Dare del tu e dare del Lei

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:
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Young people your age or younger whom you are not friends with (i.e. other students in college; your friend’s younger brother, etc.)
  • Adults you are meeting for the first time
  • Important people (i.e. the Pope, your boss, etc.)
  • Adults you don’t know well
  • Professional people such as: doctors, lawyers, professors, your waiter in a restaurant, the post office clerk, etc.

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]                                      informal

Arrivederci [good-bye]                     informal and formal

ArrivederLa [good-bye]                    formal

Buongiorno [good morning]            more formal than ciao

Buonasera [good evening]                more formal than ciao

Ci vediamo [see you]                         more informal than arrivederci

A presto [see you soon]                     more informal than arrivederci


  • You would use ArrivederLa to address one person formally;
  • Arrivederci is fine when addressing more than one person formally.
  • Say buonanotte to wish somebody good night.


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Spunti: Italiano elementare 1 Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Leisawitz and Daniela Viale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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