What’s the biggest difference between the English and the Italian subject pronouns?
Italian often omits them.
But don’t you worry! You will learn when to use these Italian subject pronouns in no time.
First thing first, let’s see what these subject pronouns are. Stick until the end of the lesson for a little interactive exercise!
What are the Italian subject pronouns?
These Italian subject pronouns are pretty straightforward, aren’t they?
Except for that tu/Lei. Why are there two translations for the singular you?
The courtesy form Lei
Italian subject pronouns feature what’s called a courtesy form.
You will use tu to address your mum. You will use Lei to address your boss at work.
The rule goes like this:
If you have to show respect to someone, address him/her with Lei. This applies to shopkeepers, waiters, and all adults that you don’t know well and are not on familiar terms with.
If you are on familiar terms with someone, address him/her with tu. This applies to children and young people, family members, friends, colleagues and/or people you know well.
Lei è il mio capo.
You are my boss. (formal)
Tu sei mio amico.
You are my friend. (informal)
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)
Notice that in the last two examples the pronouns are completely omitted and the only part of the sentence that gives away 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 matches the third person singular pronoun lei. This is not a mistake: Italians do address strangers with a “she”!
This applies to both men and women, so if you are a male and ever happen to be addressed as “she” while in Italy, remember that whoever is talking to you means no disrespect. On the contrary, they are using the courtesy form!
As in English, the third person singular has three pronouns.
Lui translates he, lei translates she and esso translates it.
You will use lui with males, she with females and esso with 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 gatto → It is a cat.
Italian subject pronouns examples
Let’s see a few other example sentences featuring 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.
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.
Strengthen your skills on the Italian subject pronouns with these small interactive exercises.
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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