What are the Italian indirect object pronouns, and how do they work?
A pronoun is a part of speech that replaces a name or a person to avoid repeating them directly in a sentence. This is why they are called pronomi in Italian, from the Latin pro, “in place of”, and nomen, “name”.
Ho regalato a mamma una matita. Le ho regalato una matita.
I gave mom a pencil. I gave her a pencil.
Lo studente risponde all’insegnante. Lo studente le risponde.
The student answers the teacher. The student answers her.
There are many types of pronouns in Italian. In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the Italian indirect object pronouns. How do they work? Let’s find out! Iniziamo!
Table of Contents
Italian indirect object pronouns
As their name suggests, Italian indirect object pronouns replace an indirect object.
What’s an indirect object? It’s the person or thing that “passively receives” the action represented by the verb. For example:
Luca dà un libro a suo fratello.
Luke gives his brother a book.
Libro is a direct object here. It’s the thing given by the child. Fratello, however, is the indirect object. If we want to replace fratello with a pronoun, we have to use one of the Italian indirect object pronouns.
Luca gli dà un libro.
Luca gives him a book.
In English, indirect objects are often introduced with “to”. As in English, Italian indirect objects are preceded by the preposition “to”. There’s no preposition when you replace them with a pronoun.
Gli replaces fratello and is a pronoun, just like the English word “him”. Don’t confuse it with the masculine definite article gli!
How can you tell the difference between direct objects and indirect objects in English?
Rephrase the sentence. If one of the objects can be preceded by the preposition “to”, then it’s most likely an indirect object. If it can’t be preceded by the preposition “to”, then it’s most likely a direct object.
Also, think about what kind of verb you have. Italian indirect object pronouns are most often used with intransitive verbs.
Invio una lettera. La invio. I send a letter. I send it
Invio una lettera a mia sorella. Le invio una lettera. I send a letter to my sister. I send the letter to her.
Invio una lettera a mia sorella. Gliela invio. I send a letter to my sister. I send it to her.
(We’ll see gliela in a moment!)
Here’s a handy table showing all the Italian indirect object pronouns:
|Mi||to me, myself|
|Ti||to you, yourself (sing.)|
|Gli, le||to it (m/f)|
|Ci||to us, ourselves|
|Vi||to you, yourself (pl.)|
|Gli, loro||to them (m/f)|
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Where do I put the Italian indirect object pronouns?
You may have already noticed that there’s a big difference between Italian and English when it comes to object pronouns.
Telefono a mio padre. Gli telefono.
I call my father. I call him.
Why isn’t it “telefono gli”? It’s because…
Italian indirect object pronouns are placed BEFORE all normal and auxiliary verbs. This is a BIG difference from English, where they directly take the place of the thing or person they are replacing.
There are a number of common verbs that are often used along with an indirect pronoun. For example, these are…
- chiedere (to ask)
- dare (to give)
- dire (to say)
- inviare (to send)
- mandare (to send)
- offrire (to offer)
- prestare (to lend)
- rispondere (to answer)
- scrivere (to write)
- telefonare (to call on the telephone)
Impersonal verbs such as servire, piacere and sembrare are accompanied by an indirect object pronoun when conjugated. Memorize these verb conjugations because they work very differently from English!
For example, you could say…
Ti chiedo un grosso favore.
I’m asking you (for) a big favor.
Le ho dato un mazzo di fiori.
I gave her a bunch of flowers.
Gli ho inviato un’e-mail. Ho inviato loro un’e-mail.
I sent them an e-mail.
Non vi ho ancora risposto perché non ho avuto tempo.
I haven’t answered you yet because I haven’t had time.
Ci presti una matita?
Can you lend us a pencil?
Pay attention to modal verbs
We’ve just said that Italian indirect object pronouns go before the verb. With two exceptions.
First exception. There are 4 modal verbs in Italian: volere, dovere, potere and sapere. Modal verbs are the only verbs that can be directly followed by an infinitive verb.
Devo darle il suo zaino.
I have to give her her backpack.
Voglio scrivergli una lettera.
I want to write him a letter.
Dare and scrivere are infinitive verbs (the form you will find in dictionaries). When a modal verb is present, you can choose where to place the Italian indirect object pronouns.
The pronouns can either come before the modal verb itself:
Le devo dare il suo zaino.
I have to give her her backpack.
Gli devo scrivere una lettera.
I have to write him a letter.
Or they can follow the infinitive verb. In this case, the pronoun doesn’t stand alone, but is attached to the infinitive verb by dropping the final -e of the verb.
I must give her…
I want to write him…
This flexibility is also seen with verbs in their gerund form (-ing form). In this case, all you have to do is add the pronoun to the gerund form, without removing any letters.
Le sto scrivendo una lettera. Sto scrivendole una lettera.
I am writing her a letter.
Both orders are commonly used and interchangeable. It’s just a matter of taste, so don’t think too much about it.
Beware of imperative verbs
Second exception. The imperative mood is used to give orders.
Offrile da bere!
Offer her something to drink! (informal)
Le offra da bere!
Offer her something to drink! (formal)
When you want to replace an indirect object that is bound to an imperative verb, you have to take into account the formality of the request and the type of imperative (positive, negative).
For informal requests (informal imperative mood), the pronoun must be added to the imperative verb (OFFRILE).
For formal requests (formal imperative mood), the pronoun must be placed before the imperative verb (LE OFFRA).
In the negative informal form, the Italian indirect object pronouns can either be attached to the verb or placed before it, it makes no difference.
Non risponderle! Non le rispondere!
Don’t answer her!
In formal contexts, it always precedes the infinitive verb.
Non le dica niente!
Don’t tell her anything!
Stressed Italian indirect object pronouns
In their stressed form, Italian indirect object pronouns are said to be in their forma tonica. These are used to really stress the pronoun and always come AFTER the verb.
|Me||to me, myself|
|Te||to you, yourself (sing.)|
|Lui, lei||to it (m/f)|
|Noi||to us, ourselves|
|Voi||to you, yourself (pl.)|
|Loro||to them (m/f)|
Let’s see some examples of unstressed and stressed indirect object pronouns in Italian:
Io ti mando una lettera. Io mando a te una lettera.
I send you a letter.
Non voglio chiederlo a lui. Voglio chiederlo a te.
I don’t want to ask him. I want to ask you.
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And that’s the end of our lesson on the Italian indirect object pronouns! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.
Now that you’ve seen how the Italian indirect object pronouns work, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:
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