Top Common Mistakes When Learning Italian -3. Subject pronouns


What are Subject Pronouns

Personal pronouns refer to the person of the verb.

IO mangio la mela

The person is called “Subject” and the word “IO” is the pronoun for the person. For this reason, IO is a Subject Pronoun.

There are six ways to describe persons as pronouns:

ItalianEnglish
ioI
tuyou
lui/leihe/she/it
noiwe
voiyou (plural)
lorothey

In Italian, there is no translation for the pronoun it.
Instead, everything is considered masculine or feminine. 

To describe things and animals as pronouns you may use the third person pronouns.

In the past people were referred to things and animal by using esso/essa.
Today these forms are not used anymore in Italian spoken language.
They are found only in written language, old grammar books and in some dialects.

Of course, most of the time you don’t need a third person pronoun in a phrase as the Italian language don’t need it.

Determining the Subject 

➤  Determining the subject of a verb is essential to conjugation, and, therefore making a sentence and speaking.

  • (io) voglio visitare Venezia. (I want to visit Venice.)
  • (tu) vuoi imparare l’italiano. (You want to learn Italian.)
  • Il bus parte alle 4.30. (The bus is leaving at 4:30.)
  • Io e Roberta siamo fratello e sorella. (Roberta and I are brother and sister. )
  • (voi) siete molto intelligenti. (You are all very intelligent.)
  • Gli italiani amano la vita. (Italians love life. )

Common Mistakes using Subject Pronouns

The personal pronouns used as the subject of a sentence are less frequently used in Italian than in English and other languages.

In fact, in Italian, the subject pronoun is generally omitted, since the subject is also expressed through the verb ending.
Having both the subject pronoun and the verb ending, therefore, is not necessary and is simplified by dropping the pronoun.

It is not necessary to use a subject pronoun to say the sentence :

Mangio la mela. (I eat the apple)

Why?

Because every person has a different ending of the verb.

The ending of the verb already tells us the person.

In this example the verb MANGIARE:

Guardano la televisione. (They watch TV)

You know the subject is “loro” (they) because “guardano” is conjugated in the third-person plural form.

Italian has three ways to express the English term you.
The informal subject pronouns tu (sing.) and voi (pl.) are used for relatives, friends, children, and animals.
The formal pronouns Lei (sing.) is used for strangers, acquaintances, and older people.


When to Use Subject Pronouns

There are, however, some cases when the subject pronoun is used. You will sometimes hear subject pronouns used for clarity, emphasis, or courtesy.

➤ Clarity:

To better understand who the subject is in cases where verb forms are the same (in subjunctive tense when the verb endings are identical) and when there is more than one subject so that you can avoid ambiguity or possible confusion.

Lui parla l’italiano ma lei parla il francese. (He speaks Italian but she speaks French.)

In the same sentence, there are two different subjects –>
LUI and LEI.

Voglio che tu vada (subjunctive) con tua figlia. I want you to go with your daughter. 

In this sentence, there is a subjunctive verb where the first three singular persons (io-tu-lui/lei) have the same ending.

  • (che) io vada
  • (che) tu vada
  • (che) lui/lei vada

➤ Emphasis:

To clearly underline the fact that the subject will be performing the action:

Tu viaggi in Italia; io sto qui. (You travel to Italy; I’m staying here.)

Noi siamo italiani, voi siete francesi. (We are Italians, you are French.)

Tu hai mangiato tutta la pizza! (You ate all the pizza !)

➤ Politeness:

To show respect and maintain a formality with another person.

Lei è molto gentile. (You are very kind.)

Other cases

When there is no verb in a sentence. 

Come stai? Bene, e tu? How are you? Fine and you?

After nemmeno (neither), anche (also, too), neanche (not even), and neppure (not even).

Bevi anche tu il caffè? (Do you also drink coffe?)

Nemmeno io bevo il gelato. (I don’t drink coffee either)


Keep in mind that:

IO 

is never capitalized unless is at the beginning of a sentence.

TU

The familiar singular form TU is used with friends and family. Otherwise, you need formal LEI.

LEI 

is the formal equivalent of tu. It is used when meeting people for the first time, in business situations, or with older people.

It is used for both masculine and feminine. When writing, it is capitalized to distinguish it from lei, meaning “she.” 

Of course, at the beginning of a sentence, there is no distinction between the two pronouns, so the reader has to find out the meaning through the context of the sentence.

LORO

The plural form loro is used to address more that one person. It is used for both masculine and feminine or for a group that includes both males and female.

There is no subject pronoun it in Italian. Lui and lei are used for people, animals, and things.

The traditional subject pronouns for people are:

  • egli (he),
  • ella (she),
  • essi/esse (they).

You may find them used in older writings and formal settings.
Today, the third person pronouns lui, lei, and loro are always used as pronouns in conversation and informal writings.

Never say: Egli legge il libro.

Instead say: Lui legge il libro.


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