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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Marika here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Italian questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: when should I use formal Italian?
First, let’s see what formal Italian is and how it works.
During formal situations in English, you may prefer certain words over others, or you may avoid certain constructions. But you don’t need to change pronouns or verb patterns.
Italian, however, has two different language registers: a formal or polite one, and an informal or casual one. When addressing someone formally, you have to use a different pronoun and a different verb conjugation.
The most important thing to remember is that the English second person singular "you" is translated as tu in informal situations. In formal situations, it’s translated as Lei. Lei is also the third person singular feminine, or “she,” but in formal speech it’s used to address people of both sexes. So, if you're formally addressing a man using Lei, make sure that the related verbs or adjectives are in the masculine form.
Let’s see an example. If you want to ask “How are you?” in Italian, you have two options:
(Tu) come stai? is informal speech, and
(Lei) come sta? is formal speech.
Subject pronouns can often be omitted because the verb endings reveal the subject. So it’s vital to conjugate the verbs accordingly.
Here’s another example:
Mario, sei andato in vacanza? which means “Mario, did you go on vacation?” This is casual Italian.
Mario, è andato in vacanza? also means “Mario, did you go on vacation?” but is polite.
You may want to use the first one with a friend of yours and the second one with someone much older than you.
Now back to the original question: When will you need to use formal Italian?
Usually, Italians tend to be friendly and informal, so they often avoid using formal speech, especially among young people. However, polite Italian is better when you meet someone for the first time, or when speaking to older people or to someone in a higher business position than you.


In the past, it was common to use Voi, which is the second person plural pronoun, as a formal way of addressing someone. Nowadays, Lei is the standard formal pronoun, but you may happen to hear also Voi in some parts of Southern Italy.
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”