By basic definition, a “Clitic” is a word or part of a word that is structurally dependent on a neighboring word and cannot stand on its own.
This is a very broad subject and often the most confusing for someone new to the Italian language. It broken down into multiple sections and hopefully explained as directly as possible.
Direct Object Pronouns replace the object (the thing or person) and take the place of the noun. The direct object pronoun receives the action of the verb directly, so there is no preposition after the verb. It answers the question “what?” or “whom?”.
First, here are some basic breakdowns and examples to give you a better understanding of direct objects:
|Prendo il coltello. (I take the knife.)||What is the Direct Object? → The knife|
|Lo prendo. (I take it.)||What did I take? → The knife|
|Mangio una mela. (I eat the apple.)||What is the Direct Object? → The apple|
|La mangio. (I eat it.)||What did I eat? → The apple|
|Taglio i pomodori. (I cut the tomatoes.)||What is the Direct Object? → The tomatoes|
|Li taglio. (I cut them.)||What did I cut? → The tomatoes|
|Cuoco le cipolle. (I cook the onions.)||What is the Direct Object? → The onions|
|Le cuoco. (I cook them.)||What did I cook? → The onions|
Here are various rules of grammar to be followed when using Italian direct object pronouns:
Rule 1: In Italian, a direct object pronoun is placed immediately BEFORE a conjugated verb.
- Li ho invitati a cena. (I have invited them to dinner.)
- L’ho veduta ieri. (I saw her yesterday.)
- Ci hanno guardati e ci hanno seguiti. (They watched us and followed us.)
Rule 2: The only exception to this rule is when the object pronoun is attached to the END of an infinitive*. Note that the final –e of the infinitive is dropped.
- È importante mangiarla ogni giorno. (It is important to eat it every day.)
- È una buon’idea invitarli. (It’s a good idea to invite them.)
- Volevo comprarla. (I wanted to buy it.)
Rule 3: In a negative sentence, the Italian word “non” must come BEFORE the object pronoun.
- Non la mangia. (He doesn’t eat it.)
- Perchè non li inviti? (Why don’t you invite them?)
Rule 4: They are attached to ecco to express “here I am”, “here you are”, “here he is”, and so on.
- Dov’è la signorina? – Eccola! (Where is the young woman? – Here she is!)
- Hai trovato le chiavi? – Sì, eccole! (Have you found the keys? – Yes, here they are!)
Rule 5: A few Italian verbs that take a direct object, such as ascoltare, aspettare, cercare, and guardare correspond to English verbs that are used with prepositions (to listen to, to wait for, to look for, to look at).
- Cosa cerchi? (What are you looking for?)
- Cerco la matita. (I’m looking for the pencil.)
- La cerco da un’ora! (I’ve been looking for it for an hour!)
Rule 6: The pronouns lo and la are often shortened to l’.
(*) The “infinitive” of all regular verbs in Italian end in -are, -ere, or -ire and are referred to as first, second, or third conjugation verbs, respectively. The initial part of the infinitive, called the stem, conveys the meaning of the word and is the form found in the dictionary.
Tonic Pronouns are sometimes put after the verb for emphasis and use a different set of words.
Except for “me” and “te,” these are the same forms as the subject pronouns learned way back in Basics 1 & 2. You should also use tonic pronouns following a preposition.
- Non so niente di te. (I don’t know anything about you.)
Indirect Object Pronouns instead answer the question “to whom?” or “for whom?” and are nearly identical to the direct object pronouns, except for the ones in Third Person (to him, to her, to them). In Italian, “a“(to) is almost always used before the indirect object noun, making it easy to spot in a sentence.
(to/for) you (pl.)
(to/for) him/her, it
In the example below, “my sister” answers the question of “to whom do I write?” Therefore, “mia sorella” is the indirect object.
- Scrivo a mia sorella. (I write to my sister.)
- Le scrivo. (I write to her.)
You can also use the tonic pronouns mentioned above after the verb for emphasis or clarification, but with the indirect object, “a” is required:
- Scrivo a lei.
The only exception is “loro,” which does not require “a”:
- Scrivo ai miei amici. (I write to my friends.)
- Scrivo loro. (I write to them.)
The only other real difference between direct and indirect object pronouns in the Italian language, is a preposition. As learned in a previous lesson, a preposition is essentially a “linking” word that shows the relationship between a noun and a pronoun and other words in a sentence. While there are obviously many prepositions in the Italian language, the two most common are “a” and “di“.
- Il professore gli ha spiegato il problema. (The teacher explained the problem to him.)
- Le ho dato quattro biglietti. (I gave her four tickets.)
- Ci offrono un bicchiere di vino. (They offer us a glass of wine.)
Here are various rules of grammar (similar to those of the direct object pronoun) to be followed when using Italian indirect object pronouns:
Rule 1: Indirect object pronouns PRECEDE the verb, except for “loro“, which follows the verb.
- Gli parlo. (I talk to him.)
- Le parlo. (I talk to her.)
- Parliamo loro domani. (We’ll talk to them tomorrow.)
Rule 2: Like direct object pronouns, the indirect object can be attached to an infinitive (as explained above), dropping the final -e on the end.
- Non ho tempo di parlargli. (I have no time to talk to him.)
- Vado a parlarle. (I’m going to talk to her.)
Rule 3: If the infinitive comes before a form of the verbs dovere (to have to), potere (may, can), or volere (to want), the indirect object pronoun is either attached to the infinitive (after the –e is dropped) or placed before the conjugated verb.
- Voglio parlargli / Gli voglio parlare. (I want to talk to him.)
While there are a considerable number of Italian verbs used with indirect object pronouns, some of the more common verbs are listed below.
| chiedere (to ask)
||cucinare (to cook)||dare (to give)|
|dire (to say)||domandare (to ask)||insegnare (to teach)|
|leggere (to read)||mandare (to send)||mostrare (to show)|
| offrire (to offer)
||portare (to bring)||prestare (to lend)|
| rispondere (to answer)
||scrivere (to write)||spedire (to mail)|
In Italian, some verbs are reflexive, meaning that the person doing the action does it to him or herself. Examples of this would be “mettersi” (to put a piece of clothing on), “chiamarsi” (literally “to call oneself”), and “sentirsi” (to feel). In the dictionary, you may notice that the infinitive has “si” on the end to show the verb is reflexive.
Reflexive verbs have their own pronouns:
These pronouns match the verb (“mi” with the “io” form, “ti” with “tu,” etc.) and are usually placed before the verb:
|mi guardo allo specchio||I look at myself in the mirror|
|ti guardi allo specchio||you look at yourself in the mirror|
|si guarda allo specchio||s/he looks at her/himself in the mirror|
|ci guardiamo allo specchio||we look at ourselves in the mirror|
|vi guardate allo specchio||you look at yourselves in the mirror|
|si guardano allo specchio||they look at themselves in the mirror|
The Passive and Impersonal “si” (si passivante e si impersonale)
We use the passive or impersonal “si” when we don’t want to state who exactly did the action. This can be translated in different ways in English. For example:
- In Italia si mangia la pizza.
This could be translated in several ways, but the important thing to remember is that this action is not being done by any specific person.
- In Italy, pizza is eaten.
- In Italy, you (in general) eat pizza.
- In Italy, one eats pizza.
- In Italy, they (in general) eat pizza.
To form this, use “si” and a verb in the third person (the form for lui/lei or loro). If there is an object after the verb, the verb agrees with the object. So we say:
- Si mangia la pizza. — OR — Si mangiano le pizze.
If there is no object, the verb is singular:
- Si mangia.
Some other basic examples:
- Si vede nello specchio. (He sees himself in the mirror.)
- La domenica si lavano le macchine. (On Sundays, people wash their cars.)
- In Italia si beve vino, in Germania birra. (In Italy people drink wine, in Germany beer.)
TIP: For reflexive verbs, you add “ci” before “si”:
- Ci si alza presto. (One gets up early.)
Ci and Ne replace prepositional phrases and are both somewhat difficult to understand for people learning Italian.
1.) Ci can replace a phrase referring to a place, introduced by “a”, “in” or “su” and their object:
- Vai a Roma? No, non ci vado. (Are you going to Rome? No, I’m not going there.)
- Sei andata in negozio? Sì, ci sono andata due ore fa. (Have you gone to the store? Yes, I went there two hours ago.)
It also replaces “a” PLUS the targeted person resulting from the Italian verbs credere (to believe) or pensare (to think).
- Credi agli alieni? (Do you believe in aliens?)
- No, non ci credo. (No, I don’t believe in them.)
- Credi nell’amore a prima vista? (Do you believe in love at first sight?)
- No, non ci credo. (No, I do not believe in it.)
Lastly, you can also find it in some idiomatic verbs and phrases, such as “ci vuole” / “ci vogliono” (it takes).
- Da Venezia a Roma ci vogliono 5 ore di treno. (It takes 5 hours by train to get from Venice to Rome.)
2.) Ne replaces “di” and its object:
- Vuoi una di queste caramelle? Ne vuoi una? (Do you want one of these candies? Do you want one [of them]?)
It can also replace a noun when introduced by an expression of quantity (molto, tanto, etc.).
- Quanti libri hai? Ne ho un po’. (How many books do you have? I have a few [of them].)
- Avete degli amici italiani? No, non ne abbiamo. (Do you have any Italian friends? No, we do not have any [of them].)
TIP: It is used to avoid repeating the subject of which was already mentioned. Therefore, you cannot leave it!
|li, le||them (direct)|
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