Difference between Egli and Lui, Lei.

Please, I'd like to know the difference between the personal pronouns Egli and Lui, Lei. And also between Essi and Loro. Thank you. Claudio

December 29, 2018


I like very much the Cristoforoooo's reply because he introduced an interesting theme and I also would like say "something".

Talking about allocutive singular forms Tu/Lei/Voi, nowadays as Civis and E.T. Gregor wrote, voi is not so used as formal you, except by old people or when speaking some southern dialects, especially in Sicily (there they also say vossia) and Campania or finally in literal/cinematographic works ect. Instead Lei is certainly the formal you in the standard language, while Tu is a colloquial and familiar form. But once things were different.

In ancient Rome they used only tu, even if they were speaking with an emperor, until the 3rd century b.C., when they started using voi i.e. Vos for the emperor Giordano III (while the emperor used noi, so-called noi di maestà) and Tu for all the other people. They chose Voi because a plural form suggested more respect and expressed the magnificence of the emperor. I suppose this reasoning could be similar to the one behind english 'formal you' (once 'thou', atleast until the period of Queen Elizabeth).

Later, around 1400s, they started using the Lei too as formal you, next to the Voi but also to the tu sometimes, as some sources attest. They say that Lei was introduced because often speaking to important people you said e.g. tua / sua / vostra signoria, vostra grazia, vostra eccellenza, vostra magnificenza ect (courtesy appellations: 'seigniory / grace / excellence / magnificence'), so feminine a consequence Lei but also Ella seemed perfect, being feminine too.
In the following centuries, Lei was also considered more and more similar to the expression vostra signoria/grazia... ect, that's to say as its abbreviation. In the meantime, Voi also continued to be used.

As Cristoforooo wrote, everything changes in the 1900s, when the Fascism, or rather B.Mussolini, wants to preserve the Italian-Latin culture from foreign influences, so he forbids the use of the Lei. He thought that Lei was wrongly a foreign form, because in the past some people claimed that Lei was of Spanish origin, only because it had spread more in 1600, a century in which the influence of Spanish customs was very strong in Italy. So, with the Fascism only Voi was the official 'formal you' (but really Lei was still used among people). This historical period is very important because many old people, who were children at that time, still say Voi because of the teaching received at school. After the Fascism, the official language was more and more inclined to use Lei, until today.

I hope this can be useful to uderstand well Italian. Bye

December 29, 2018

Emy, grazie per la lezione di storia

December 29, 2018

Egli and Ella are subjective pronouns, while Lui and Lei are objective pronouns. When speaking we prefer using Lui and Lei as subjective and objective. I don't suggest to use Egli/Ella because you would sound very formal and old-fashioned. When writing things get a bit more complicated. It depends on what you want to write about. If it's something formal (e.g. for work or school) I recommend following strictly the grammar rules. But if you're writing something more informal, even a book, you could use Lui/Lei as subjective and objective, but no Egli/Ella as objective, only subjective. Nobody would get shocked because Egli/Ella are hardly ever used.

Essi is only subjective while Loro should be both. I think that they work as I stated before. Loro is like Lui/Lei, but plural, and Essi is like Egli/Ella, but plural.

December 29, 2018

"Egli" is an older and more formal form, only used in written language, either for formality or occasionally emphasis. But both "egli" and "lui" mean "he". "Lei" means "she". "Essi" is a similar case to "egli". It's formal and only used in writing, but has the same meaning as "loro", i.e. "they".

December 29, 2018

Another thing to keep in mind, both Lei and Voi are used as formal you

December 29, 2018

This is really interesting because some time ago I got my family to send me a bunch of my old comic books, so that I can let my kids work on their Italian. My son really enjoys the Tintin albums a lot. But he came to me one day and asked "why do they always use voi when talking to each other?" He is aware of Lei in formal contexts, but he had never heard voi before.

And it struck me, since my kids have grown up outside of Italy and really only speak Italian with me, they have lots of gaps in their knowledge of Italian. Fine, they watch movies and stuff in Italian, but they are not being exposed to how we actually talk in our everyday lives. I guess I really have to send these children of mine to home soon...

December 29, 2018

Lorenzo, to the best of my memory, both have a long history. I think Dante used voi as well. It was Benito that came in and axed Lei during his Italianization, with lei having Spanish origins he wanted voi used.

I was used to napulitano when I was a child and having learned it from an older generation that came over, I believe I was speaking as if I was a 100 in the 90's. Things became complicated when I tried to focus more on Italian back then.

December 29, 2018

Ciao :) I just wrote "something" about this topic, also about the spanish origins.

December 29, 2018

That may provide some context into why the Tintin translations used voi instead of Lei, bearing that about half the stories were released during the fascist period.

I think I have to go back and see which form is used in the later Tintin stories. I also have to check when they were translated into Italian.

In reference to Napulitano, both my parents speak Roman dialect ("Romanesco"), so that is pretty much what I spoke growing up (I for most part did not grow up in Italy). I did have access to TV from back home however (RAI 1 was available in Tunisia, at least back then, late '70s to early '80s, and with a little extra equipment also RAI 2 and 3, which was important to me because of Goldrake). So I understood Italian well enough, but speaking... I really struggled turning aspettà into aspetta-re, bijetto into that thing that turns your tongue upside down, quallllllcosa (actually qualllllcozzza) instead of the simpler quarche cosa, su-bito instead of just subbito. My mother's side is especially heavy on the 'b' sound: a quite deep sound with a lot of air in the mouth. My father less so. (My father's origins are actually from Verona, but he was born in and grew up in Rome).

So when you say you struggled with Italian, I can just laugh, because so did I! And I am supposed to be Italian! That is what they call my native language. Well at least I can separate my o's and a's...

December 29, 2018

"Voi" is really uncommon, though. Never heard it so far and been told it's only ever used by the grandparent generation in the South of Italy. Wouldn't recommend that anyone learn to use "voi" as a formal singular.

December 29, 2018

I agree that a learner has no benefit from learning how to use the voi scheme, but I would recommend at least to be aware that it exists, as an alternative form to the widespread lei scheme.
In most old films up to the early 1960s (both Italian ones and the dubbed version of foreign ones) all characters used the voi scheme, and in modern films it is still sometimes used to characterize southern speakers, especially in comedies.
In Naples a native would now probably use the lei scheme with a visitor, but to be addressed with the voi scheme is still not unlikely, either.

December 29, 2018

I agree, it's important to know the language in detail, when that is possible.

December 29, 2018

It is still used. Yes, older generations use it, yes the south uses it more, but I'm friends with native Italians in their 20's and even they use it at times, they are not from the south either. It doesn't hurt to know both are used.

December 29, 2018

There are some guidelines to the use of egli vs. lui (and ella vs. lei) in modern written Italian.

When the subject pronoun carries no particular emphasis, egli is properly used:

  • Egli sapeva che avrebbero corso il rischio. = He knew that they would run the risk.

But if there is any emphasis on the subject pronoun, only lui is appropriate:

  • Tutti sapevano dello sciopero, ma lui no. = Everybody knew about the strike, but he didn't.

  • Ieri guidava lui. = Yesterday he (not others) was driving.

Obviously, egli can never be used after a preposition, because although a sentence may start with A lui..., Con lui..., Di lui..., etc., this is never a subject, but an indirect object used as a theme marker (see

December 31, 2018
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