Direct Object Pronouns in Italian

How to say "it" correctly in Italy

man eating cherry fed to him by a woman
"Compra la frutta e la mangia." (He buys the fruit and eats it.). Sam Edwards / Getty Images

"I'm reading a book. I'm reading the book for my Italian course. My husband bought the book as well because he is taking the same course."

When you read the three sentences above, they sound pretty choppy and that's because instead of using a pronoun, like "it," the person speaking is just repeating the word "book." This is why pronouns, and in this particular case direct object pronouns, are such an important topic to understand in Italian.

The Direct Object

A direct object is the direct recipient of the action of a verb, as in these examples:

  • I invite the boys. Whom do I invite? → The boys.
  • He reads the book. What does he read? → The book.

The nouns boys and books are both direct objects because they answer the question what? or whom?

When you study verbs in Italian, you may often see a note about whether a verb is transitive or intransitive. Verbs that take a direct object are called transitive verbs. Verbs that do not take a direct object (she walks, I sleep) are intransitive.

As shown in the first example, direct object pronouns exist because they replace direct object nouns, for example:

  • I invite the boys. > I invite them.
  • He reads the book. > He reads it.

Note the examples of direct object pronouns ("i pronomi diretti") in this table:


Singular

Plural

mi me

ci us

ti you (informal)

vi you (informal)

La you (formal m. and f.)

Li you (form., m.)

Le you (form., f.)

lo him, it

li them (m. and f.)

la her, it

le them (f.)

Placement of Direct Object Pronouns

A direct object pronoun is placed immediately before a conjugated verb, as in:

  • Se vedo i ragazzi, li invito. - If I see the boys, I'll invite them.
  • Compra la frutta e la mangia. - He buys the fruit and eats it.

In a negative sentence, the 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?

The object pronoun can also be attached to the end of an infinitive, but the final -e of the infinitive is dropped.

  • È importante mangiarla ogni giorno. - It is important to eat it every day.
  • È una buona idea invitarli. - It's a good idea to invite them.

When you use a direct object pronoun in the past tense, it will often connect with a conjugation of the verb "avere." For example, "Non l'ho letto - I didn't read it." The "lo" connects with "ho" and creates one word "l'ho." However, the plural forms li and le never connect with any conjugations of the verb "avere," as in, "Non li ho comprati - I didn't buy them."

Some other examples include:

  • M'ama, non m'ama. (Mi ama, non mi ama.). - He loves me, he loves me not.
  • Il passaporto? Loro non (ce) l'hanno (lo hanno). - The passport? They don't have it.

Verbs That Take a Direct Object

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). That means that you don't have to use "per - for" when saying "Who are looking for?" in Italian, for example:

  • Chi cerchi? - Who are you looking for?
  • Cerco il mio ragazzo. Lo cerco già da mezz'ora! - I'm looking for my boyfriend. I've been looking for him for half an hour!

The Use of "Ecco"

"Ecco" is often used with direct object pronouns, and this term attaches to the end of the word to mean "here I am, here you are, here he is," as in these sentences:

  • 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!
  • Eccoli! Sono arrivati! - Here they are! They arrived!
  • Non riesco a trovare le mie penne preferite - Eccole qua amore! - I can't find my favourite pens.- Here they are honey!