Italian indirect object pronouns

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 so you can avoid repeating them directly in the 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 as a present. I gave her a pencil as a present.

Lo studente risponde all’insegnante. Lo studente le risponde.
The student answers the teacher. The student answers her.

studing attending an online school

There are many kinds 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!


Italian indirect object pronouns

As their name says, Italian indirect object pronouns replace an indirect object.

What’s an indirect object? It’s the person or thing that “passively receives” the action expressed by the verb. For example:

Luca dà un libro a suo fratello.
Luke gives a book to his brother.

Libro is a direct object here. It’s the thing that is being given by the kid. Fratello, however, is the indirect object. If we want to replace fratello with a pronoun, we will need to use one of the Italian indirect object pronouns.

Luca gli dà un libro.
Luca gives him a book.

Tip!
Indirect objects are often introduced by “to” in English. Just like in English, Italian indirect objects are preceded by the preposition “to”. There’s no preposition when you replace them with a pronoun.

boy reading a book

Gli replaces fratello and is a pronoun, just like the English word “him”. Don’t confuse this for the masculine definite article gli!

Now consider the sentence…

How can you distinguish 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 that that object is an indirect object. If it cannot be preceded by the preposition “to”, then it’s most likely that that object is 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 where you can see all the Italian indirect object pronouns:

PronounEnglish
Mito me, myself
Tito you, yourself (sing.)
Gli, leto it (m/f)
Cito us, ourselves
Vito you, yourself (pl.)
Gli, loroto them (m/f)

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Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

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Where do I place 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 any normal verb and auxiliary verb. This is a BIG difference from English, where they directly take the place of the thing/person they replace.

business man having a call

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)

Beware!
Impersonal verbs like servire, piacere and sembrare are accompanied by an indirect object pronoun when conjugated. Learn these verb conjugations by heart as 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 bouquet 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 replied to you yet because I haven’t had time.

Ci presti una matita?
Can you lend us a pencil?

little artist holding a big pencil

Watch out for modal verbs

We’ve just said that Italian indirect object pronouns are to be placed 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 go 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.

girl clutching a letter with a heart on it

Or they can go after the infinitive verb. In this case, the pronoun won’t stand as a word of its own but it will be appended to the infinitive verb by dropping the final -e of the verb.

Devo darle…
I have to give her…

Voglio scrivergli…
I want to write him…

This flexibility is also seen in verbs in their gerund form (-ing form). In this case, you’ll just have to add the pronoun to the gerund form without cutting any letters out.

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.


Watch out for imperative verbs

Second exception. The imperative mood is used to give out 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 tied to an imperative verb, you will 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 will have to be appended to the imperative verb (OFFRILE).
For formal requests (formal imperative mood), the pronoun will have to be placed before the imperative verb (LE OFFRA).

Rispondimi!
Answer me!
(informal)

Mi risponda!
Answer me!
(formal)

angry man talking on the phone

In the negative informal form, the Italian indirect object pronouns can either be appended to the verb or be placed before it, it makes no difference.

Non risponderle! Non le rispondere!
Don’t answer her!

In formal contexts, it will always precede the infinitive verb.

Non le dica niente!
Don’t tell her anything!
(formal)


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.

Stressed pronounEnglish
Meto me, myself
Teto you, yourself (sing.)
Lui, leito it (m/f)
Noito us, ourselves
Voito you, yourself (pl.)
Loroto them (m/f)

Let’s see a few 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 it with the Italian indirect object pronouns! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

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:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

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