The Italian subject pronouns

What is the biggest difference between English and Italian subject pronouns?

Italian often omits them.

But don’t worry! You will learn when to use the Italian subject pronouns in no time.

First of all, let’s see what they are. Stay until the end of the lesson for a little interactive exercise!


What are the Italian subject pronouns?

EnglishItalian
IIo
You (singular)Tu/Lei
He/she/itLui/lei/esso
WeNoi
You (plural)Voi
TheyLoro

Io
I

Tu
You (singular)

Lui
He

italian subject pronouns - he

Lei
She

Esso
It

Noi
We

Voi
You (plural)

Loro
They

These Italian subject pronouns are pretty straightforward, aren’t they?

Except for that tu/Lei. Why are there two translations for the singular you?

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The courtesy form Lei

Italian subject pronouns have what’s called a courtesy form.

You will use tu to address your mom. You will use Lei to address your boss at work.

The rule goes like this:

If you need show respect to someone, address them with Lei. This applies to shopkeepers, waiters, and any adult you don’t know well and are not on familiar terms with.

If you are on familiar terms with someone, address them with tu. This includes children and teenagers, family members, friends, colleagues and other people you know well.

italian subject pronouns - she

Lei è il mio capo.
You are my boss. (formal)

Tu sei mio amico.
You are my friend. (informal)

Or also:

Mi sa (Lei) dire dov’è la stazione?
Could you tell me where the train station is? (formal)

Mi sai (tu) dire dov’è la stazione?
Could you tell me where the train station is? (informal)

Note that in the last two examples the pronouns are completely omitted and the only part of the sentence that betrays the fact that we are addressing either a stranger or a friend is the verb sa/sai (can). We’ll soon see why.

You may also have noticed that this courtesy form Lei corresponds to the third person singular pronoun lei. This is no mistake: Italians do address strangers as “she”!

This is true for both men and women, so if you are a man and you are ever addressed as “she” while in Italy, remember that the person speaking to you is not being disrespectful. On the contrary, they are being polite!

As in English, the third person singular has three pronouns.

Lui means he, lei means she and esso means it.

You will use lui for men, she for women and esso for inanimate objects or animals, but it’s so rare you’ll almost never hear it or see it written.

Lui è Marco He is Mark.
Lei è Sara She is Sarah.
(Esso) è un gattoIt is a cat.


Italian subject pronouns examples

Let’s see some other examples with the Italian subject pronouns.

Tu sei un insegnante?
Are you a teacher?

Noi siamo dottori.
We are doctors.

Io sono un ingegnere.
I am an engineer.

Lei è un architetto?
Are you (formal) an architect?

No, lei è una giornalista.
No, she’s a journalist.

Lui è bello.
He is nice.

Lei è alta.
She is tall.

Io sono veloce.
I am fast.

italian subject pronouns - i am fast

Voi siete magri.
You (plural) are thin.

Noi siamo felici.
We are happy.

Tu sei arrabbiato.
You (informal) are angry.

Loro sono qui.
They are here.


FAQs on the Italian subject pronouns

What are subject pronouns in Italian?

They are:
io (I)
tu (you, singular)
lui, lei, esso (he, she, it)
noi (we)
voi (you, plural)
loro (they)

Can subject pronouns be omitted in Italian?

Yes, and almost always you can. Since conjugations are different for each person, you can tell who the subject is by looking at the verb ending.

Which Italian subject pronoun would you use to talk to your Italian professor?

Use Lei. This is the polite version of you in Italian. Every verb with this subject must be conjugated in the third-person singular.


Your turn!

Practice your skills on the Italian subject pronouns with these little interactive exercises.



What next?

Now that you’ve seen how the Italian subject 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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