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Tu, Lei and voi: The polite form

Ciao, come stai? If you are among friends you’ll use the Tu form, that is the informal form, but if you speak to an unknown person you should better use the Lei form, that is the polite form. You won’t be rude, don’t you? Learn the polite form in Italian!

Subject pronouns and the polite form

In Italian the feminine 3rd person singular lei she is the person used as polite form – regardless of whether the person you’re talking to is a man or a woman. The polite Lei is usually capitalized, but this is not a must.
If you speak to many people, there is not a special polite form: just use voi. You don’t need to capitalize it.

ioI
informal (sg.)tuinformal you
formal (sg.)lui | lei | Leihe | she | formal you
noiwe
formal | informal (pl.)voi you all
lorothey

In the following table you can see how the formal and informal forms differ in Italian through the question Come stai? How are you?

ONE PERSONMORE PERSONS
INFORMALCome stai? (tu)Come state? (voi)
FORMALCome sta? (Lei)Come state? (voi)

Alternative polite forms

Lei vs. Voi

Voi can be used as polite form to speak to a single person instead of Lei. This use of voi was very common in the past, but nowadays it has been substituted by Lei. Therefore, to use voi instead of Lei to speak to one person is quite old-fashioned, but sometimes you can still hear it.

Voi vs. Loro

Loro can be used as polite form to speak to many people instead of voi, but it’s extremely formal and almost exclusively confined to bureaucratic contexts.

Useful questions

Here you can find a few useful questions and expressions we have learned in this Unit 1 in their TU, LEI and VOI variants.

TULEIVOI
Come stai?Come sta?Come state?How are you?
Come ti chiami? Come si chiama?Come vi chiamate?What’s your name?
Dove abiti?Dove abita?Dove abitate?Where do you live?
Di dove sei?Di dov’è?Di dove siete?Where are you from?
Sei inglese?È inglese? Siete inglesi?Are you English?
Quanti anni hai?Quanti anni ha?Quanti anni avete?How old are you?
Quali lingue parli?Quali lingue parla?Quali lingue parlate?What languages do you speak?

Esercizi

1. La forma di cortesia LEI

2. Il plurale VOI

2. TU o LEI?

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