Italian Language Blog

“Lei” – who in the world is she? Posted by on Sep 2, 2008 in Grammar

I hope I lured you in with the post about Venice. Now it is time to discuss some grammar.

I know not everybody loves it, but it is, of course, impossible to totally avoid grammar in a language blog. However, I do not want to explain things that no one cares for. So I would appreciate any requests for specific topics you would like me to cover.

What I am discussing in today’s post was always confusing for me. Many languages distinguish between formal and informal address. The formal form might be more or less difficult to master depending on one’s native language. I don’t speak much Spanish but I can guess it is pretty easy to understand the Italian formal, if your native language is Spanish. For me, on the other hand, being polite in Italian wasn’t so easy.

Italian uses “Lei” as the formal form. “Lei” means “she”. The only difference between the two is the capital letter in the formal. I used it myself with not too much difficulty, but it took me forever to get used to the fact that when someone was talking about some woman, they were actually talking to me.

My advice is to try to separate the two in your mind. Just forget that “lei” actually means “she”. Treat “Lei” conjugations as unique. At least that made it a little bit easier for me. Before you know it, when someone refers to you as “her”, you would know just what to do.

And another piece of advice. Even if it is difficult, keep using “Lei“, don’t switch to “tu” thinking that no one would notice. It is always better to be extra polite than rude, and belive me people will appreciate the fact that you are trying.

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  1. Mary:

    I am very happy to be able to use yor information to improve my Italian. Thank you very much for taking your time to help others.
    I really appreciate it. Keep the good work, you will be rewarded some way.
    Thank you
    Have a blessed day.

  2. Jeannet:

    informal – formal…lei e Lei, good to know;
    I will remember.

  3. Terra:

    This rocks. Thanks 🙂 I’m learning via Rosetta Stone, and didn’t really get why it was capitalized.

  4. Ivana Duria:

    I JUST LOVE YOUR BLOGS! I received my diploma in italian at the age of 60 and am teaching in the evening colleges to mainly adult students who are really keen to learn. I make use so much of your blogs on grammer and am very excited when I read one that is relevant to my lesson. I would like to ask you if there is a rule in the pronounciation of Z ad dz or tz. It is very difficult to explain the rule to english speaking students who tend to use the z alone in words like Firenze (not pronounce it like firentze). I would really appreciate some help in this matter.
    Thanking you, Ivana

    • serena:

      @Ivana Duria Salve Ivana, scusa per il ritardo nella mia risposta. Per sicurezza ho controllato la mia grammatica italiana del Liceo e, come pensavo, dice: “la ‘z’ come la ‘s’ possiede il duplice suono ‘sordo’ e ‘sonoro’ senza che sia possibile stabilire una regola”.
      Congratulazioni per il tuo diploma e auguri per l’insegnamento.


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