I had thought up until this point that 'gli' was an article to be used for plural males - such as "gli uomini legono". Is "gli" also a pronoun?
Yes, it's a case (as "complemento di termine") of the personal pronoun and the same as "a lui", "ad esso"; it's commonplace as "ad essi" too (originally "loro"), and incorrectly common as "a lei" (correct "le"). Incidentally, these pronouns become enclitic in some conjugations (e.g. imperative "leggigli" (you read (to) him ...) or infinitive "leggergli" (to read (to) him).
Esso is the equivalent of "it" in Italian, and "essi" is the traditional "they"; they're disused in modern speech, but you'll find them in literature. There is no other subject pronoun to mean "it", though.
As for correctness, "Gli leggo un giornale" or "Leggo un giornale a lui" is supposed to mean "I read him a newspaper", and "Leggo loro un giornale" or "Leggo un giornale a loro" means "I read them a newspaper"; however, grammarians have long come to accept that "Gli leggo un giornale" could mean "I read them a newspaper" too, so that isn't wrong either, although it adds confusion.
Enclitic and proclitic are the two forms a clitic (non-stressed particle) can assume in grammar: in "gli leggo" gli is proclitic, because it's pronounced together with the following word; in "leggergli" gli is enclitic, because it's pronounced together with the preceding word (leggere), and in Italian spelling as you can see it's attached as a suffix.
Woah. That was a mind bender. Is it normal for the "gli" to come first in this type of sentence?
Rather than coming first, this form of the pronouns precedes the verb, e.g. "io ti leggo" vs "io leggo a te", I read to you.
Hi f.formica, thank you for your explanations of the use of "gli".
Further to your comment here and to clarify your previous example above, did you mean to say "loro leggo ..." is the correct usage rather than "leggo loro ..." as gli/loro should precede the verb?
No, "loro" is not clitic, so it doesn't follow this rule, and instead when used as an indirect object pronoun it usually goes after the verb. It's also rather "exceptional" as a possessive pronoun, as it's the only one to always require an article, but it's probably too soon to write about that.
Why does "to him" come before "I read?" could someone please explain this to me as simply as possible?
The clitic form of pronouns always has to precede the verb (the auxiliary in case of composed tenses); there is also a fixed word order when there are two clitics, as the indirect has to precede the direct, and they sometimes are merged into a new form (e.g. "glielo" = "gli+lo" = "it/him to it/him").
Italian is my husbands first language though he never went to school in Italy and when I read him this sentence he said he would never say it this way. Are you sure this is correct?
As others said, "GLI" here is not the definite article for masculine plural (as in GLI amici = THE friends) but stands for an indirect object (GLI --> A LUI --> to him). Unfortunately in current Italian it is also used (quite usually) to mean A LORO --> to them and, incorrectly, A LEI --> to her (which should, really, be "LE"). In spoken Italian you will then hear "GLI leggo un libro" (which normally means "I read HIM a book") to mean, instead, "I read HER a book"). The correct form for "LE leggo un libro" should be "I read HER a book". See also the explanation of f.formica. HTH :)
This wasn't explained, as much as it wasn't mentioned whether it is standard italian or mainstream Italian.
Is gli used as a singular here? Shouldn't it rather refer to a plural? Such as "I read them a newspaper.
No, "gli" in this context means "to him". It's a singular indirect object pronoun. The plural would probably look like "A loro leggo un giornale", but someone who speaks idiomatic Italian should feel free to correct me.
Thanks, I just reverse looked it up in a dictionary, I didn't realize the same word has two totally diffrent meanings.
I translated it as "I read the newspaper to him". Why is that not correct?
I had no clue how to translate "gli" in this sentence until I saw the answer...
Sorry ..I didnt get it ..perhaps the next lessons will clarify this grammatical point ..