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"Perché non l'hanno tenuto in prigione?"

Translation:Why haven't they kept him in prison?

March 28, 2014



We are always being reminded that "le" is the feminine pronoun, and "gli" is the masculine pronoun, but when we get the sentence here with "l'hanno tenuto" it is translated as "they kept him", not "they kept her".

The first response from a native speaker is always that we need to use the pronoun that matches the direct object, instead of an indirect object.

In English, no one cares (well, maybe a few English professors) if an object is direct or indirect, so those two terms mean practically nothing to us. I bet that only one person in fifty could take an English sentence and tell you what kind the objects are, or whether or not a sentence is reflexive, or transitive, or any of that kind of thing. We just aren't wired that way. Most people would struggle with the concept of subject and predicate. Grammar is a foreign language to most of us. I was taught the terms in school, 40 years ago, but since no one cares or really needs to know them in order to speak English, they are memorized for a test and then promptly forgotten. I highly doubt that any person under the age of thirty was even taught them at any time during school.

That said, I'm determined to figure out how they work in Italian. So can someone tell me what the difference is between a direct object and an indirect object? I gather that (in this sentence) "in prigione" implies a direct object (a prison), so the accceptable pronoun forms are "lo" for him and "la" for her, instead of the "gli/ le" example I first used. When lo and la collide with "hanno", to both form "l'hanno", however, where does the gender become apparent? Is "tenuta" the feminine form of "tenuto"?

I've been at this for almost a year now and I still don't get clitics!


A direct object pronoun is kind of "real objects", when you really mean "him" and. "her".

  • I love her. = La amo.
  • I write it down on a piece of paper. = Lo scrivo su un foglio.
  • etc.

An indirect object pronoun is the one that means "to him", "to her", "for him", or "for her". This "to" and "for" are the key phrases. They make the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns.

  • I write to him = Gli scrivo.
  • I gave (to) her two recipes = Le ho dato tre ricette.
  • etc.

I don't know if it helps, but I try. So again, indirect object pronouns are when you do something TO or FOR somebody/something, direct object pronouns DO NOT express this "to", this "for". Very important.

It sucks that accusative is almost impossible to explain in English... Do you know German (at least a very bit)? It would help if you did.


This is useful; especially the "to/ for" part. It's that kind of memory aid that will help me keep things straight.

I saw on another website that in English a direct object can be determined if it answers the question, "what" or "whom", asked after the verb.

So in the sentence "Paul writes a letter", the letter (direct object, after the verb "writes") is "what" was written. (What did Paul write? The letter)

And when "They see Paul and Mary", Paul and Mary (two direct objects) are "whom" they see (the verb). (Whom did they see? Paul and Mary)

Now if I add in your trick, and the preposition "to" (or "for") is added, everything changes.

"Paul writes a letter to his parents", means that "letter" is still the direct object but "his parents" (following "to") become indirect objects. (the question is "TO whom is the letter written?"). Likewise, "The letter is for his parents", but in that case the letter (direct object) comes before the verb ("is") and "his parents" (after FOR) are indirect objects.

It's starting to make a tiny bit more sense.


Maybe it's better to have a look at Italian verbs to understand the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns. Sometimes verbs can be followed in one language by a direct object and in the other by an indirect object.

i.e. to phone:

  • to phone someone (whom do you phone?) = direct object pronoun

  • telefonare a qualcuno = indirect object pronoun

In Italian if you write a word directly after the verb ... the verb needs a direct object pronoun, if there is a preposition between the verb and the object it needs an indirect object pronoun:

  • scrivere qualcosa = direct object

  • scrivere a qualcuno = indirect object

  • scrivere qualcosa a qualcuno = both direct and indirect object pronoun.


  • fidarsi di qualcuno = indirect object pronoun

Unfortunately the best way is to learn verbs directly with the corresponding objects ("telefonare a qualcuno", mandare qualcosa a qualcuno etc.)

bye the way: In the sentence above it can only be "him" because "her" would change the participle (the past participle has to be adapted with direct object pronouns in the 3 person singular and plural (lo, la, le, li) and can be adapted with the other direct object pronouns (mi, ti, vi etc.)

"Perché non l'hanno tenuta in prigione?" = why haven't they kept her in prision?


Yes, you understand these things perfectly. What's the problem then? :)


Your comment - except the 4th paragraph - perfectly reflects my thoughts and feelings when I go through the comments section in order to seek help only to stumble opon terms like transitive or accusative and lose all hope that I'll ever grasp Italian/German. I'm Egyptian, English isn't even my native tongue and perhaps 80% of my English is based on intuition rather than rules, so imagine my torment when analogies to English Grammar hit the fan.


Why is, "Why didn't they keep him in prison" marked wrong?


Why did they not keep him in the prison?

My translation was marked wrong too.

This is Reverso translation:

Perché non l'hanno tenuto in prigione

I suppose I'll submit my translation.

KK :)
6 ottobre 2020


Why did they not keep him in prison?

This translation is accepted.


So, according to the explanations, the contraction "l'hanno" can be from "lo hanno" or "la hanno", so how do we know they are talking about a man?


we know that they are talking about a man because the past participle is not adapted.

In composed tenses (auxiliary + participle) the participle has to be adapted if there is a direct object pronoun in front of the verbs (only in the case that there is a direct object pronoun in the 3 person singular and plural (lo, la, li, le) the participle has to change, in the other cases (mi, ti, vi, ci etc.) it can be adapted but it's not necessary).

woman: "Perché non l'hanno tenuta in prigione?


Thank you Sandra!


I couldn't understand this at all. The womans voice fad3s so much on 'l'hanno" that it sounded like "non" again. It didn't matter if i played it fast or slow. I couldn't make it out after several attempts.


Oh no!!....asked several people, they all say the word spoken here is 'venuto'. Not 'tenuto'. What chance??


Could someone please explain to me why when i move my mouse to the l and the drop down says him (dir.obj before a vowel. What is the vowel they are talking about.........Okay so i am thick, but i just do not understand........Help.

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