“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 saying “book” over and over again.
This is why pronouns, and in this particular case, direct object pronouns are such an important topic to understand in Italian.
What is a direct object?
A direct object is the direct recipient of the action of a verb. Let us explain that with some more 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. While there is a lot to know about those verbs, I want you to simply note that 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 we saw in our first example, direct object pronouns exist because they replace direct object nouns.
- I invite the boys. --> I invite them.
- He reads the book. --> He reads it.
Here's what direct object pronouns (i pronomi diretti) look like:
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.)
Where do direct object pronouns go?
A direct object pronoun is placed immediately before a conjugated verb.
- 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 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 buona idea invitarli. It's a good idea to invite them.
FUN FACT: You'll notice that when you use a direct object pronoun in the past tense that 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, keep in mind that the plural forms li and le never connect with any conjugations of the verb “avere”, like “Non li ho comprati - I didn't buy them”.
You may also see:
- 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.
Which verbs 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.
A: Chi cerchi? - Who are you looking for?
B: 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!
What about “ecco”?
“Ecco” is often used with direct object pronouns, and they attach to the end of the word to mean “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!
- 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!