When students first study direct object pronouns in Italian, things seem quite easy.
It just takes some time to memorize all the different pronouns but their use is very straightforward. The same can be said for indirect object pronouns but things become a bit more complicated when you need to figure out whether to use one or the other.
What does the trick is something very simple: knowing which verbs require a direct or an indirect object pronoun. Anyway, in order to clearly understand the topic, it is better not to rush and begin this post with the use of direct and indirect object pronouns before focusing on verbs.
Let’s first see what direct object pronouns are.
Direct object pronouns replace a noun and have the function of the direct object. Those pronouns are used when the verb is not followed by any preposition and answer the question “Chi? Che cosa?”(Who? What?).
Francesca prenota la vacanza – Francesca la prenota = Francesca books a holiday – Francesca books it
-> la replaces la vacanza
Noi vediamo i ragazzi ogni sera – Noi li vediamo = We see the guys every evening – We see them
-> li replaces i ragazzi
As we have seen when discussing the verb piacere, direct pronouns can be stressed (tonici) or unstressed (atoni):
|Unstressed direct pronouns (atoni)||Stressed direct pronouns (tonici)|
|lo, la||lui, lei|
Mia sorella vede me (tonico) – Mia sorella mi vede (atono) = My sister sees me
I ragazzi chiamano noi (tonico) – I ragazzi ci chiamano (atono) = The boys call us
Unstressed direct object pronouns (atoni) are more commonly used in Italian and they are placed before the verb. You use stressed direct object pronouns only if you really want to put an emphasis on the pronoun and they go after the verb.
Ho visto lui, non lei = I have seen him, not her
Mario ha ringraziato lei, non sua sorella = I have thanked him not her
If the verb is at passato prossimo, the past participle matches in gender and number with the direct object pronoun.
Ho visto le ragazze – Le ho viste = I have seen the girls – I have seen them
Ho sentito gli spari – Li ho sentiti = I have heard the shots – I have heard them
When the verb is at imperativo, gerundio or infinito, direct object pronouns must be placed after the verb as their suffix.
Avvisa Mario! – Avvisalo! = Inform Mario! – Inform him!
Imparerai meglio studiando l’italiano di più – Imparerai meglio studiandolo di più = You’ll learn better if you study Italian more – You’ll learn better if you study it more
Domani i nonni verranno a trovare me e mia sorella – Domani i nonni verranno a trovarci = Tomorrow our grandparents will visit me and my sister – Tomorrow our grandparents will visit us
Then there are the indirect object pronouns.
Indirect object pronouns have the function of the indirect object. They are used when the verb is followed by the preposition a (to) and they answer the question “A chi? A che cosa?“ (To whom? For what?).
Mio fratello ha telefonato a Maria – Mio fratello le ha telefonato = My brother called Maria – My brother called her
-> le replaces a Maria
La maestra ha parlato ai ragazzi – La maestra gli ha parlato = The teacher spoke to the kids – The teacher spoke to them
-> gli replaces ai ragazzi
As for direct objects, we can have indirect object pronouns that are stressed (tonici) or unstressed (atoni):
|Unstressed indirect pronouns (atoni)||Stressed indirect pronouns (tonici)|
|gli, le||a lui, a lei|
Mia mamma scrive una cartolina a lei (tonico) – Mia sorella le scrive una cartolina (atono) = My mom writes a postcard to her
Francesco telefona a lui (tonico) – Francesco gli telefona (atono) = Francesco calls him
Unstressed indirect object pronouns (atoni) are more commonly used in Italian and are placed before the verb. You use stressed indirect object pronouns only if you really want to put an emphasis on the pronoun and they go after the verb.
Ho chiesto a lui, non a te! = I have asked him not you
Ho telefonato a te, non a tua sorella = I have called you not your sister
When the verb is at imperativo, gerundio or infinito, indirect object pronouns must be placed after the verb as their suffix.
Chiedi a Francesca – Chiedile = Ask Francesca – Ask her
Puoi avere notizie solo telefonando a Francesco – Puoi avere notizie solo telefonandogli = You can have news only if you call Francesco – You can have news only if you call him
Ieri sono andato a parlare alla maestra – Ieri sono andato a parlarle = Yesterday I went and spoke to the teacher – Yesterday I went and spoke to her
This seems quite clear, right? Actually, the real issue comes when you need to choose between a direct object pronoun or an indirect object pronoun.
One of the questions I get asked the most is: “how do I know if I need to use the direct or the indirect object pronoun?“. The answer always is: “I am sorry, there is no easy explanation, it depends on the verb”.
In general, there are verbs that require direct object pronouns and others that require indirect object pronouns only. But things are not that easy because some verbs can take both direct and indirect object pronouns depending on their meaning.
To make things easier for you, I have decided to make a list of the most common verbs that take either direct or indirect object pronouns and of those that can take both.
The most common verbs that take a direct object pronoun are:
accendere, aiutare, amare, aprire, ascoltare, aspettare, avere, capire, cercare, chiamare, chiudere, conoscere, dimenticare, finire, guidare, imparare, mangiare, perdere, pulire, ricevere, rimproverare, sapere, sbagliare, spendere, spegnere, trovare (and many others).
Please note: since transitive verbs are those followed by an object, all transitive verbs take a direct object pronoun.
The most common verbs that take an indirect object pronoun are:
bastare, credere, mancare, parlare, piacere, rimanere, sembrare, servire, succedere, telefonare, voler bene, etc
The most common verbs that can take both a direct and an indirect object pronoun are:
chiedere, comprare, consigliare, cucinare, dare, dire, domandare, fare, insegnare, lasciare, mandare, mostrare, offrire, ordinare, pagare, portare, prendere, preparare, presentare, prestare, scrivere, raccontare, regalare, rendere, ricordare, ripetere, riportare, spedire, spiegare, etc.
For example, dire can take both a direct and an indirect object pronoun:
Ho detto una cosa – L’ho detta = I have said something – I have said it
Ho detto a Maria di tornare a casa – Le ho detto di tornare a casa = I told Maria to return home – I told her to return home
Another example can be with the verb spedire:
Ho spedito una lettera – L’ho spedita = I have mailed a letter – I have mailed it
Ho spedito un pacco a Marco – Gli ho spedito un pacco = I have mailed a package to Mario – I have mailed a package to him
I really hope this post was useful to understand the Italian verbs with direct or indirect object pronouns, which is always a bit of a tricky topic. If you have questions, just leave a comment here below.
As I always do with posts about the Italian language, I have created a downloadable pdf file for you to keep for future reference. You will find it in Your Italian Toolbox, the private page on my site where I upload all language learning materials, under the section Grammar. If can access the page by simply subscribing to my newsletter.
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