Formal “lei”: Italian grammar lesson 132

To master this grammar topic, take Lesson 132 of the audio course Ripeti Con Me!
lei formale
I WANT TO LEARN*

Lei formale: Explained

In English, we can use the same personal pronoun, “you”, for addressing someone both formally and informally.

It is not the same in Italian: we use the pronoun tu for informal interactions, while we prefer to use the lei formale (formal you) to address someone more formally.

Wait a second, though… 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!

formal talk Italian

Lei formale: When to use

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 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).

formal Italian

Lei formale: Rules

Now that you know in which situation to use lei, let’s see how to actually 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!

Free Guide
How to Learn Languages Fast

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!

lei formale Italian

Practice with Quizlet

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

Lei formale: More info

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 is referred to in Italian as dare del lei / 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!

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

Stefano

Italian language tutor, course author, and polyglot. After learning 12 languages, I can tell you that we all master languages by listening and mimicking. With my method, you'll be speaking Italian from Lesson 1.

Follow me to fluency

Receive my free resources once a week together with my best offers! No need to look around, just tell me where to send everything.
I WANT TO LEARN*
Opt out at any time.

Leave a Reply

To master this topic, take a lesson from my audio course!

Try my courses for free​
ripeti con me mockup sm
Overcome your Barriers

Anything holding you back from becoming fluent?
Get on the right track today with my free checklist!

pain learning languages checklist preview
How long to fluency?

Find out how long it will take you to master Italian!
Get on the right track in 3 minutes.

dolce vita logo

We're already friends!

Coming from Luca and Marina?
Here's a special deal for you!
Just tell me where I should send the coupon.

50% OFF
all language resources

We're already friends!

Coming from All Language Resources?
Here's a special deal for you!
Just tell me where I should send the coupon.

50% OFF
GRAB A COUPON NOW, REDEEM IT LATER
50% OFF

To receive free resources once a week together with my best offers, just tell me where to send everything. Opt out at any time.