Pronouns are an essential part of any language, used to indicate or replace the person, animal or thing that is either doing or receiving an action.
Italian pronouns are mainly divided into:
- Italian subject pronouns
- Italian object pronouns (direct and indirect)
- Italian possessive pronouns
- Italian relative pronouns
- Italian reflexive pronouns
If you feel confused by all these categories, you’re not alone. Most people don’t even know what a pronoun is, but in this article we’ll learn all about them and how to use them properly.
Italian subject pronouns
Italian subject pronouns are the equivalent of the English I, you, he, she, etc.
The third-person pronoun are lui (or egli), lei (or ella), esso and essa (it), loro (or essi). Lui, lei and loro are commonly used in spoken language, while egli, ella and essi are used almost only in literature. Esso and essa are seldom used, with the exception of some regional uses.
- Io sono di Roma, lei è di Milano.
I’m from Rome, she’s from Milan.
- Loro non parlano bene l’italiano.
They don’t speak Italian well.
Unlike English, the third-person pronoun lei (which is normally singular and feminine) can be used to address someone we’re not quite familiar with, like elder people. It’s basically a polite and formal way to address someone you’ve just met and is older than you, or in a higher position than you. With friends, family, peers and children it’s ok to use the pronoun tu.
So, if you hear two people having a formal conversation and using the pronoun “lei”, chances are they’re not talking about a third (female) person, but they’re actually addressing each other politely.
- Io ho fatto buon viaggio, e lei?
I had a nice travel, and you?
Another difference with English is that Italian pronouns indicating the subject are often omitted when the reference it’s obvious, because otherwise it may sound repetitive.
- (Io) Sono andato in banca
I went to the bank
- (Tu) Vuoi venire al cinema con me?
Do you want to come to the cinema with me?
However, if you use the word anche (also) referring to the subject, it is mandatory to include the pronoun in the sentence.
- Anche io voglio venire con voi.
I also want to come with you.
Italian object pronouns
Italian object pronouns are used instead of a noun to indicate who is affected by the action of the verb. There are two kinds or object pronouns: direct and indirect.
These are the direct pronouns in Italian:
Direct pronouns are used to indicate the direct recipient of the action of a verb, and they replace object nouns. This means that, instead of using a noun in a sentence (be it a place, a person or a thing) you use the appropriate pronoun. For example:
- Marco mangia la pasta -> Marco la mangia.
Marco eats pasta -> Marco eats it.
- Porto Marco a casa alle tre, poi passo a riprenderlo alle cinque.
I bring Marco home at 3pm, then I come pick him up again at 5pm.
Here, “la” replaces “pizza” in the first example, while “lo” replaces “Marco” in the second sentence. To choose the correct direct object pronoun you need to consider whether the direct object in the sentence is masculine or feminine and singular or plural.
Direct pronouns are used to answer the question “Who? What?”. In some cases, the direct pronouns can be put either before the verb or right after it. This is the case when two verbs are joined by a preposition (“a” in the following example).
- Ti vengo a trovare domani.
Vengo a trovarti domani.
I’ll come see you tomorrow.
Italian direct pronouns always follow the verb when this is used in the imperative, gerund or infinitive form:
- Guardandolo attentamente, mi sembra dimagrito.
Looking at him carefully, he seems to have lost weight.
- Accompagnarti a casa in auto non è un problema.
Driving you home is not a problem at all.
Let’s now move to indirect pronouns.
Indirect object pronouns
The Italian indirect pronouns are:
Unlike direct pronouns, who answer the questions “who?”, “what?”, indirect pronouns answer the questions “to whom?”, “to what?”. They are used to replace the object in those cases where the verb is followed by the preposition “a”.
- Ho mandato un sms a Lucia -> Le ho mandato un sms.
I’ve sent a sms to Lucia -> I’ve sent her an sms.
- Non l’ho ancora detto a Marco. Gli parlerò domani.
I haven’t told Marco yet, I’ll tell him tomorrow.
In this case, “le” replaces Lucia and “gli” replaces Marco. In the chart below we show you how to replace the object, so you will easily remember:
|Italian pronouns (weak)||Italian pronouns (strong)|
Pay attention to the use of the indirect pronoun loro, as it always follows the verb.
- Quando vedrò i miei amici, darò loro la notizia.
When I’ll see my friends, I’ll tell them the news.
While the third-person plural pronoun is “loro”, it is also acceptable to replace it with “gli”.
- Quando vedrò i miei amici, gli darò la notizia.
When I’ll see my friends, I’ll tell them the news.
Italian possessive pronouns
Let’s now jump into Italian possessive pronouns. Here they are:
As you can guess from the chart, in order to select the right possessive pronoun you need to know whether the name you’re replacing is masculine or feminine. In addition to that, you also need to know whether the name is singular or plural. Here are the plural possessive pronouns:
- Il libro non è mio, è suo.
The book isn’t mine, it’s his.
- Questo è il mio zaino, quello è il tuo.
This is my backpack, that one is yours.
You also need to remember that the possessive pronoun has to agree in gender and number with the definite articles “il, lo, la, il, gli, le”.
|Il mio||La mia|
|Il tuo||La tua|
|Il suo||La sua|
|Il nostro||La nostra|
|Il vostro||La vostra|
|Il loro||La loro|
|I miei||Le mie|
|I tuoi||Le tue|
|I suoi||Le sue|
|I nostri||Le nostre|
|I vostri||Le vostre|
|I loro||Le loro|
Also, don’t confuse possessive pronouns with possessive adjectives. In Italian, they look exactly the same, but they serve different purposes. The first actually replaces the noun, while the second modifies it. For instance:
- Questo è il mio libro. (possessive adjective, indicates whose book it is).
This is my book.
- È il mio. (possessive pronoun – replaces the name).
Italian relative pronouns
Italian has two types of relative pronouns:
- Invariable relative pronouns
- Variable relative pronouns
You may guess that the difference is that the latter change according to the other elements of the sentence.
The invariable pronouns are che, cui and chi. “Che” can replace a subject or a direct object (be it a person or a thing).
- La persona che hai conosciuto è mia sorella. (“che” replaces “la persona”).
The person that you’ve met is my sister.
- Conosci il ragazzo che lavora al supermercato? (“che” replaces “il ragazzo”).
Do you know the guy who works at the supermarket?
The exception is when “che” is preceded by the definite article “il”. In this case, the structure “il che”, refers to everything that is placed before it.
- Non riesco a trovare un insegnante di italiano, il che è un po’ frustrante. (“Il che” refers to “Non riesco a trovare un insegnante di italiano”).
I can’t find an Italian teacher, which is quite frustrating.
Cui replaces any other complement and is always preceded by a preposition.
- Il motivo per cui ti chiamo è per invitarti a cena.
The reason for which I’m calling you is to invite you to dinner.
- La città in cui mi sono trasferito non mi piace.
I don’t like the city in which I have moved.
When cui is preceded by the definite articles “il, la, le, i”, it indicates possession.
- Marco, la cui fidanzata è in America, si sente molto solo.
Marco, whose girlfriend is in America, feels rather lonely.
- Luisa, i cui genitori sono francesi, è nata in Italia.
Luisa, whose parents are French, was born in Italy.
Chi is used instead of structures such as “those who”, “the one who”, “the people who” or “everyone who”. Many Italian sayings start with “chi”, which refers to all people in general.
- Chi dorme non piglia pesci.
You (those who) snooze, you lose.
- Chi tace, acconsente.
Those who stay silent, agree. (Silent is consent).
- Chi la fa, l’aspetti.
Those who make something bad, shall expect it to come back (What goes around comes around).
The pronoun “il quale” and its gender/number variations, have the same functions as “che” and “chi”, meaning that it can replace the subject and the complements. You just need to pay attention to the gender and number of the noun that is being replaced and pick the correct pronoun.
|Masculine Singular||Masculine Plural||Feminine Singular||Feminine plural|
|Il quale||I quali||La quale||Le quali|
- La ragazza con la quale hai parlato è la mia amica Anna.
The girl with whom you talked is my friend Anna.
- Il ragazzo con il quale è venuto Marco è suo cugino.
The guy with whom Marco came with is his cousin.
In the sentences before, il quale and la quale replace two people (the girl and the guy); therefore, they agree with the gender and number of these two complements.
Italian reflexive pronouns
Let’s now see the last Italian pronouns in our list: reflexive pronouns. They work together with reflexive verbs, and they agree with the subject.
|Reflexive pronoun||English translation|
They are used to indicate that the action’s object is the same as the subject.
- Mi lavo.
I wash myself.
- Nonostante la sveglia, non si è svegliato.
Despite setting the alarm, he didn’t wake up.
Some verbs that are commonly used with reflexive pronouns are vestire (to get dressed), lavare (to wash), chiedere (to ask), pulire (to clean).
- Mi vesto ed esco.
I get dressed and I go out.
- Luca si sta lavando le mani.
Luca is washing his hands.
- Mi chiedo spesso perché non sia venuto.
I often ask myself why he didn’t come.
Italian pronouns are tiny little blocks that you need to master if you want to convey the right meaning and sound more natural as you speak. If you’re not sure whether you’re able to use them correctly, fear not! Take a look at our practice section below, and you’ll master them in no time.
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