Italian Language Blog

lei, Lei or..? Posted by on Jun 18, 2021 in Grammar

Ciao a tutti,

Last week you read a professional and formal exchange between a real estate agent and a woman, and you may have noticed something strange:

Photo from Pixabay, CCO.

Professoressa LandiniPronto, chiamo per un annuncio che ho visto sul vostro sito.

(Hello, I am calling about an announcement that I saw on your website.)

Agente immobiliareCerto Signora, come posso aiutarLa?

(Of course Madam, how can I help you?)

Che cosa significa? What does that mean? Why is it La (and not ‘ti’ for you) and why is it capitalized?

  1. ‘Lei’ is the formal way to say ‘tu’ (you)

In my post about the difference between Italian in the North and South, I did explain that in the South you may hear ‘voi’ as the formal you, as well as some history as to why.

As a general rule of thumb though, I would stick to using Lei since it is more common, so you will need to get used to listening for this and knowing that it means ‘you’ (formal) and not ‘she.’

2. lei vs Lei 

In written exchanges it is most grammatically correct to write Lei with a capital L to emphasize that it is the formal ‘you’ and not ‘she.’

3. La ?

In this exchange we see the direct object pronoun of Lei. It is again capitalized to emphasize that it is representing the formal ‘you.’

Think of a direct object pronoun as being directly involved in or affected by the action described by a verb. In other words it answers the questions what? or whom? 

Other examples:

La ringrazio I thank you (formal)

Spero di rivederLa presto – I hope to see you soon (formal)

4. Le ?

Le would be the indirect object pronoun of Lei. You could also say “a lei” (to you”) for emphasis, which we will see below.

An indirect object pronoun is the receiver of the verb’s action. It answers the questions to whom? or for whom?


A me non piace il caffè, mentre a Lei piace, vero? – I don’t like coffee, but you like it right? (formal, emphasis)

Le piace il caffè? – Do you like coffee? (formal)

Ho bisogno di parlare a Lei soltanto – I need to speak to you only (formal, emphasis)

Ho bisogno di parlarLe – I need to speak to you (formal)


Direct object and indirect objects could be especially tricky because some verbs that are direct/indirect in English, aren’t always the same way in Italian, certamente! You will need to mostly memorize which verbs take a DOP and which take an IDOP. For more information about these tricky pronouns, check out my blog post from last year.

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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Client Engagement for Transparent Language.


  1. Nigel:

    This has come at just the right time in my language journey and is also the clearest explanation of this I’ve seen to date. Thank you so much!

  2. Rosanna McFarlin:

    Per me nata in Italia e’ comprensibile, ma per uno straniero e’ piu’ difficile.

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