Direct Object Pronouns in Italian

Fri, 08/06/2021 - 04:52

Italian grammar can sometimes seem quite complicated to an English speaker, as there are a few grammar rules that are simply not applicable to your first language. Since these rules are completely new to you, you may have no idea how to treat them. 

Well, there’s a structure to everything, including the Italian language. Here we’re going to proceed with our language journey by learning how to use Italian direct object pronouns (i pronomi diretti) correctly, especially because these pronouns will one day make your speech in Italian much more natural.

What Is a Direct Object Pronoun?

But what are these direct object pronouns exactly? 

In short, the direct object is the “sufferer of the action” (even if the action is good!). For example, in the sentence “I see a bird”, the word “bird” is the direct object. To avoid repeating the same word over and over again, we can substitute it with the direct object pronoun “it”. 

Let’s see how to use the direct object pronouns in Italian and where to place them in a sentence. 

Oggi incontro Paolo.  – Today I will meet Paolo. 

To find the direct object in the sentence you ask:

Chi incontri oggi? Who are you going to meet today?

So, Paolo is the direct object here. 

Incontri Paolo oggi? – Are you going to meet Paolo today?

Si, lo incontro. – Yes, I’m going to meet him.       

The “lo is the direct object pronoun which stands for “him”. This is just one example of how you can shorten the sentence by using these pronouns.

Choosing the Correct Direct Pronoun in the Third Person

In Italian, we have to think about whether the noun that we want to replace is masculine, feminine, or plural so that we can use the correct object pronoun. Although it’s quite easy to recognize the gender of a noun in Italian, it’s always preferable to memorize the article it goes with so it will come to you automatically when you speak or write.

Let’s get to the rule. 

We replace a masculine singular noun with the direct object pronoun “lo”.

Compro il libro. – I buy the book.

Lo compro. – I buy it.

We always place the pronoun before the verb in the present tense.

- Hai già mangiato il risotto? – Did you already eat the risotto?

- No, lo mangio stasera. – No, I’ll eat it tonight.

Take a look at this example:

Canto la canzone. – I sing the song.

La canzone is a feminine singular noun, to replace it we use the direct pronoun la.

La canto. – I sing it.

- Chiami la tua amica Luisa oggi pomeriggio?  - Are you going to call your friend Luisa this afternoon?

- No, non la chiamo. – No, I’m not going to call her.

When we see a masculine plural noun, we should replace it with li.

Vedo i ragazzi. – I see the boys.

Li vedo. – I see them.

Ho comprato dei pantaloni ieri, ma sono troppo lunghi. Domani li porto dal sarto. – I bought a pair of pants yesterday, but they’re too long. I’ll take them down to the tailor tomorrow.

As for a feminine plural noun, we substitute it by using the le pronoun. 

Vedo le ragazze. – I see the girls.

Le vedo. – I see them.

- Ho dimenticato le chiavi a casa. Dovrebbero essere sulla mia scrivania. - I forgot the keys at home. They must be on my desk.

- Si, le vedo. – Yes, I see them.

In the perfect (past) tense we place the direct object pronoun before the conjugated form of the auxilary verb avere.

Questo vaso? L’ho comprato ieri. – This vase? I bought it yesterday.

- Che bella pianta!  È nuova? – What a beautiful plant! Is it new?

-Si, l’abbiamo comprata stamattina.  – Yes, we bought it this morning.

Notice that lo and la are shortened to l’ before a vowel sound and before an h.

Keep in mind that when you use the direct object pronouns la, li and le in the perfect tense, the past participle of the verb (for example: vedere – visto/a/e/I, comprare – comprato/a/e/i) has to agree with the pronoun. In grammar books, this is called the preceding direct object rule.

Dove sono i ragazzi? Li hai visti? – Where are the boys? Did you see them?

Dove sono le ragazze? Le hai viste? – Where are the girls? Did you see them?

Direct Object Pronouns in the First and Second Person

Now let’s get down to the direct object pronouns for me, you and us.

We replace our own name with “mi:

- Mi ami? – Do you love me?

And  for the familiar “you” we use ti:

- Si, ti amo. – Yes, I love you.

When we want to replace a polite “you” (Lei, as you can remember), we use the same direct object pronoun as for a feminine singular noun – “la”.

Signora, La capisco benissimo.  – Signora, I understand you very well.

We use “ci” for us:

Ci aiuta. – He helps us.

For the plural “you”, we use the pronoun vi.

Vi aiuto. – I help you (plural).

Remember that in the perfect tense, the past participle has to agree when you use la, li, or le before the verb. This rule doesn’t necessarily apply when you use mi, ti, ci, and vi...but you apply it if you want to or if you are simply an Italian grammar enthusiast!

Ci ha visto ieri./Ci ha visti ieri. – He saw us yesterday.

Test Your Direct Pronoun Skills

Let’s try to do the exercises below to practice the rules we’ve outlined above

Exercise 1

Add the correct ending to the past participles in the sentences below:

Guardo la tv ogni sera. [La tv] guardo ogni sera. La guardo ogni sera.
Faccio i compiti dopo cena.[I compiti] faccio dopo cena. Li faccio dopo cena.
Conosco il signor Rossi.[Il signor Rossi] conosco. Lo conosco.
Scrivo le lettere nello studio.[Le lettere] scrivo nello studio Le scrivo nello studio.
Prendo il caffè al bar. [Il caffè] prendo al bar. Il caffè lo prendo al bar.
Leggo la rivista stasera. [La rivista] leggo stasera. La rivista la leggo stasera.

Exercise 2

Add the correct ending to the past participles in the sentences below:

Hai visto il film? No, non l'ho vist. No, non l’ho visto.
Hai finito i compiti? Si, li ho finit. Si, li ho finiti.
Quando hai visto la signora Bianchi? L’ho vist lunedì. L’ho vista lunedì.
Dove hai messo le mele? Le ho mess nel cestino. Le ho messe nel cestino.
Hai chiamato Anna? Si, l’ho chiamat . Si, l’ho chiamata.
Hai firmato il biglietto di auguri? No, non l’ho firmat ancora. No, non l’ho firmato ancora.

Exercise 3

Put the right pronoun into these sentences.

Giovanni (us) vede. Giovanni ci vede.
Non (polite You)capisco, Signore. Non La capisco, signore.
(me)chiami domani, Chiara? Mi chiami domani, Chiara?
Mi dispiace, non (familiar you) amo. Mi dispiace, non ti amo.
Non (plural you)sento, ragazzi!. Non vi sento, ragazzi!
(us)odiano per quello che abbiamo detto. Ci odiano per quello che abbiamo detto.


Don’t panic! It may seem that Italian direct object pronouns are a lot of work, but you don’t have to perfect them immediately. By using them every day, you’ll eventually find that you don’t have to think too much about their correct form and it will pop up in your mind automatically. In one of our next articles, we’re going to take a look at indirect object pronouns in Italian and how to deal with them. Stay with us!

(Note: This article was originally written for Italy Magazine by Pat Eggleton on November 4th 2010. It has been updated and expanded.)


This language article is curated by the expert instructors from L'Italiano Porticando Italian language and culture school located in the heart of historic Turin. Accredited by the ASILS (Association of Schools Teaching Italian as a Second Language), L'Italiano Porticando offers individual and group lessons, themed courses, and cultural classes on everything from Italian cinema to Turin’s famed chocolate.