Lei or Lei, how to tell you from her … Posted by Serena on Sep 20, 2013 in Grammar
Recently, I wrote several posts about the formal personal pronoun “lei” (you singular). I also explained that the use of the capital letter for the formal pronoun is an artificial distinction created by some grammar books to make it ‘easier’ to recognise. In reality, Lei (you) written with a capital letter is uncommon, and only found in extremely formal written communication. In everyday situations such as newspaper interviews, and dialogues in fictional writing, the formal pronoun is written with a lower case ‘l’, unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence. So, whilst in the previous posts I focused on the distinction between the formal and informal ‘you’, i.e. lei vs. tu, today’s article will focus on lei (formal you) vs. lei (she) and all its variations, i.e. lei, le and la. If you need to revise them you can check this article.
The most important thing to notice here is that when I use the formal lei (you) I’m talking directly to the person in question, whilst when I use lei with the meaning of ‘she’ I’m talking about a female subject in the third person. So, the difference between lei = ‘you’ and lei = ‘she’ only really becomes clear from the context. Here are some practical examples:
1. lei (verb subject):
Non ho mai visto il film “Il Caimano”, lei l’ha visto? = I’ve never seen the film “Il Caimano”, have you (formal) seen it?
Non ho mai visto il film “Il Caimano”, sai se lei l’ha visto? = I’ve never seen the film “Il Caimano”, do you know if she has seen it?
2. lei (preceded by a preposition):
Signor Rossi, c’è una lettera per lei = Mister Rossi, there’s a letter for you (formal)
Quando vedi Donatella dille che c’è una lettera per lei = When you see Donatella tell her that there’s a letter for her
3. le (abbreviation of “a lei” = to you/her)
Ah! È stato in Inghilterra! Le è piaciuta? = Ah! You’ve been to England! Did you (formal) like it?
Ah! Donatella è stata in Inghilterra! Le è piaciuta? = Ah! Donatella’s been to England! Did she like it?
4. la (direct object):
Dottor Rossi, se è occupato la richiamo più tardi = If you’re busy, Doctor Rossi, I’ll call you (formal) back later
Se Donatella è occupata la richiamo più tardi = If Donatella is busy, I’ll call her back later