How to use the formal “Lei”: Italian grammar lesson 132

Key Takeaways

Dive into the nuances of Italian respect with our guide on Lei formale. Master the art of formal address, understand when to use it, and learn the grammatical quirks that come with this polite form of ‘you’.

  • Lei formale isn’t just for ladies! Use it to show respect to both men and women in formal situations or when chatting with someone older or in a position of authority. 🤵👵
  • Stuck in a formal setting like a job interview or meeting new clients? Whip out the Lei formale to make a stellar impression with your impeccable manners. 🎩
  • Feel awkward using ‘she’ for a dude? Get over it! In Italian, lei formale takes feminine pronouns even when you’re talking to a man. Just roll with it. 🙃
  • Keep your adjectives and past participles masculine when addressing a man with lei formale. It’s a quirky language dance, but you’ll look like a pro. 💃🕺
  • Writing a formal letter? Show some class by capitalizing Lei and related pronouns. It’s like giving your words a fancy top hat. 🎩✉️
  • When someone suggests switching to tu, it’s like being invited to the cool kids’ table. But remember, it’s their call, not yours. No gatecrashing! 😎

Quick facts

What’s unique about the pronoun "Lei" in Italian?

"Lei" is used as a formal version of "tu" for both genders.

When should you use "Lei formale" in Italian?

Use it with strangers, in formal work settings, or when addressing authority figures.

How does one switch from formal to informal address in Italian?

The older or more authoritative person suggests switching with "diamoci del tu."

How is "Lei formale" conjugated in Italian?

It conjugates the same as "lei" in third person singular: lei fa, lei pensa.

How should pronouns referring back to "Lei formale" be handled?

They must be in the feminine form, even if addressing a man.

How do adjectives and past participles behave with "Lei formale"?

They retain their masculine form when addressing a man despite using "Lei."

What’s a key point about written formal communication in Italian?

Pronouns like "Lei" and its references are often capitalized for formality.

How do Italians refer to using formal or informal address?

They use the phrases "dare del lei" for formal and "dare del tu" for informal.

What’s a common phrase for requesting informal address?

"Dammi del tu" asks someone to use informal "tu" instead of formal "Lei."

Can you provide an example of "Lei formale" in a formal request?

"Signor Bianchi, Le chiediamo cortesemente di…" means "Mr. Bianchi, we kindly ask you to…"

My Thoughts

What is Lei formale in Italian?

Wait a second… Isn’t lei the pronoun for the third person feminine? It is, indeed.

However, Lei is also used as a formal version of the second person tu (both for addressing men and women).

Informal: Alberto, (tu) sei davvero molto gentile!

Alberto, you are so very kind!

Formal: Signor Cucchi, (lei) è davvero molto gentile!

Mr. Cucchi, you are so very kind!

È importante usare Lei in contesti formali.

When to use Lei formale?

Now that you know what pronoun to use when addressing someone formally, let’s have a look at the situations in which it is appropriate.

We use the lei formale:

  • To address people we do not know, especially if they are older than us.
  • In formal settings at work (an interview, a meeting with new clients, etc.)
  • To talk to a person representing authority or a specific social position (police officers, professors, doctors, etc.)

Note that it is always the older person or the one in the highest position of authority that can suggest switching to more informal communication.

In this case, they will say something along the lines of diamoci del tu (let’s address each other using tu).

Non conosco bene il Signor Rossi.

How to use Lei formale?

Now that you know in which situation to use Lei, let’s see how to use it correctly!

As we have already mentioned, lei also means she, so here’s the good news: the conjugation of lei formale is exactly the same as lei in the third person singular (lei fa, lei pensa, lei mangia, etc.).

And remember, even if it can be confusing at first, we use lei formale to address both women and men!

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It is also essential to note that all pronouns that refer back to lei formale must also be in the feminine, even if we are talking to a man:

Signor Belli, parli più forte per favore. Non la sento!

Mr. Belli, speak more loudly please, I can’t hear you!

Buongiorno signore, come posso aiutarla?

Good morning sir, how can I help you?

Yet, remember that, when addressing a man, all adjectives and past participles maintain their masculine form, even if the pronoun is Lei:

Signor Cucchi, (lei) è stato davvero coraggioso!

Mr. Cucchi, you were so brave!

Signora Rossi, Lei ha dimenticato il suo ombrello.

Practice with Quizlet

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

Are there extra considerations about Lei formale?

Yes! Here are some more interesting points about the lei formale:

  • In very formal written communications, Lei and all pronouns that refer back to it might be capitalized:

Gentile Signora Bianchi, La informiamo che…

Dear Mrs. Bianchi, we inform you that…

Signor Bianchi, Le chiediamo cortesemente di…

Mr. Bianchi, we kindly ask you to…

  • To address someone with Lei or with tu in Italian is referred as dare del lei or dare del tu a qualcuno.

Dammi del tu.

Address me with tu.

Non darmi del Lei, per favore. Non sono così vecchio!

Don’t address me with lei, please. I am not that old!

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions


How do you conjugate formal Lei?

Because "Lei" is also used to refer to she, the conjugation of the formal "Lei" is identical to the third person singular "lei".

Is "Lei" feminine in Italian?

In Italian, the polite and formal "Lei" is used when addressing both men and women.

Italian word of the day
Non capivo più niente dal sonno.
I was so tired that I couldn’t think.
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