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The theme marker - part II - indirect object personal clitic pronouns

Disclaimer
This article targets medium-advanced learners who are already acquainted with clitic pronouns; learners at an early stage might find it difficult.

Other parts available:
part I


Part I showed how to introduce the topic of a sentence by using a 'theme marker', i.e. a kind of label or tag that informs the listener what the sentence is about, before speaking the significant part of the message.
There is no need to use a theme marker when the topic of the sentence is the subject.
When it is an object, instead, the relevant part is shifted to the beginning of the sentence, i.e. towards the left (left dislocation).
Doing this with a direct object, as explained in part I, requires the additional use of a direct object clitic pronoun that replaces the dislocated part, 'resuming' it within the sentence (this is why it is called a resumption clitic pronoun):

  • Il giornalista ha scritto l'articolo. [no theme marker] = The journalist wrote the article.

  • L'articolo [theme marker] lo ha scritto il giornalista. = literally, "(Speaking of) the article, the journalist wrote it."

In the second sentence, lo is a resumption clitic pronoun that points back to the dislocated direct object l'articolo, and therefore agrees with it in gender and number.
Another example:

  • Il blogger ha postato quelle immagini. [no theme marker] = The blogger has posted those images.

  • Quelle immagini [theme marker] le ha postate il blogger. = literally, "(Speaking of) those images, the blogger has posted them."

Direct object clitic pronouns cause the past participle of compound tenses to agree with the direct object of the sentence, i.e. with the clitic pronoun itself. So in the last example, postato changes to postate (feminine plural), so to agree with le (which, in turn, agrees with the dislocated direct object quelle immagini).

Part II and part III (...yet to be written) show how this construction works when the theme marker is an indirect object.

For the sake of clarity, an indirect object is any noun or pronoun in the sentence that does not receive directly the action expressed by the verb (in the following examples they are the parts highlighted in italics):

They bought a magazine at the kiosk.
I went to the cinema with my friends.
He sent John a message.

The English grammar makes a distinction between a prepositional object (introduced by a preposition, e.g. "at the kiosk", "to the cinema", "with my friends") and an indirect object (without a preposition, as in the third example).
In Italian there is no such distinction, because all indirect objects are introduced by a preposition, including the ones that in English are not:

  • He sent John a message. = (Lui) ha mandato un messaggio a Gianni.

When the indirect object is dislocated for being used as a theme marker, there is no need to add the relevant resumption clitic pronoun (except when using ne, as will be said in part III). Adding it in this case is redundant, and officially ungrammatical.
But in the informal language commonly spoken, the redundant pronoun is often added to the sentence all the same. Despite being sometimes frowned upon by better speakers, such constructions are almost as common as the proper ones. So these too are mentioned in the article, keeping them aside from the proper ones.

The following table briefly reviews all the different types of clitic pronouns that can be used as resumption clitic pronouns for the aforesaid purpose: full size

Part II deals with the first group of clitic pronouns (indirect object personal pronouns); part III deals with the other two multipurpose pronouns, ci and ne.

The well-known flexibility of the Italian syntax allows some construction variants, which can be used according to which part of the sentence the speaker wishes to emphasise. The following table summarises seven constructions (the colour scheme allows an easy visual comprehension of how the parts of the sentence are arranged, and relate to each other). Each of them is commented below the image. full size

(1) This is the plain, straightforward sentence (no dislocation, no resumption clitic pronoun, no emphasis).
(2) A variant of (1), in which the indirect object is dislocated to the left without becoming a theme marker, for the purpose of placing the direct object at the end, thus charging it with some emphasis.
(3) Here the indirect object is used as a theme marker; this leaves the direct object at the end, thus emphasised, as in (2).
(4) The indirect object is used as a theme marker, and the subject is postponed, for the purpose of being emphasised.
(5) Same as (3), but with an additional (redundant) resumption clitic pronoun (informal speech).
(6) Same as (4), but with an additional (redundant) resumption clitic pronoun (informal speech).
(7) This is a variety of (5) in which the subject is spoken before the dislocated indirect object; both these parts act together as a theme marker (informal speech).


USING PERSONAL PRONOUNS AS A RESUMPTION CLITIC PRONOUN

We can finally implement all the preliminary notes in some actual examples:

(1) Silvia ha prestato una penna a Roberto. = Sylvia lent Robert a pen. 

This is the plain sentence, in which a Roberto is the indirect object.

(2) Silvia a Roberto ha prestato una penna. = Sylvia lent Robert a pen (not something else). 

(3) A Roberto [theme marker] Silvia ha prestato una penna. = (same as 2)

The literal interpretation of this sentence is "(Speaking of what has been lent) to Robert, Sylvia lent him a pen."

(4) A Roberto [theme marker] ha prestato una penna Silvia. = Sylvia (not someone else) lent Robert a pen.

But in everyday's conversation it is also common to hear these not fully grammatical constructions, with an extra resumption clitic pronoun:

(5) A Roberto [theme marker] Silvia gli ha prestato una penna. = (same as 3, but informal)

(6) A Roberto [theme marker] gli ha prestato una penna Silvia. = (same as 4, but informal)

(7) Silvia a Roberto [theme marker] gli ha prestato una penna. = (same as 3, but informal)

Note that (5) and (6) are basically the same as (3) and (4), with an added resumption clitic pronoun, and also (7) is basically (2) with an added resumption clitic pronoun.

Another example:

(1) Il postino consegnerà la posta ai vicini. = The postman will deliver the mail to the neighbours.

(2) Il postino ai vicini consegnerà la posta. = The postman will deliver the mail (not something else) to the neighbours.

(3) Ai vicini [theme marker] il postino consegnerà la posta. = (same as 2).

(4) Ai vicini [theme marker] consegnerà la posta il postino. = The postman (not someone else) will deliver the mail to the neighbours.

(5) Ai vicini [theme marker] il postino gli consegnerà la posta. = (same as 3, but informal).

(6) Ai vicini [theme marker] gli consegnerà la posta il postino. = (same as 4, but informal).

(7) Il postino ai vicini [theme marker] gli consegnerà la posta. = (same as 3, but informal).

Note how the formal indirect object pronoun for ai vicini (3rd person plural) should be loro, which is the only personal pronoun that lacks a clitic form, therefore it must be used after the verb, as a tonic pronoun (not before):

  • Il postino consegnerà loro la posta. = The postman will deliver them the mail.

But in everyday's conversation this rather formal use of loro is by-passed in two possible ways, i.e. by either using the emphatic construction (a loro):

  • Il postino consegnerà la posta a loro. = The postman will deliver the mail to them.

or by simply replacing loro with gli (for either gender):

  • Il postino gli consegnerà la posta. = The postman will deliver them the mail. (informal) / The postman will deliver him the mail. (proper)

Since using a redundant resumption clitic pronoun in (5), (6), (7) is always a very informal way of speaking, loro is always replaced with gli (this replacement used to be considered ungrammatical, but it is now fully legit, yet informal).

A third example, this time with a feminine indirect object:

(1) (Noi) vogliamo fare una sorpresa a nostra madre. = We want to make a surprise to our mother.

(2) (Noi) a nostra madre vogliamo fare una sorpresa. = We want to make a surprise (not something else) to our mother.

(3) A nostra madre [theme marker] (noi) vogliamo fare una sorpresa. = (same as 2)

(4) A nostra madre [theme marker] vogliamo fare una sorpresa noi. = We (not someone else) want to make a surprise to our mother.

(5) A nostra madre [theme marker] (noi) le vogliamo fare una sorpresa. = (same as 3)

(6) A nostra madre [theme marker] le vogliamo fare una sorpresa noi. = (same as 4)

(7) (Noi) a nostra madre [theme marker] le vogliamo fare una sorpresa. = (same as 3)

Two considerations should be made about this set of sentences.
In first place, when the subject is a personal pronoun, e.g. noi, rather than a noun, it is often dropped (although this is not mandatory); but when it carries some emphasis, as in nos. (4) and (6), it must be spoken.
A second observation is that nos. (5), (6), (7) are unlikely to be heard, because the indirect object pronoun le is generally spoken only by good speakers, who do not use the three aforesaid constructions.
Instead, poor speakers, or those who speak more informal varieties of the language (e.g. regional Italian, dialect), who are more likely to use (5), (6), (7), often tend to replace le with gli (or its dialect equivalent), so these sentences would sound as:

(5) A nostra madre (noi) gli vogliamo fare una sorpresa.
(6) A nostra madre gli vogliamo fare una sorpresa noi.
(7) (Noi) a nostra madre gli vogliamo fare una sorpresa.

This makes them sound even more unrefined (but they do not sound as such in dialect).
Therefore in standard Italian, nos. (5), (6), (7) should not be used when the indirect object is feminine singular. Instead, with a feminine plural noun, the informal gli (as a replacement of loro for either gender) sounds less unrefined.


WHEN THE INDIRECT OBJECT IS A PERSONAL PRONOUN

When the indirect object is not a noun (as in all examples shown so far), but a personal pronoun (e.g. "to me", "to you", "to him", etc.), using the redundant resumption clitic pronoun sounds quite unrefined in standard Italian, and should be definitely avoided.

Note that construction no. (1) can be spoken in two ways, either using the clitic pronoun (mi, ti, gli, etc.), or preposition + tonic pronoun (a me, a te, a lui, etc., i.e. the emphatic construction).
When the indirect object personal pronoun is used as a theme marker, it is always in the preposition + tonic pronoun form, because clitic pronouns can only stand next to the verb, and cannot be moved away from it:

(1) L'insegnante vi ha spiegato questa regola. [plain] = The teacher explained you this rule.

(1) L'insegnante ha spiegato questa regola a voi. [emphatic] = The teacher explained this rule to you (not to others).

(2) L'insegnante a voi ha spiegato questa regola. = The teacher explained this rule (not something else) to you.

(3) A voi [theme marker] l'insegnante ha spiegato questa regola. = (same as 2)

(4) A voi [theme marker] ha spiegato questa regola l'insegnante. = The teacher (not someone else) explained you this rule.

These constructions sound quite unrefined:

(5) A voi [theme marker] l'insegnante vi ha spiegato questa regola. = (same as 3, but best avoided)

(6) A voi [theme marker] vi ha spiegato questa regola l'insegnante. = (same as 4, but best avoided)

(7) L'insegnante a voi [theme marker] vi ha spiegato questa regola. = (same as 3, but best avoided)

Despite being ungrammatical in standard Italian, the last three constructions are commonly heard among poor speakers all the same.
Primary school teachers used to be strict about the redundant pronoun, and kept telling their pupils: "A me mi..." non si dice (a rule that still lingers in our ears after half a century!).


WHEN A DIRECT OBJECT IS LACKING

All intransitive verbs lack a direct object; when they take an indirect object, the latter can be still used as a theme marker.
Among these verbs, a common one is telefonare ("to telephone"); remember that in Italian, unlike in English, you telephone to someone (not someone ).
Since the direct object is missing, when the indirect object is shifted to the left and becomes the topic marker, what remains at the end of the sentence and takes the emphasis is the verb:

(1) Paolo ha telefonato all'idraulico. = Paul telephoned the plumber.

(2) Paolo all'idraulico ha telefonato. = Paul (indeed) telephoned the plumber.

(3) All'idraulico [theme marker] Paolo ha telefonato. = (same as 2)

(4) All'idraulico [theme marker] ha telefonato Paolo. = Paul (not someone else) telephoned the plumber.

(5) All'idraulico [theme marker] Paolo gli ha telefonato. = (same as 3, but informal)

(6) All'idraulico [theme marker] gli ha telefonato Paolo. = (same as 4, but informal)

(7) Paolo all'idraulico [theme marker] gli ha telefonato. = (same as 3, but informal)

Should the sentence contain a further indirect object (or more than one), it would remain at the end, and take the emphasis in place of the verb:

(5) All'idraulico Paolo ha telefonato nel pomeriggio. = Paul telephoned the plumber in the afternoon (not at any other time).

(5) All'idraulico Paolo ha telefonato dall'ufficio. = Paul telephoned the plumber from the office (not from any other place).

Let's focus on nos. (4) and (6), i.e. the two constructions in which the subject is postponed and spoken at the end of the sentence:

(4) All'idraulico ha telefonato Paolo. [postponed subject] = Paul (not someone else) telephoned the plumber.

(6) All'idraulico gli ha telefonato Paolo. [postponed subject] = (same as above, but more informal)

This sentence can be understood in two different ways according to which part is pronounced with a higher voice pitch (i.e. the part shown in italics in the following examples).
By raising the voice pitch on the postponed subject, this part is emphasised:

(4) All'idraulico ha telefonato Paolo. = Paul (not someone else) telephoned the plumber.

(6) All'idraulico gli ha telefonato Paolo. = (same as above, but more informal)

Alternatively, the voice pitch can emphasise the verb, despite the last part of the sentence is still the subject; in this case the voice pitch, after having risen on the verb, falls down again in pronouncing the postponed subject:

(4) All'idraulico ha telefonatoPaolo. = Paul actually telephoned the plumber (i.e. he did not forget).

(6) All'idraulicogli ha telefonatoPaolo. = (same as above, but more informal)


VERBS WHOSE INDIRECT OBJECT DOES NOT CORRESPOND TO THE ENGLISH ONE

Beware that some verbs in Italian take the preposition a, whereas in English they take a different preposition.
For instance, rubare a ("to steal from"):

(1) Un ladro ha rubato il cellulare a Sara. = A thief stole the cell phone from Sarah.

(2) Un ladro a Sara ha rubato il cellulare. = A thief stole the cell phone (not something else) from Sarah.

(3) A Sara [theme marker] un ladro ha rubato il cellulare. = (same as 2)

(4) A Sara [theme marker] ha rubato il cellulare un ladro. = A thief (not someone else) stole the cell phone from Sarah.

Constructions (5), (6), (7) are not shown, being the indirect object feminine singular.

Moreover, some verbs that in Italian take the preposition a, in English use a completely different construction; among them are piacere, mancare, interessare, etc.
With these verbs, the plain construction (i.e. without any emphasis) is the one that starts with the indirect object (the theme marker), and has the subject in postponed position, constructions nos. (4) and (6). These verbs are intransitive, and never take a direct object.
Here are three examples featuring the aforesaid verbs mancare a (literally, "to be missing to", but usually translated as "to miss"), piacere a (literally, "to be likeable to", but usually translated as "to like"), and interessare a ("to be interesting to", but usually translated as "to interest"):

(4) Ad Alberto [theme marker] manca sua moglie. = Albert misses his wife. (literally, "To Albert, his wife is missing.")

(6) Ad Alberto [theme marker] gli manca sua moglie. = (same as 4, but informal)

It is also possible to form the other constructions, but in some cases they may sound unnatural, meaningless, or simply odd:

(1) Sua moglie manca ad Alberto. = Albert (not others) misses his wife. (sounds odd)

(2) Sua moglie ad Alberto manca. = Albert (indeed) misses his wife. (sounds odd)

(3) Ad Alberto [theme marker] sua moglie manca. = (same as 2, but sounds much more natural)

(5) Ad Alberto [theme marker] sua moglie gli manca. = (same as 3, more informal)

(7) Sua moglie ad Alberto [theme marker] gli manca. = (same as 3, sounds terrible Italian!)

Using piacere:

(4) A mio padre [theme marker] piacciono gli spaghetti. = My father likes spaghetti.

(6) A mio padre [theme marker] gli piacciono gli spaghetti. = (same as 4, but informal)

The other constructions are:

(1) Gli spaghetti piacciono a mio padre. = My father (not someone else) likes spaghetti.

(2) Gli spaghetti a mio padre piacciono. = My father does like spaghetti.

(3) A mio padre [theme marker] gli spaghetti piacciono. = (same as 2)

(5) A mio padre [theme marker] gli spaghetti gli piacciono. = (same as 3, more informal)

(7) Gli spaghetti a mio padre gli piacciono. = (same as 3, more informal)

Using interessare:

(4) A Elena [theme marker] interessa quella mostra. = Helen is interested in that exhibition.

(6) a Elena [theme marker] le interessa quella mostra. = (same as 4, but unlikely spoken because of the reduntant le)

The other constructions are:

(1) Quella mostra interessa a Elena. = Helen (not someone else) is interested in that exhibition.

(2) Quella mostra a Elena interessa. = Helen is (indeed) interested in that exhibition.

(3) A Elena [theme marker] quella mostra interessa. = (same as 2)

(5) A Elena [theme marker] quella mostra le interessa. = (same as 3, but unlikely spoken because of the reduntant le)

(5) Quella mostra a Elena [theme marker] le interessa. = (same as 3, but unlikely spoken because of the reduntant le)

A dual interpretation according to the voice pitch in this case can concern construction no. 1:

(1) Gli spaghetti piacciono a mio padre. = My father (not someone else) likes spaghetti.

(1) Gli spaghetti piaccionoa mio padre. = My father does like spaghetti.

and

(1) Quella mostra interessa a Elena. = Helen (not someone else) is interested in that exhibition

(1) Quella mostra interessaa Elena. = Helen is (indeed) interested in that exhibition.


INDIRECT OBJECTS THAT DO NOT ALLOW A RESUMPTION CLITIC PRONOUN

Only few types of indirect object do not allow the use of a resumption clitic pronoun, for instance: "from someone", "instead of someone". In this case, the informal constructions nos. (5), (6), (7) are impossible:

(1) Gianni ha ricevuto una lettera da lei. = John has received a letter from her.

(2) Gianni da lei ha ricevuto una lettera. = John has received a letter (not something else) from her.

(3) Da lei [theme marker] Gianni ha ricevuto una lettera. = (same as 2)

(4) Da lei [theme marker] ha ricevuto una lettera Gianni. = John (not someone else) has received a letter from her.

Since no resumption clitic pronoun can refer to da lei, the three informal constructions are impossible.

[to be continued]

October 24, 2018

11 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Lynnich

CivisRomanus you are awesome! I have always had problems with these and now I hope I will have less problems......

October 24, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/HelenDaisy

CivisRomanus, you are wonderful. Thank you again.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Linda7Italian

Civis. Sono a bocca aperta! Grazie.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Thank you for your appreciation. I apologize for the long wait, I should have posted this a long time ago... but better late than never.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Corern

Your notes are invaluable, really. If you ever put it all together in an e-book, I'll buy it! Your knowledge and willingness to share it should be rewarded. Thank you so much.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/vesna2691

...ho solo bisogno di stendermi un po'........ :-)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Ti avevo avvisata che il peggio doveva ancora venire... :-D
Coraggio, c'è rimasta solo un'altra parte.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KarenLynn11

Holy crap, this is amazing! I feel like I should print all of these and have them bound into an issue called "Civis' Grammar Gold".


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/HelenDaisy

‘Bound into an issue’——I am already on file number 4!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KarenLynn11

Then clearly I'm behind and need to catch up. ;) Also, happy to know I'm not the only one loving these articles.

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