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Learning Italian - Italian Subject Pronouns

By Sonal Panse

A brief look at Italian Subject Pronouns. We discuss the Italian subject pronouns for both formal and informal use, and when the pronouns can be left out of speech, because they are implicitly understood.

The Italian Subject Pronouns:

Subject pronouns are pronouns that are used in place of the subject of the sentence. Examples of subject pronouns are “I”, “You”, “He”, “She”, “It”, “We” and “They”. In Italian, they are -

  • I - “Io”
  • You - “Tu”, “Voi”, “Lei” and “Loro”
  • He - “Lui”, “egli” (formal) and “esso” (formal)
  • She - “Lei”, “ella” (formal) and “essa” (formal)
  • We - “Noi”
  • They - “loro, “essi” (masculine form, formal) and “esse” (feminine form, formal

In the Italian language, subject pronouns can often be omitted as it is possible to understand the meaning of a sentence even without them. Italian conjugated verbs usually provide sufficient information regarding people and numbers.

For example - Instead of writing “Esso È Caldo” (It is warm), you can simply say “È Caldo”, omitting the “It”.You can write “Dove vivete?” (Where do you live?) omitting the “You”.“They are charming” can simply be written as “Affascinano”.Subject pronouns are used only in instances where some confusion regarding meaning might arise without them or where it is necessary to have subject pronouns for stress or contrast purposes.

Thing to remember - The Italian language has separate formal and informal forms of address. It is polite to use the formal mode of address when speaking to strangers or persons in authority. In fact, unless you are asked to, using the informal form of address would be considered rather rude. The informal mode of address is only to be used for friends, family, children and animals.

Let's take a look at some Italian subject pronouns:

First person subject pronouns are the singular “Io” (I), pronounced as “ee-oh”, and the plural “Noi” (We), pronounced as “noy”.

Examples -

  • I have a cat - Ho un gatto.
  • We have cats - Abbiamo gatti. Here, as mentioned earlier, the subject pronoun “Noi” (We) is not necessary for understanding the sentence and so is omitted.

The second person subject pronoun “You” has four forms in Italian. They are “Tu”, “Voi”, “Lei” and “Loro”. Pronounced as “too”, “voy”, “lay”and “lo-roh”. The singular “tu” and the plural “voi” are familiar pronoun forms, and used, as mentioned, only for family, friends, children and animals. The singular “Lei” and “Loro”, which is its plural, are the formal pronoun forms and used to address strangers or authority figures. To avoid any confusion with “lei” (her) and “loro” (they), “Lei” and “Loro” are usually written with the L capitalized.

Examples -

  • You have a green hat - Avete un cappello verde
  • You open the door - Tu apri il portello
  • You write some letters - Voi scrivete alcune lettere. Here “You” is plural.
  • You wear a green hat - Lei indossa un cappello verde
  • You read some books - Loro leggono alcuni libri. Here “You” is plural. This form is used in formal situations only. Otherwise “loro” is used for “they”.

The third person singular subject pronouns are “lui” (He) and “lei” (She). These are the familiar forms of address. In the formal forms of address, “lui” becomes “egli” or “esso” and “lei” becomes “ella” or “essa”. The third person plural subject pronoun is “loro (They), which becomes “essi” (the masculine form) and “esse” (the feminine form) in the formal form of address.

Usually, you will not encounter “egli”, “ella”, “essi”, “esse”, “essa” and “esso” too often in everyday spoken Italian language. They seem to be mostly reserved for formal or literary purposes.

Examples -

  • He is visiting Aunt Kari - Lui sta visitando la zia Kari
  • She is going to school - Lei sta andando alla scuola
  • They come to visit - Loro vengono visitare
  • He is the President - Egli è il presidente
  • She is the Defense Minister - Ella è il ministro di difesa
  • The delegates are here. They are from Nigeria -I delegati sono qui. Essi provengono dalla Nigeria