Common Mistakes with Italian Subject Pronouns

posted in: Vocabulary & Idioms | 2

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. Here you can learn more about how to avoid common mistakes with Italian Subject Pronouns.


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)

Common Mistakes with Italian Subject Pronouns


Why?

Because every person has a different ending to 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.

you - tu/voi/lei(formale) Top Common Mistakes When Learning Italian - Subject pronouns


When using the subject pronoun

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

➤ for 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

➤ for Emphasis:

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

✳️ Tu viaggi in Italia; io sto qui. (You are travelling 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 !)

➤ for Politeness:

To show respect and maintain a formality with another person.

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

How to use formal or friendly expressions – LEI vs TU

Find out more about the formal LEI

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 coffee?)

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


📌 Keep in mind:

IO 

is never capitalized unless it 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 than one person. It is used for both masculine and feminine or for a group that includes both males and females.

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.

❌ Don’t say: Egli legge il libro.

✅ Instead say: Lui legge il libro.


Practice Subject Pronoun


Insert the subject’s personal pronoun only when it is necessary to understand the sentence.


newsletter Top Common Mistakes When Learning Italian - Subject pronouns


What’s next?

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free resources:

Italian subject personal pronouns

Top 10 Italian Phrases That Make You Sound Like a Local

Common Mistakes with Italian Subject Pronouns

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2 Responses

  1. Britt-Marie Lindahl

    Gelato doesn‘t men coffee, but icecream, as far as I know.

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