Lecciones de Italiano

Temas

The Mystery of the Hidden Pronouns

To form a sentence, we need a subject and a verb. For the moment, let’s stick to the most normal kinds of subjects: nouns and pronouns.

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At the beginning of the following example, it’s fairly easy to find the subject and verb:

Dixi uscì di casa leggero più di una piuma leggera, perché non aveva ancora fatto merenda.

Dixi left the house, lighter than a light feather because he had not yet had a snack.

Captions 3-4, Dixieland - Il singhiozzo

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If we look at the second part of the sentence, however, we see the verb avere (to have) in its simple past tense aveva (had). But where is the equivalent of the pronoun “he” that we see in the English translation?

That’s one of the tricky things about learning Italian. The pronoun is included in the verb.

 

It can be hard to find the subject if we can't see it! How can we tell what the pronoun would be if we can’t see it? Conjugation tables help in finding out what person the verb is expressed in but we also have to get used to the fact that we "get" more than we "see."

 

Here are a few examples of how this works:

Ho (I have)
Hai (you have)
Ha (he, she, it has)
Abbiamo (we have)
Avete (you [plural] have)
Hanno (they have)

 

We can’t always know if the implied pronoun is masculine or feminine, because “he” and “she” have the same conjugation. We have to rely on previous information in the sentence or paragraph to know more precisely which it is. In the example above, the subject is Dixi, the flying elephant, who, for our purposes, is a male. Since we’ve already mentioned him by name at the beginning of the sentence, we don’t need to repeat it. Aveva means “he had.” But we could also say:

Dixi non aveva ancora fatto merenda (Dixi had not yet had a snack).

 

So, the verb is identical whether the noun is present or not. The noun will only be repeated if we want to emphasize that it’s Dixi, and not someone else.

 

By the same token, if we wanted to include a pronoun, we could. If we needed to stress “he,” we could say:

Lui non aveva ancora fatto merenda (he had not yet had a snack).

If Dixi were a female, we’d say:

Lei non aveva ancora fatto merenda (she had not yet had a snack).

So aveva could mean “he had,” “she had,” “it had,” or just “had.”

 

In the present tense, it can be tricky to perceive or use the verb avere (to have) or essere (to be) in the third person singular because they’re both such short words, and not only that: Ha (has, he has, she has, it has) is written with an H but that H is silent! So what are we left with? A lonely “Ah” sound. È (is, he is, she is, it is) is short, too, and you need to be careful to use an open “E.” Otherwise, without the grave accent, it means “and.”

 

So not only do these two verbs go by quickly, but the pronoun “he,” “she,”  or “it” may also be hidden within it!

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In the following example, we see that the subject of the paragraph is Villa Borghese. Once it has been mentioned by name, we don’t need to repeat it, as long as no other word gets in the way to cause confusion. We use a pronoun, just as we would in English, but it’s important to remember that in Italian, the pronoun is included in the verb itself, so we don’t see it. The second sentence uses the verb essere in the third person singular, and the third sentence uses avere in the third person singular.

Villa Borghese è un grandissimo parco.

Villa Borghese is a very large park.

È il più grande di Roma dopo Villa Doria Pamphilj e dopo Villa Ada.

It's the biggest park of Rome after Villa Doria Pamphilj and after Villa Ada.

Ha nove ingressi. Tutti diversi naturalmente.

It has nine entrances. All different obviously.

Captions 3-6, Anna presenta - Villa Borghese - Part 1

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Grammar

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