The idea that there are two ways to address people is an important aspect of Italian culture. Learn more about How to use Italian formal LEI or informal TU.
As you are probably aware, many foreign languages have both formal and informal ways of speaking to people. This fundamental characteristic should be observed in Italian. With close friends, young people, children, and family members use the informal pronoun tu (you).
When speaking to someone you don’t know well (a superior, shopkeeper, waiter, teacher, professor, and so on), however, you should address him or her properly — that is, with lei (you). When you get to know someone, you might switch from formal to informal.
You may be asking when to use formal and informal speaking, especially when social conventions change among countries. Let’s start with the best places and times to speak formal Italian. You can generally use the formal form of address – LEI –
Guide to the Italian Formal and Informal “You”
The third-person singular feminine is used in the formal register. This is why speaking in a formal way is referred to as “DARE DEL LEI” Speaking informally is referred to as “DARE DEL TU“.
LEI (the Formal Italian You)
- adults you don’t know
- older people
When you get to know someone better, depending on your relationship, you may switch to the informal form of address.
Lei must be written in capital L.
TU (the informal Italian You)
Tu requires the second person singular verb form.
- members of your family,
- among young people.
The subject can be omitted.
It is necessary for the verb construction if you want to be clear or if you want to emphasize the subject.
|How are you?||(Lei) come sta?||(Tu) come stai?|
|Very well, thank you and you?||Molto bene grazie, e Lei?||Molto bene grazie, e tu?|
|Excuse me, what time is it?||Scusi, che ore sono?||Scusa, che ore sono?|
|Where are you from?||Di dove è (Lei)?||Di dove sei (tu)?|
Conjugating the Italian Formal “You” with some verbs
Each subject pronoun in Italian has its unique structure for each conjugation of the verb, according to grammar rules. In fact, TU is conjugated as a distinct pronoun from the word Lei.
While the pronouns Lei (formal) and lei (feminine) are used differently, their verb conjugation forms are the same.
Examples with Regular Verbs:
PARLARE (1st conjugation – ARE)
CREDERE (2nd conjugation – ERE)
SENTIRE (3rd conjugation – IRE)
It Can Be Perplexing – How to use Italian formal LEI or informal TU
It’s difficult to know whether to use the “tu” form and when to use the “lei” form, so don’t bother if you get it incorrect at first. Italians understand that learning a new language may be challenging, so try your best.
How Italian People Actually Feel about “DARE DEL LEI”
There is no question that it is good to be respectful and formal in some situations, but many Italians choose the informal “tu” over the “lei” even when it is required to be a bit more formal.
Using body language
In Italy, people who are familiar with each other, such as family and friends, commonly hug and kiss on both cheeks.
Italians kiss twice: once right, once left.
Another common physical greeting is the more formal handshake.
You shake hands with people you meet for the first time and with those you don’t know well.
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