Italian/Pronouns

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General[edit]

Personal pronouns are little words that replace persons or things: he, she, they, it, me, her etc.

Personal pronouns can play the role of subjects or be in a different role. For instance, in the sentence I eat a food, the word 'I' is a subject, but in the sentence That lion wants to eat me, the word 'me' is the object.

Other pronouns (not personal) also replace nouns, with a more specific usage. For instance, this can replace a noun, with a meaning similar to it (or he/she), e.g. in the sentence this is good for you.

More information about pronouns, subjects etc. in English can be found in a different place. Here it is assumed that sufficient knowledge is available.

Subject Personal Pronouns / Pronomi personali[edit]

List of Subject Personal Pronouns:

Singular:

io   - I    - Note: no capital letter required
tu   - you  - Note: addressed to one person
egli - he   - Note: not used in common talk
esso - it   - Note: masculine, little used in common speech
lui  - he   - Note: colloquial
ella - she  - Note: not used in common talk
essa - it   - Note: feminine, little used in common speech
lei  - she  - Note: colloquial
Lei  - you  - Note: special use; normally with capital initial
Ella - you  - Note: special use, uncommon, capital initial

Plural:

noi  - we
voi  - you  - Note: addressed to two or more people
Voi  - you  - Note: same as 'voi' with lower case initial, but more formal (compare to 'Lei' in the singular)
essi - they - Note: masculine
esse - they - Note: feminine
loro - they - Note: both masculine and feminine, colloquial
Loro - you  - Note: special use, uncommon, capital initial

The pronouns for the 1st person (singular: io, plural: noi) do not need special explanations.

The pronouns for the 2nd person (in English you both singular and plural) have a usage far more varied than in English.

Tu is addressed to one person only (singular) and matches the older English thou. It is felt to be informal, it is used with members of the same family (e.g. father, mother), with relatives (e.g. uncles), with children, with friends, and, in modern usage, with work colleagues. It is often used with boys and girls and sometimes it is used with other persons in order to create a friendly atmosphere.

In the other cases (especially with grown-up people that are not friends or relatives) it is replaced by the pronoun Lei (usually written with a capital letter). This pronoun literally means she and its usage is similar to English sentences including His/Her Majesty.

For the same purpose the pronoun Ella can also be used. This is felt today as obsolete and is used rarely only in writing.

When two or more people are addressed, voi is used both in formal and informal language - that is with relatives, friends and other people. The plural for Lei does exist, it is Loro (capital initial), but it is nowadays little used. Instead of Loro, Voi is used, which is the same as voi but with a capital letter.

The pronouns for the singular 3rd person (in English he/she/it) take into account the gender of the replaced noun, which in Italian can only be masculine or feminine.

When a reference is done to a person, he is translated with egli (proper language, little used in talking) or lui (colloquial), she with ella (little used) or lei (colloquial).

For animals or things, it is translated with esso when the noun is masculine (e.g. lago, lake) and with essa when it is feminine (e.g. barca, boat).

Plural also takes into account the gender, so they is translated with essi (masc.) or esse (fem.). In colloquial talk they is usually translated with loro.

It should also be remembered that pronouns are required less often than in English because verb forms change for every person. It's usually better to say Sono felice ([I] am happy) than Io sono felice (I am happy).

Missing subject pronouns[edit]

In many languages, including English, French and German, it is mandatory to mention the subject of the verb. Pronouns are widely used to avoid repeating nouns for this purpose.

In Italian the subject is often omitted, as the verb can give sufficient information. Personal subject pronouns are far less used than in English, they are used only when there is a need for clarity or a wish to stress the pronoun itself.

Examples of missing subjects:

Piove. It is raining. No need to mention it.
Vengo subito. I come soon. No need to mention I.
Dove vai? Where are you going? No need to mention you.
Dove andiamo? Where are we going? No need to mention we.

Example of special uses:

Credo di sì. I think so.
Io credo di sì. I do think so. The unneeded pronoun is used to stress the verb.

Object Pronouns[edit]

Direct
mi me
ti you
lo him/it
la/La her/it/you
si himself/herself/itself/theirselves
ci us
vi/Vi you
li/le them
Indirect
mi to me
ti to you
gli to him/it
le/Le to her/it/you (formal)
si to himself/herself/itself/theirselves
ci to us
vi/Vi to you
loro to them/you (formal)
Prepositional
me me
te you
lui/egli him
esso it
lei/ella her
Lei/Ella you
essa it
se himself/herself/itself/theirselves
noi us
voi/Voi you
loro/essi/esse them

1) In most cases the direct and indirect object pronouns are placed before the verb: Ti vedo. I see you. One exception: loro as an indirect object is placed after the verb. Additionally, a few forms of the verb always have pronouns after them, but then they are postfixed (ie. written onto it as one word). These forms are the infitive (dropping the final 'e', ie. vederlo), the gerund and the past participle (but only when used alone, not as part of a perfect tense). For example 'I want to see him' is Vogli vederlo and not voglio lo vedere. Note that stress does not change when pronouns are appended, ie. scrivere => scriverlo and not scriverlo

2) Note that 'Lei' and 'Voi' when indicating formal 'you' are capitalised, regardless of inflection (ie. Perché non Le piace questo film?. Why don't you like this movie? ). This rule also applies to postfixed 'Lei' and 'Voi', but there they may also occur in lower case (ie. I can see you. Posso vederLa. or Posso vederla. )

3) When two pronouns (or a pronoun and ci (there) or ne (form there/it)) are combined, the order is indirect + direct + ci/ne. You will never encouter all three together, but for example if you have an indirect and a direct object, then the indirect will precede the direct. Additionally the preceding form changes:

Direct
mi => me
ti => te
si => se
lo => lo
gli => glie
la/La => la/La
le/Le => le/Le
ci => ce
vi/Vi => ve/Ve
li => li
le => le
gli => glie

For example, 'He gives it to us' is Ce lo dà. Glie is fixed to next word, so 'I give it to him/them' becomes Glielo do.

Another example is the verb andarsene which means to go away (andare-si-ne, lit. to go (oneself) from the place). It is conjugated me ne vado, te ne vai, se ne và, etc.

As you can see in andarsene the postfixed pronouns are all written as one word. This is the rule for all such combinations, ie. Voglio dartelo. I want to give it to you. (=dare-ti-lo)


4) The prepositional forms are obligatory after prepositions (obviously!): Vado da lui stasera. I'm going to his place tonight.

They are also placed after the verb instead of the direct object to emphasize it (ie. Ho visto te. It is you I saw. - This is somewhat uncommon).

It can replace the indirect object in a similar fashion which is much more common, however these pronouns require the preposition a when indicating the indirect object (ie. Lo dirò a te prima che lo dica agli altri. I'll tell you before I'll tell any of the others. - As you can see in this sentence, nouns such as gli altri also need the preposition a)

Possessive Pronouns[edit]

Possessives, like articles, must agree with the gender and number of the noun they modify. Hence, mio zio, my uncle, but mia zia, my aunt. So depending on what is being modified, the possessive pronouns are:

  • Masc. sing.: mio, tuo, suo, nostro, vostro, loro
  • Fem. sing.: mia, tua, sua, nostra, vostra, loro
  • Masc. pl.: miei, tuoi, suoi, nostri, vostri, loro
  • Fem. pl.: mie, tue, sue, nostre, vostre, loro

In most cases the possessive adjective must be used with the definite article:

  • Ho perso la mia penna. (I've lost my pen.)
  • Mi piace il mio lavoro. (I like my job.)
  • Hanno rubato la mia automobile! (They've stolen my car!)

The only exception is when the possessive refers to a family member in the singular:

  • Sara è mia sorella (Sarah is my sister.)
  • Questa penna è di mia zia. (This pen is my aunt's.)

But in the plural:

  • Le mie zie sono vecchie (My aunts are old)

However, 'loro' always has the definite article (also note that 'loro' does not change, for example the female form is 'loro', not 'lora' or something like that):

  • La loro sorella è malata (Their sister is ill)

Personal pronouns can also be used on their own:

  • Questa macchina è la mia. (This car is mine)

To say 'one of my', 'one of your' etc. you use a personal pronoun with the indefinite article:

  • Un mio figlio è malato (One of my sons is ill)

And finally, possessives may be placed behind the noun it refers to in poetical language and specific expressions. If the definite article is used at all, it remains before the noun.

  • (Gli) affari tuoi (Your (own) business)
  • Fatti gli affari tuoi! (Mind you own business!)

Relative Pronouns[edit]

Relative pronouns are just pronouns, like those before this section but they refer to something relative to the context of the sentence or the situation. the pronoun "I" will always refer to myself while the pronoun "she" will always refer to some "her". A Relative pronoun can refer to a person, a thing or a situation. In English these pronouns are who, which, that, whom, where.

  • Pronoun che: this pronoun is used when you use which, who, and that.
  • Pronouns il quale, la quale, i quali, le quali: this pronoun "quale" is like the previous one but it also indicates the gender and number:
    • il quale: masculine singular
    • la quale: feminine singular
    • i quali: masculine plural
    • le quali: feminine plural
  • Pronoun cui: this pronouns introduces indirect objects (this means all those objects that need a preposition before it): “Headphone is the instrument (with) which you can hear music with” this pronoun needs “with” to work.
  • Extra pronouns: chi, colui, colei, coloro, ciò, chiunque, quanto, etc... words that serve the purpose of a pronoun.

Demonstrative Pronouns[edit]

These pronouns are only two: questo and quello but pay attention to how these pronouns change in gender and singular/plural.

  • questo, questa, questi, queste=this, these
  • quello, quella, quelli, quelle=that, those

'Questo' and related forms always use their full form. 'Quello' uses the full form as described above when on their own (ie. Questo è rotto. This one is broken. ), but has a shorter form when used with a noun (ie. Quel problema non si può risolvere. That problem can't be solved.)

The form is dependent on which article you would you with the verb:

  • il => quel
  • lo => quello
  • la => quella
  • l' => quell'
  • i => quei
  • le => quelle
  • gli => quegli

For example, you would say gli uomini, and so you say quegli uomini. These forms are also used when followed by a relative pronoun: Quel che voglio = What I want / The one that I want / That which I want.