ll call them
Le – “them pl. fem.”Le chiamo – I’ll call them
Italian direct object pronouns, chart

The direct object pronouns mi / ti / ci / vi 

Pronouns can be used in statements, questions, and answers. It’s important to pay attention to the use of mi, ti, ci, and vi, as they often get mixed-up.

Here are some examples to help understand their usage in questions and answers:

Mi vedi?Do you see me?
Sì, ti vedo.Yes, I see you.
Ci vedi?Do you see us?
Sì, vi vedo.Yes, I see you all.
Mi sentite?Do you all hear me?
No, non ti sentiamo.No, we don’t hear you.
Ci sentite?Do you all hear us?
No, non vi sentiamo.No, we don’t hear you all.
Italian direct pronouns examples

Position of the Direct Pronoun in a Sentence

The general rule is that the pronouns always precede the conjugated verbs, which is the opposite of English. For example:

  • Lo prendo – I it take 
  • Lo vedo – I him see
  • Mi chiami? – Can you me call?

However, there are a few exceptions to the general rule when the pronouns are placed after the verb. This happens with modal verbs, infinitive verbs, and the imperative form.

Direct Pronouns and the modal verbs

With modal verbs (dovere, potere, volere), the direct pronouns can take two different positions: either before the modal verb or at the end of the infinitive following the modal verb, after dropping the last “e” of the infinitive.

Let’s see it in practice.

  • La voglio vedere ” is the same as “Voglio vederla” – I want to see her
  • Ti posso chiamare? is the same as “Posso chiamarti?” – Can I call you?
  • Lo vogliamo comprarlo” is the same as “Vogliamo comprarlo” – We want to buy it 

Either way works perfectly in Italian, and there is no preference between the two forms. Italians use both equally.

Direct Pronouns and the imperative

  • Informal imperative: the pronoun goes at the back of the verb → mangialo! (eat it!)
  • Negative informal imperative: two possibilities, either before or at the end of the verb → non lo mangiare! / non mangiarlo! (don’t eat it!)
  • Formal imperative: the pronoun goes in front of the imperative → lo mangi! (eat it!)
  • Negative formal imperative: the pronoun goes in front of the verb → non lo mangi! (don’t eat it!)

Direct Object Pronouns with the Passato Prossimo

If you are a beginner, you can skip for now.

If you’ve studied the passato prossimo in Italian, you’ll know that the past participle of the “avere” verbs remains the same (e.g., Ho mangiato, abbiamo finito, etc.). However, there’s a big exception to this rule when it comes to direct object pronouns.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

Ho preparato un dolceI prepared it (masculine singular)L’ho preparato
Ho preparato una tortaI prepared it (feminine singular)L’ho preparata
Ho preparato gli spaghettiI prepared them (masculine plural)Li ho preparati
Ho preparato le tagliatelleI prepared them (feminine plural)Le ho preparate
agreement of direct pronouns and passato prossimo

As you can see from the examples, the past participle changes and agrees with the gender and number of the direct object pronoun when used with the passato prossimo of verbs that use “avere” as the auxiliary verb.

It’s important to note that singular direct object pronouns always use an apostrophe, while plural forms do not. By understanding this exception and practicing with examples, you can improve your use of direct object pronouns in the passato prossimo in Italian.

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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