Formal “you” in Italian
As you might already know, to speak to someone formally in Italian we use the personal pronoun lei (formal you) instead of tu (informal “you”).
The pronoun lei is exactly the same as the feminine singular third person, and conjugates in the same way.
Signor Botti, lei è sempre il benvenuto qui.
Botti, you are always welcome here.
Anche lei è andata al concerto, signora?
Did you go to the concert as well, madam?
This pronoun is also used to give formal instructions and commands, for example at work or in any other formal setting, with a mood called the imperative.
The formal imperative
There exist two forms of the imperative in Italian, the informal and the formal imperative.
The informal imperative is used with friends and family, and generally people with whom you would use the informal pronoun tu (informal you).
The formal imperative, on the other hand, is used with acquaintances and people you don’t know well, older people, and professional relationships.
The way we form the formal imperative is very simple and depends on the verb we want to use.
Formal imperative with –ARE verbs
To build the formal imperative we divide the Italian verbs into 2 groups. Let’s have a look at the first group:
- Verbs in –ARE: cantare (to sing), mangiare (to eat), guardare (to watch)
With these verbs we simply add the ending –i to the root of the verb.
Have a look at the examples below. Note that lei is often omitted.
- mangiare – (Lei) mangi
- cantare – (Lei) canti
- guardare – (Lei) guardi
Formal imperative with –ERE, –IRE and irregular verbs
Now on to the second group of verbs:
- Verbs in –ERE and –IRE: mettere (to put), dormire (to sleep), correre (to run).
With these verbs, on the other hand, we simply add the ending –a to the root:
- mettere – (Lei) metta
- dormire – (Lei) dorma
- correre – (Lei) corra
Of course, there are always some irregular verbs. Here are some of the most commonly used, conjugated in the formal ‘Lei’ imperative form:
- fare(to do) – Lei faccia
- andare (to go) – Lei vada
- dire (to say) – Lei dica
- dare (to give) – Lei dia
- stare (to stay) – Lei stia
- essere (to be) – Lei sia
- avere (to have) – Lei abbia
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