The Italian Direct Object Pronouns
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.
- Vuoi il caffè? Sì, lo voglio → Do you want some coffee? Yes, I want it.
- Vedi i tuoi amici stasera? Sì, li vedo → Are you seeing your friends tonight? Yes, 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.
The Direct Object Pronouns in Italian
|IT / EN pronouns||Examples|
|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|
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? Sì, ti vedo. (Do you see me? Yes, I see you.)
- Ci vedi? Sì, vi vedo. (Do you see us? Yes, I see you all)
- Mi sentite? No, non ti sentiamo. (Do you all hear me? No, we don’t hear you.)
- Ci sentite? No, non vi sentiamo. (Do you all hear us? No, we don’t hear you all)
Stressed vs. unstressed direct object pronouns (pronomi tonici vs.pronomi atoni)
Italian distinguishes between stressed and unstressed direct object pronouns or pronomi tonici and pronomi atoni (see the table below). The stressed forms are typically placed after the prepositions.
|Stressed forms (pronomi tonici)||Unstressed forms (pronomi atoni)|
|Lui / Lei||La, Lo|
The stressed forms are typically used with prepositions.
- “I’m speaking with you” becomes “Parlo con te” and not “parlo con ti”
- “I’m eating with her” becomes “Mangio con lei” and not “mangio con la”
What’s the position of the direct object 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.
If you are a beginner, you can skip this part for now.
The 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.
The direct pronouns and the infinitive
Another exception concerns the infinitive verbs. When a verb is not conjugated, the direct pronouns are joined to the end of the infinitive after dropping the last “e.” The typical example is with modal verbs or with unconjugated verbs used after a preposition.
- Ho bisogno di ripeterlo – I need to repeat it
- Ho finito di leggerlo – I finished reading it
- Ho cominciato a studiarlo – I started studying it
The 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!)
The 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 dolce – L‘ho preparato (I prepared it – the object, il dolce, is masculine singular)
- Ho preparato una torta – L’ho preparata (I prepared it, the object, la torta, is feminine singular)
- Ho preparato gli spaghetti – Li ho preparati (I prepared them, the object, gli spaghetti masculine plural)
- Ho preparato le tagliatelle – Le ho preparate (I prepared them, the object, le tagliatelle, is feminine plural)
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.
May 18, 2022 @ 10:17 am
Heyyy , I LOVE YOUR WEBSITE!! , its the only reason im passing italiang but i have one question… when answering questions what do the avere verbs change to? for example when hai is used for a question , for the answer ho would be used. how about for the rest?
May 31, 2022 @ 12:33 pm
I’m not sure I understood well your question. The verb “avere” is always conjugated to the subject of the answer, if that’s what you meant.
Thank you for reading my blog 🙂