Thursday, 4 November 2010

On the subject of subjects

The most common subject pronouns in Italian are: io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, loro. These are the pronouns you are most likely to need. There are a few more that you still occasionally might come across. I say occasionally as they are relegated to formal and written style. The most important are egli (he) and esso / essa (it), essi / esse (them).

You might come across egli in a religious or ancient text - but if you were to use it nowadays you would sound extremely pedantic and unnatural: a relict from ancient history! Esso and its variants are a bit more resistant to natural extinction, but tend to be confined to bureaucratic and formal registers. Therefore, a sentence such as the one below is utterly and completely wrong (it’s an extract from an email one of my students sent me – a self-confessed user of machine translation!):

Sono stato in Italia in vacanza. Esso è stato meraviglioso (sbagliato!)
Sono stato in Italia in vacanza. È stato meraviglioso
I have been on holiday in Italy. It was wonderful

Some examples of correct use of esso:

Ecco la lettera e il documento ad essa allegato

Here is the letter and the document attached to it

La biblioteca contiene oltre 10 000 volumi. Molti di essi sono stati restaurati

The library has over 10,000 books. Many of them have been repaired

Qui c’era l’antica città. Su di essa è stata costruita la città nuova

Here there was the old town. On it was built the new one

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