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Italian Language/use of indirect object pronoun - "gli"


Dear Maria,

My question is about the indirect object pronoun – “gli”.

I understand that the indirect object pronoun “gli” can be used to mean “it” when referring to a masculine thing or animal.  I was wondering if this usage of “gli” is used in both  written and spoken communication.  

The reason that I am asking this question is because the subject pronoun “esso” is only used to mean “it” in written communication and is not used in spoken communication.  I was wondering if this same type of restriction applies to the indirect object pronoun “gli” used to mean “it”.

Can you please tell me if the indirect object pronoun “gli” is used to mean “it” in both written and spoken communication.  Or, is the indirect object pronoun “gli” only used in written communication to mean “it”?

Thank you very much for your help.



Dear Rich,

first of all I have to point out that the indirect object pronoun  “gli”, which in Italian is a “complemento di termine” and  stands for “a lui” (masculine singular pronoun related to a person or animal) as well as  for “ad esso” (masculine singular pronoun related to a thing or animal) is used to mean:

1)“him” /”to him”/” for him” when referring to a male person or animal  in sentences like e.g.: “Gli ho parlato” (I spoke to him), “Non gli hai detto nulla?” ( didn’t you tell him anything?),” Vorrei scrivergli”( I would like to write to him), “La ginnastica gli fa bene” (exercise is good for him), “Gli voglio molto bene” (I love him very much), “Se porti fuori il cane, mettigli il guinzaglio” ( if you take the dog out, put him on the lead).

In the above-mentioned sentences  “gli” stands for “a lui”/"ad esso".

Sometimes, however, the indirect object masculine pronoun “gli” stands for “a lei”/”ad essa” in the feminine, especially in spoken communication, though the correct form for the indirect object feminine pronoun  should be “le”.
See for example:”Lei è una delle mie amiche:gli voglio molto bene” instead of the more correct phrase “Lei è una delle mie amiche:le voglio molto bene”.

2)“it” in sentences like e.g. “Prese il libro e gli  strappò una pagina”(he took the book and tore a page out of it), “Prendi quel coltello ed affilagli la lama”, etc.
In the above-mentioned sentences  “gli” stands for “ad esso”.

3)“them” (ad essi/ad esse/a loro/loro) when referring to male/female persons in sentences like e.g. “Digli che ci raggiungano più tardi “ (tell them to meet us later),  “Gli ho parlato severamente e si sono scusate” ( I’ve spoken to them severely and they’ve apologized), “Mi hanno scritto diverse volte, ma non gli ho mai risposto” ( they’ve written to me several times, but I’ve never  answered them).

Sometimes, in fact, the indirect object  singular pronoun “gli” is used instead of the plural  “a loro”/ad essi”/"ad esse"/” loro” that we use in the more grammatically correct sentences:”Di’ loro che ci raggiungano più tardi“,  “Ho parlato loro severamente e si sono scusate”, “Mi hanno scritto diverse volte, ma non ho mai risposto loro”, where the usage of “loro”sounds however not only more formal, but also quite heavy.

Lastly, to answer your question, the usage of “gli” that I’ve mentioned in point 1,2, 3  belongs to  both  written and spoken communication.  

Hope this is clear enough. Feel free however to ask me again.

Best regards,


Italian Language

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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.


Over 25 years teaching experience.

I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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