Addressing someone with tu and addressing someone with Lei
Italians address other people in two ways:
- informally, using the subject tu as in “Di dove sei (tu)?”
- formally, using the subject Lei (with capital “L”) as in “Di dov’è (Lei?)”
Not to be confused: lei = she vs. Lei = you (Lei with capital “L” is formal). The formal pronoun Lei takes the same verb form as lui/lei, and is used to formally address one person.
To formally address more than one person voi is used, which is both informal and formal. (Loro with capital “L” is technically the formal form for voi, but it is rare and used only in particular situations.)
Every time you address somebody, you have to decide whether to do so formally or informally. For Italians, this is a big deal, as choosing one over the other is a sign of respect (or lack thereof).
|You would be INFORMAL with:||You would be FORMAL with:|
To address someone formally you would normally use the titles signor [Mr.] and signora [Mrs.] plus their last name. Signorina [Miss] is not commonly used anymore (it refers to an unmarried woman). Besides signor and signora, Italians tend to respectfully address a lawyer, a doctor, a professor etc. by their professional titles rather than by signor and signora:
|signor Goggi (Sig.)||Mr. Goggi|
|un signore||a man|
|signora Goggi (Sig.ra)||Mrs. Goggi|
|una signora||a woman|
|ingegner Goggi (Ing.)||Mr. Goggi|
|un ingegnere||an engineer|
|professor Goggi (Prof.)||Professor Goggi (male professor)|
|professoressa Goggi (Prof. ssa)||Professor Goggi (female professor)|
|un professore, una professoressa||a professor|
|avvocato Goggi (Avv.)||Mr. Goggi; Mrs. Goggi|
|un avvocato||a lawyer|
|dottor Goggi (Dott.)||Dr. Goggi (male doctor)|
|dottoressa Goggi (Dott.ssa)||Dr. Goggi (female doctor)|
|un dottore, una dottoressa||a doctor|
In Italy, you can be called a dottore or dottoressa just by virtue of having a laurea (university degree).
Speakers can decide to switch from Lei to tu if they feel comfortable enough after a while. For example, you may start a conversation with a person who after 5 minutes of knowing you may say “Ci diamo del tu?” [Shall we speak informally?] or “Le dispiace se ci diamo del tu?” [Do you mind if we speak informally?]. Usually people don’t mind.
There are different greetings depending on the degree of formality of the situation:
- Ciao [hi; bye] is only used in an informal setting.
- ArrivederLa [goodbye] is only used in a formal setting when saying goodbye to one person.
Other greetings than can be used in both settings:
- Buongiorno [good morning]
- Buonasera [good evening]
- Buonanotte [good night]
- A dopo [see you later]
- A presto [see you soon]
- Ci vediamo [see you], i.e. Ci vediamo domani [see you tomorrow]
- Arrivederci [goodbye; bye], to one or more than one person.