Italian Indirect Object Pronouns: A Simple Guide  

Yes, pronouns are not easy to grasp, but they’re worth mastering. Why? It’s simple. We use them all the time. We use them to avoid repeating things and be concise, typically in a conversation. It’s the same in English and in many other languages.

Knowing the Italian pronouns will not only help you speak better Italian, but especially improve your listening skills in Italian. 

I promise, next time you’ll her gli-la-lo, etc you won’t have a hard time figuring out what they stand for! 

What is a pronoun?

pronoun is a word like youher, him, them that we use to see who is affected by the verb’s action. Or, in simpler terms, it’s a little word we use to replace something (a thing or a person) that was mentioned before in a conversation and we don’t want to repeat. For example, 

  1. Vuoi il caffè? Sì, lo voglio 
  2. Prendi lo zucchero? Sì, lo prendo 
  3. Telefoni a Chiara? Sì, le telefono

In the first two sentences, the direct pronoun lostands for “it” and it’s replacing the words”caffè” or “zucchero”. In the last one, the indirect pronoun le stands for “to her” and it’s replacing “a Chiara”.

Direct pronouns and indirect pronouns: what’s the difference?

There are two types of pronouns in Italian: direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns.

What makes indirect pronouns different from direct pronouns?

The direct pronouns answer the questions “what?” or “who?”

The indirect pronouns answer the questions “to whom” or “for whom

DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNSINDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS
mi (me)mi (to me, for me)
ti (you)ti (to you, for you)
lo (it m., him)gli (to him, for him)
la (it f., her, you polite)le (to her, for her, for you polite)
ci (us)ci (to us, for us)
vi (you pl.)vi (to you pl., for you pl.)
li (them m.)gli (to them, for them)
le (them f.)
Italian pronouns (chart)

Important to notice: As you can see in the pronouns chart above, the forms of mi, ti, ci, vi are the same for direct and indirect pronouns. It means, that you’ll only only need to think of a difference between direct and indirect pronouns just for the third person singular and plural (lo, la, li, le, gli, le).

Examples of phrases using DIRECT pronounsExamples of phrases using INDIRECT pronouns
La mangio sempre – I often eat itLe mando una mail – I send her an email 
Li chiamo sempre – I always call them
Le scrivo dopo – I’ll write her later 
L’ho cucinato oggi – I cooked it today
Gli telefono tutti i giorni – I call them every today

Direct pronouns and indirect pronouns: the difference explained 

The million dollar question is when to use direct pronouns and and when to use indirect pronouns.  

Direct Pronouns (pronomi diretti)

Direct pronouns are used with verbs that trigger the use of a “direct object” and replace people or things there were mentioned before in the conversation.  

  • Compro il latte – I buy the milk (What are you buying? Milk!)
  • Lo compro – I buy it [“lo” and “it” replace “il latte”] 
  • Vedi Luigi? – Do you see Luigi? (Who are you seeing? Luigi!)
  • Sì, lo vedo – I see him [“lo” and “him” replace “Luigi”]
  • Preferiamo la cucina italiana – we prefer Italian food (What food do we prefer? Italian food!)
  • La preferiamo – we prefer it [“la” and “it” replace “la cucina italiana”]

Smart tip
Typical verbs using a direct object are all those verbs which answer the questions “what?” or “who?”. For example, comprare qualcosa, mangiare qualcosa, leggere qualcosa, ascoltare qualcuno, vedere qualcuno, incontrare qualcuno etc.

Indirect pronouns (pronomi indiretti)

Indirect pronouns are used with verbs that trigger the use of an indirect object, and are used to replace only people; they also can be used in conjunction with a direct object. 

  • Mando una mail a Marco – I’m sending to Marco a letter (To whom am I sending an email? To Marco!)
  • Gli mando una lettera – I’m sending to him a letter [“gli” replaces “a Marco”]
  • Insegno italiano agli studenti  – I teach to students Italian (To whom am I teaching Italian? To my students!)
  • Gli insegno l’italiano – I to teach them Italian [“gli” replaces “agli studenti”]
  • Do una mano a Lucia  – I give to Lucia a hand (To whom am I giving a hand ? To Lucia!)
  • Le do una mano – I give to her a hand [“le” replaces “a Lucia”]

Smart Tip
Typical verbs using an indirect object are all those verbs which answer the questions “for whom?” or “to whom?”. For example, chiedere a qualcuno, dire a qualcuno, telefonare a qualcuno, scrivere a qualcuno, etc.

Smart tip 

How do you know when to use indirect object pronouns instead of direct object pronouns in Italian?

The best way is to memorize the verbs that use indirect pronouns (e.g. the most common ones!). It can also help to remember that indirect pronouns are meant to replace people, not things.

This is a list of common verbs using indirect object pronouns in Italian

Direto say / to tell
Dareto give
Chiedereto ask
Telefonareto phone
Scrivereto write
Offrireto offer
Insegnareto teach
Mandareto send
Prestareto lend
Rispondereto answer
Italian verbs with indirect object pronouns

Now, put this list in your flashcards and remember that in Italian these verbs are used with indirect object pronouns. 

For example:

“I answer her” should be le rispondo (not la!)

“I answer him” should be gli rispondo (not lo!)

More examples:

  • Ho detto a Luisa di comprare il pane – I said to Luisa that she should buy some bread 
  • Le ho detto di comprare il pane – I said to her that she should buy some bread 
  • Ho prestato la bicicletta a te la settimana scorso – I lent the bike to you last week
  • Tiho prestato la bici la settimana scorso – I lent you the bike last week
  • Ho telefonato a Lucia e Michele – I phoned (to) Lucia e Michele
  • Gli ho telefonato – I phoned them
  • Scrivi sempre a Marco? – Do you write often to Marco?
  • Gli scrivi sempre? – Do you write to him often?

You should also know that:

  • Unlike in English, the pronouns usually precede the verb.
  • Some verbs, like piacere, such as: interessare, succedere, sembrare, servire, bastare, use indirect object pronouns in their conjugations.
  • The pronouns are attached at the end of the verb in its infinitive, gerund, and imperative form.

English vs. Italian pronouns: main differences

What leads to confusion is that some verbs that use a direct object in English would use an indirect object in Italian, or vice versa. For example, the verb “insegnare (to teach)” uses the indirect object in Italian; in fact, we say “insegnare a qualcuno,” while in English, the verb “to teach” uses the direct object. In English, you say “to teach someone”.

Most of the time, however, this is not the case, and there’s a parallel between English and Italian.

The rule of thumb is to consult a dictionary to see if the verb needs a direct or indirect pronoun.

Examples:

  • Maria insegna italiano agli studenti americani
  • Maria gli insegna l’italiano – Maria teaches Italian to them

The same occurs with the verb “phone/call”. In English, one calls someone, but in Italian, “someone calls to someone” and so we need an indirect object pronoun.

  • Marta telefona a Lucia
  • Marta le telefona – Marta calls (to) her 

Indirect Pronouns and Modal Verbs 

(This is a rule valid for all types of pronouns, not just the indirect ones)

With the modal verbs (volere, potere, dovere), the pronouns can be placed either at the back of the infinitive verb (following the modal verb) or just before the modal verb. There’s no difference between these two, and it’s up to you which pattern to use.

Examples:

Ti devo dire una cosa
Devo dirti una cosa 
I have to tell you something
Lo puoi ripetere
Puoi ripeterlo
Can you repeat it?
Li vuoi chiamare? 
Vuoi chiamarli?
Do you want to call them?
Modal verbs and pronouns

Indirect Pronouns and Imperative Form 

(This is a rule valid for all types of pronouns, not just the indirect ones)

In some imperative forms (when you’re urging someone to do something) the pronouns are placed at the back of the verb.

Examples 

  • Digli la verità – Tell him the truth
  • Non dirgli la verità – Don’t tell him the truth  
  • Telefonagli più tardi – Call her later 
  • Mandale il contratto – Send her the contract 

If you need a refresher on the imperative in Italian, check out this article:

The Imperative Form

       

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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