How To Use Formal and Informal Italian Subject Pronouns

The Italian language can be quite a chore to learn, due to the different types of pronouns in use depending on the level of formality called upon by various situations. It would be helpful if you can have a short guide or some simple aids to remember the rules on how and when to use particular pronouns in formal or informal occasions. Remember that with Italian, the choice of formal or informal pronouns will depend on who you are talking with.

Here are some tips that can help one choose which pronouns are best used, and when they are appropriate.

1. The pronoun "you" can be said in four different ways in the Italian language. The four pronouns include tu, voi, Lei and Loro.

The pronoun tu is used for one person. The pronoun voi can be used for two or more people that are antecedent to the pronoun.  These two pronouns are the so-called familiar forms. These pronouns are only to be used with family members, close friends and children.

2. The pronoun Lei is for one person of either sex, while the pronoun Loro is used for the plural antecedent. These two pronouns are considered to be more formal than the earlier two. These pronouns are usually used to address strangers, acquaintances, people who are one's senior in terms of age, or those of high position or authority.

One must be careful with the capitalization issues with these two pronouns, though. The pronoun lei in lower case means "she" while the uppercase Lei means "you." Writing these pronouns in the upper case signifies that they are being used in a more formal way.

3. The use of these pronouns progresses as two or more people grow closer as friends of colleagues. If one of the two parties feel that the use of pronouns should be change from the formal set to the warmer, more familiar set, the person may ask possiamo darci del tu? which is a proposal to switch to use the tu form instead of the more formal pronouns.

4. In occasions where in one has to address strangers, it is more apt to use Lei instead of tu as a matter of decorum. To Italians using the informal pronoun for the second person can be considered disrespectful, especially if you don't know the person whom you're talking to.

5. "Please" and other words that supposedly signify being polite and respectful are not used as often in the Italian language. This sensitivity to decorum and courtesy is often conveyed through the tone of the voice instead of the use of words.

The grammatical rules that come with the use of the pronouns can be quite a handful, but it all really boils down to the importance of knowing when to be more formal and when to be casual with your manner of speaking. The simple rule of keeping it formal when talking to strangers and people of authority should cover for any possible contingency. With enough practice, one should easily get the hang of it.


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