Double Pronouns in Italian: Italian grammar lesson 115

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double pronouns in Italian
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There are many different types of pronouns in Italian.

In this post, firstly we will look at the difference between direct and indirect pronouns, and then we will learn how to combine them to form the double pronouns in Italian.

pronomi italiano

Italian pronouns

If you’ve never studied a foreign language before, you may not know exactly what pronouns are… And that’s ok.

Let me help!

Pronouns are short words that replace one or more nouns. For example, in English, you might refer to “my friend” with “he” or” him”.

These are pronouns and refer back to a noun that was already mentioned, or to the whole content of the sentence.

Italian direct pronouns

As you can tell from their name, direct object pronouns replace a direct object in the sentence. And “what is a direct object?” you might ask.

A direct object is the direct recipient of a verb and usually answers the questions Cosa? (what?) or Chi? (whom?).

Let’s look at some examples:

I am reading (what?) the newspaper.

Io sto leggendo (cosa?) un giornale.

Un giornale is a direct object in the sentence above.

Let’s now replace the direct object with a direct object pronoun:

I am reading it.

Io lo sto leggendo.

Lo, which stands for il giornale (the newspaper), is the direct object pronoun.

Direct object pronouns in Italian are:

mi me
ti you (familiar singular)
lo him, it
la her, you (polite singular), it
ci us
vi you (plural)
li them (masculine)
le them (feminine)

Indirect object pronouns

As you might have guessed, indirect object pronouns replace an indirect object in a sentence. Indirect objects answer the questions A chi? (to whom?) A cosa? (to what?).

These pronouns are actually very similar to the direct object pronouns, they only change in their third-person singular:

mi to me
ti to you (familiar singular)
gli to him, it
le to her, you (polite singular), it
ci to us
vi to you (plural)
loro (gli) to them (masculine/feminine)

In the third person plural, you can either use loro after the verb or gli before the verb as an indirect object pronoun:

Hai detto ai miei che arriverò tardi? – Gli hai detto che arriverò tardi? – Hai detto loro che arriverò tardi?

Have you told my parents I will be late? – Have you told them I will be late?

Loro is more grammatically correct, but gli is far more common.

combined pronouns

Pronouns: where to place them

Unlike in English, both direct and indirect object pronouns often go before a conjugated verb:

Hai finito il libro? – Lo hai finito?

Have you finished the book? – Have finished it?

This does not count if the verb is in the infinitive or imperative form, with which pronouns join onto the end of the verb to form one word.

Compra il pane. – Compralo.

Buy the bread. – Buy it.

Indirect object pronouns are also used with verbs such as piacere (to like), importare (to care), interessare (to be interested in).

Le piacciono i cani.

She likes dogs.

Non gli importa niente.

He does not care.

pronomi combinati

Double pronouns in Italian

You’ve learned how to use Italian direct object pronouns to say:

She brings it—it being a book

Lo porta.

You’ve also learned how to use indirect object pronouns to say:

She brings the book to her.

Le porta il libro.

But how to say, “She brings it to her”? It’s easy: you combine the direct object pronoun and the indirect object pronoun into one, resulting in “Glielo porta”, which roughly translates to “to her it she brings.”

Here is how to do it.

How to form double pronouns in Italian

This handy table lists all of the pronomi combinati (combined pronouns) you’ll need.

Direct object pronouns lo, la, li, and le (it and them, male or female) run along the top; indirect object pronouns mi, ti, gli, le, ci, vi, loro run vertically on the left (to me, to you, to him or her, to us, to you, and to them).

lo la li le
mi me lo me la me li me le
ti te lo te la te li te le
gli, le glielo gliela glieli gliele
ci ce lo ce la ce li ce le
vi ve lo ve la ve li ve le
loro/gli glielo/ lo…loro gliela/ la…loro glieli/ li…loro gliele/ le…loro

A few things to keep in mind:

  • The indirect comes before the direct when combining pronouns (mi plus la, mi plus le, and so on);
  • The i’s of the indirect pronouns transform to e’s when they’re combined (mi to me, ti to te, ci to ce, and vi to ve), which is known as the forma tonica in Italian.
  • The female and male indirect third-person pronouns (to her, to him—see note below regarding loro) are both gli and combine with the direct object pronoun to form a single word. Glielo, gliela, glieli, and gliele, to name a few. The others stay separate.

Let’s Practice

Let’s go over two examples one by one, replacing the direct and indirect objects with their appropriate pronouns, arranging them correctly, and then combining them.

Keep in mind that when it comes to pronouns, gender and number are everything.

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Example 1

I give the coffee to the man.

Do il caffe’ all’uomo.

  • Identify the correct direct object pronoun for il caffe’: lo.

To the man it I give.

All’uomo lo do.

  • Choose the appropriate indirect object pronoun for all’uomo: gli.

To him it I give.

Gli lo do.

  • Combine the two in the proper form:

I give it to him.

Glielo do.

Example 2

We give the dresses to the little girl.

Diamo i vestiti alla bambina.

  • Choose the proper direct object pronoun for the word I vestiti: li.

To the girl them we give.

Alla bambina li diamo.

  • Identify the correct indirect object pronoun for alla bambina: le.

To her them we give.

Le li diamo.

  • Combine the two in the proper form:

We give them to her.

Glieli diamo.

Loro/a loro

Purists believe that the third-person plural indirect object pronoun loro (to them) should not be combined with the direct object pronoun; it should be kept separate—lo porto loro: I take it to them—especially in writing.

However, gli is frequently used to replace loro (or a loro), and it is widely recognized by grammarians, at least in spoken Italian (even the revered Treccani).

  • Porto i compiti agli studenti: I bring the homework to the students.
  • Li porto loro: I bring them to them (in writing).
  • Glieli porto (spoken).

Position of double pronouns

It’s worth noting that in some verb modes, the pronouns are connected to the verb:

In the imperative form:

Diglielo!

Tell him!

Cantamela!

Sing it to/for me!

In the infinitive present and past:

Sarebbe meglio portarglieli.

It would be best to take them to them.

Dovresti dirglielo.

You should tell him/ her.

The pronouns can go before or after the infinitive in servile verbs: Potresti dirglielo, or Glielo potresti dire.

In the gerund present and past:

Portandoglieli, si sono rotti.

They broke taking them to him.

Avendoglieli portati, sono tornata a casa.

Having taken them to him, I went home.

Essendomela trovata davanti, l’ho salutata.

Having found her in front of me, I said hello to her.

And the participio passato:

Datoglielo, sono partiti. Having given it to him, they left.

Cadutogli il portafoglio, si fermò. His wallet having fallen, he stopped.

Otherwise, the pronouns come first, followed by the verb. The non comes first in negative sentences.

Glieli porterei se avessi tempo.

I would take it to her if I had time.

Te le darei ma non sono mie.

I would give them to you, but they are not mine.

Se non glieli avessi dati, glieli avrei dati io.

If you had not given them to her, I would have.

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

Final thoughts

Combining direct and indirect object pronouns is much easier than it appears at first glance.

It will take some practice, but these pronouns will become natural and easy to you, and you will not have to think too much before using them.

Continue practicing and you’ll get better at it, te lo garantisco!

Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!

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