Clitics - an attempt of a short summary

1) A clitic is a word that depends phonologically on another word or phrase. They are pronounced together so that it seems to be a single word. (The English ‘s is a clitic ) As also Wikipedia writes, a clitic can be every kind of word (pronouns, determiners, prepositions) So in Italian ”strapieno” and also the indefinite article (un amico) are clitics, in the same way as ”parlarmi” is a clitic and ”parlare a me” is NOT. So - in my opinion - it’s much easier to use the specific grammar expressions than the word clitic. I prefer to speak about indirect object pronouns, direct object pronouns, pronominal particles, reflexive pronouns and reciprocal pronouns.

2) Definition

a) direct/indirect object pronouns:

  • a direct object pronoun is a pronoun that replaces a part of a previous sentence in the function as a direct object. (e.g. Carl is nice. I want to know him)

  • indirect object pronoun is a pronoun that replaces a part of a previous sentence in the function as an indirect object (e.g. There is Carl. I want to go to him)

The difference of direct and indirect objects is very difficult for English speaking people. If a pronoun is a direct or indirect one depends only on the grammatical case which has to be used (accusative or dative).

  • In Italian direct objects stand directly after the verb (dire qualcosa, fare qualcosa). In English you ask for them with: what? or whom? and the answer is him, her, it

  • In Italian indirect objects stand only indirectly after the verb, that means that there is a preposition between the verb and the object (dire a qualcuno, parlare a qualcuno). In English you ask for them with to whom, to what, for whom, for what? and the answer is to him, to her, for him… etc.)

One of the problems is that not always Italian and English verbs ask for the same type of objects. For example:

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

  • telefonare a qualcuno (preposition between verb and object) = indirect object.

Another problem is that you have often verbs that can take a direct object pronoun together with an indirect one. (mandare qualcosa a qualcuno, fare qualcosa a qualcuno, dire qualcosa a qualcuno etc.).

Unfortunately the best way is to learn verbs directly with the corresponding objects.

The direct and indirect object pronouns themselves can be divided in “tonic” (stressed) and “atonic” (unstressed) ones.

The object pronouns are:

I) stressed (tonic) direct object pronouns:

  • me, te, lui/ lei/ Lei, noi, voi/ Voi, loro

II) unstressed (atonic) direct object pronouns:

  • mi, ti, lo/ la/ La, ci, vi/ Vi, li/ le

III) stressed (tonic) indirect object pronouns:

  • a me, a te, a lui/ a lei/ a Lei, a noi, a voi/ a Voi, a loro

IV) unstressed (atonic) indirect object pronouns:

  • mi, ti, gli/ le/ Le, ci, vi/ Vi, loro (gli) (in the spoken language gli is used also for the plural, for female and male)


The stressed (tonic) ones are used:

  • with prepositions (vado al cinema con te. Secondo te allora viene? Parla solo di te)

  • in sentences without a verb (Chi ama? te?; Chi vuole chiamare? te?

  • in case of comparison (Ama lui e non te!; A me scrive, ma non a te)

  • to emphasize the object (chiama te. (non me); Lei ama te!; A te porta i fiori)

  • after come and quanto (sono bravo come te; ho studiato quanto te)

  • followed by stesso (Devi rimanere sempre te stesso)

me, te, ce, ve (instead of mi, ti, ci, vi..) are also used in combination with other object pronouns. i.e. If you replace in the same sentence a direct and an indirect object. (Te lo detto, ve l’ho mandato)

If gli is followed by a direct object pronoun (la, lo, le, li) the two have to fuse (glielo, gliela, gliele, glieli). The others (me, te, ce, ve…) are only fused if attached to an infinitive, imperative, gerund (mandarmelo, mandamelo!, mandandomelo)

loro has to be placed behind the verb: Amo loro.

b) the pronominal particles ne and ci:

Also NE and CI replace complements from previous sentences.

Ci (The problem of ci is that it has a lot of meanings/uses (indirect pronoun, direct particle etc):

ci can replace locations preceded by the prepositions a, in, su

  • Vorrei andare in Italia. Ci vado domani (replaces in Italia)

  • Sei stato alla spiaggia? Sì, ci sono stato (replaces alla spiaggia)

  • Sei mai salita su una montagna? Non, non ci sono mai salita. (replaces su una montagna)

ci with the meaning of at it/ on it/ with it replaces additions with a/ su

  • Pensi alle nostre vacanze? Sì, ci penso sempre. (replaces alle nostre vacanze)

  • Possiamo contare sul tuo aiuto? Sì ci potete contare or: Sì, potete contarci (replaces sul tuo aituo)

  • Pensi alla politica? Non, non ci penso. (replaces alla politica)

(BUT !!attention!!: with people you have to use the indirect object pronoun: Pensi a me? Sì, ti penso (replace a te)

ci is used in a lot of idiomatic expressions

  • c’è/ ci sono (there is/ there are): C’era una volta (once upon a time there was… (the tipical beginning of every fairy-tale)

  • ci vuole / ci vogliono (it is required, necessary; often used in recipes)

  • as "ci attualizzante" (I don't know the English word) it's used in the informal/colloquial language to emphasize the verb "avere" (ce l’hai un ragazzo?)

  • pensarci, crederci (Ci credo = I believe it). It can replace a whole sentence: Potresti chiudere la finestra? Sì, ci penso io. (ci = a chiudere la finestra)

With ci the Italian language uses a lot of so-called “pronominal verbs” (verbs with two pronominal particles, as avercela, farcela)


ne refers in most cases to a part of a quantity, it replaces expressions with the partitive article (di + definite article); like (“parts thereof” or “of them”). It’s used if the quantity is specified by number, by adverbs/ word of quantity (troppo, poco, abbastanza, nulla...etc.)

  • Avevo 20 mele. Ne ho mangiato 19. Ne ho mangiato troppe. Non ne ho mangiato nessuna. (MA: Avevo 20 mele. Le ho comprate ieri = whole quantity = direct object pronoun)

ne replaces expressions with “di” + persone/ luoghi/ things)

  • Sento la nostalgia degli amici. Ne sento la nostalgia (ne = degli amici)

  • Vorrei parlare di Palermo. Ne vorrei parlare. (ne = di Palermo)

  • Parliamo molto di religione. Ne parliamo tanto (ne = di religione)

  • Hai voglia di vedere il nuovo film con me? Sì, ne ho voglia (ne = di vedere il nuovo film con me)

ne replaces expressions with “da” + luoghi/ persone/ situations/ conditions

  • Vengo ora da Roma. Ne vengo ora. (ne = da Roma)

  • Sono uscita dal dentista. Ne sono uscita (ne = dal dentista)

  • Finalmente sono uscita dalla depressione. Ne sono uscita (ne = dalla depressione)

  • Sono uscita dal casino. Ne sono uscita (ne = dal casino (casino = chaos also figurative)

Also with ne the Italian language uses a lot of so-called “pronominal verbs” (verbs with two pronominal particles, as andarsene, fregarsene, approfittarsene)

c) reflexive pronouns:

In this case the subject is not only doing the action but the action refers also to the subject.

-mi lavo = I wash myself

d) reciprocal pronouns:

In English the construction “each other” is used. In Italian, instead, reciprocal actions are expressed using a plural reflexive pronoun (ci, vi, si) and the corresponding verb form in the plural (noi, voi, loro + conjugated verb)

  • ci baciamo, ci abbracciamo, ci amiamo (this construction is really simple, everything you can do with “each other” you can express in the same way in Italian).

I know that there is much more to tell about clitics ;o), about their combinations etc. but this can be demonstrated/shown in a much better way using tables and DL doesn't allow to use them and you find them very easily in the web.

This was only an attempt to explain one of the most difficult chapters of the Italian language, but I hope it helps.

September 7, 2014


Yes, all very useful; but hardly a short summary! :D

The main problem with Clitics is that when you use the word "Clitics" and indeed any of, as you said, "specific grammar expressions...(such as)... accusative, dative, indirect object pronouns, direct object pronouns, pronominal particles, reflexive pronouns and reciprocal pronouns" a normal English person's eyes will roll back into their head and they will fall asleep, or they will give up and try something less difficult.

We (English speakers) HATE grammar and grammatical terms. We are lazy, lazy people!

Remember; we are the group of humans who decided to use U instead of typing "all of those letters" needed to spell you. (Not that I, personally, do that or approve of it, but still...)

Lazy, I tell you!

When people read your short summary and then learn that there is "much more to tell about Clitics", there is a audible groan and the sound of people who are not truly dedicated to learning the language clicking onto another website.

September 7, 2014

I can relate to everything you've said. I've been having trouble with clitics for quite some time now, it still hasn't "clicked" in my brain, I guess. After coming across this post, I was pretty excited as I thought to myself" huh, perhaps THIS will finally help me understand, once and for all, that godforsaken grammatical demon.

I mean, I've tackled all the cases in the German course and I found them to be much, much less confusing than Clitics. Maybe it's just the unfamiliar words (stressed tonic?).

I'm sure that eventually, I'll read this again and that some day, it will click. For now however, it just looks too intimidating and off-putting, to be honest. I'll give it a rest for a while. Perhaps come back to it when I'm more comfortable with Italian, and maybe, just maybe, I'll manage to somehow get the hang of it through practice alone.

Anyhow, it was really reassuring reading your comment and seeing that I'm not the only one who was completely flabbergasted when first encountering Clitics.

October 22, 2016

I made my own Clitics explanation post-- you can find that here:

Sandra helped me to fix it up so that is was more accurate.

Resting is a good strategy-- if you're not in the mood to learn then you won't learn.
But the information in the Clitics unit becomes essential, later on, and it is then found in almost every lesson from now until the end, so you do have to come to grips with it.
It took me a year, but I got it. Hopefully you can do it in less than that.

October 22, 2016

Please know, Sandra, that I very much appreciate your efforts, in your main article, to help people. It is all superb information there. But then I have got "Clitics" figured out, for the most part, after almost two dedicated years of practice. That fact alone will depress some people, and cause others to despair even further.

Keep at it everyone! Read Sandra's post, line by line, and force yourself to try to understand it! Practice, practice, practice!!!

I suggest that you should begin every session of Duolingo by "reviewing/ practicing" the Clitics unit.

It is not going away, later on. It is very likely the most important single unit on Duolingo Italian!

September 7, 2014

My intention was only to make it easier. If you use clitic for nearly every short Italian word every attempt to explain the pronouns etc. becomes impossible. I don't want U ;o) to remember the grammatical terms but if "clitics" are used as a mass noun it's impossible to distinguish their use.

Yes, I know being German makes it much easier for me to understand cases (accusative and dative) and direct and indirect objects. But I am of the opinion that it's much simpler to learn something you have theoretically understood...

I wanted to help the "clitics" unit not to be only a guessing game.

September 7, 2014

Good point. To an English ear, it is a strange word, clitics, to begin with.

By the way, when you say "accented" and "unaccented", English speakers associate the word accent with the diacritic characters above vowels.

If you use "stressed/ unstressed" , instead, then that could be a bit clearer to the majority of us.

September 7, 2014

I edited and changed it in "stressed/ unstressed". thanks

September 8, 2014

MABBY, absolutely correct. I was having fun with Duolingo until I ran into clitics. Now, I feel "stressed". Anyway, Sandra your posts are very informative, I'm glad I stumbled upon them even though I'm not sure I understand them. I'll keep trying

November 20, 2014
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How I wish you had made this post when I first started learning clitics! You are always very helpful, your knowledge of grammar is simply awesome and I appreciate all the comments you make. Thank you for them all.

September 7, 2014

A noble effort, Sandra! But there is one small problem. (You have corrected me so many times - for which I am grateful - that I think I can return the favor.) I understand that you are primarily concerned with clitics, and therefore with pronouns, but the syntax of direct and indirect objects gets a bit muddled.

The English direct object is not called that because it directly follows the verb, but because it receives the direct action of the verb. The indirect object only indirectly receives the verb's action. For example:

"I gave the book to him." The book is what was given. There is no indirect object; "him" is instead the object of the preposition "to." (Prepositions also take objects.)

"I gave him the book." Here the book is still what was given; it's still the direct object. But "him" is now the indirect object of the verb; there is no preposition. (One could say that there is an "understood" preposition, "to," but that disguises the syntactic structure.)

The accurate distinction is the one you point out, between accusative case (in English, called objective case) and dative case. In English, both objective and dative cases have the same form, in this example, "him." In languages in which the dative case has a different form the IDEA of the preposition ("to, at, in, for," etc.) is INCLUDED in the pronoun ("to him, at him," etc.). English usually needs the explicit preposition, and it will come after the direct object.

When both direct object and indirect object are pronouns, the prepositional form is required, but it should not be called an indirect object. (In just a bit I will explain why.)

"I gave it to him." "It" is what is given; it's the direct object. "Him" is the object of "to."

"I gave him it." This is grammatically "correct," but it would almost never be used. Very clumsy.

Italian has an interesting imperative structure that may be useful to consider: "Dammilo!" (Give it to me) The indirect object (dative case) is "mi" (altered from "me'). The direct object is "lo." Note that the dative comes between the verb stem and the direct object.

The closest English equivalent is a colloquial, non-standard expression: "Gimme it," or simply "Gimme." The order of the objects is the same as in the Italian form.

You correctly point out that different Italian verbs take different cases as objects. This is not unlike "compound (or phrasal) verbs" in English. For example:

"He YELLED at the top of his voice" = He was loud. "He YELLED AT her" = He exhibited anger toward her.

What looks like the same verb is changed by the attached particle (which looks like what is normally a preposition) and requires a different complement. In neither case does "at" introduce an indirect object; "at the top of his voice" is an adverbial prepositional phrase; "her" is a direct object. In Italian, those sorts of modifications of meaning are INCLUDED in the verb itself, without the need of another word. In both languages, the complement forms must simply be learned along with the verb..

January 22, 2015

Thanks Robert for this clarifications. I am not proficient enough in English to speak about English direct and indirect objects. And the way in which prepositions (or particles) change the whole meaning of a sentence in English let me shiver! Your explanations however show me that it's not very different from German (prepositions take objects etc.)

The statement that a direct object (not direct object pronoun) always follows directly the verb is valid for the Italian language and also that every indirect object takes a preposition. (Therefore I wrote: In Italian the direct object...) The direct object's name derives - as you mentioned - from the fact that the verb directly act on the object. But in Italian I like that it's also "visible" because the object is directly attached to the verb. (I expressed it in this simple way, used as a mnemonic trick). And this - obviously - is only valid for the basic form of the verb ("dare qualcosa a qualcuno" , parlare a qualcuno etc.) the object pronouns, direct or indirect ones, are already a transformation (by the way it's the other way round: dammelo! a form of the pronouns "mi + lo").

In German, instead, this is not valid and I would always speak about accusative and dative objects. And unfortunately there is also no easy "visible sign" to distinguish the objects, apart from the endings you have to learn.

January 22, 2015

Sandra, thanks for your reply. I thoroughly agree with you (and eriktillema) that "clitics" is more usefully considered according to the grammatical use of those little words. (The little words are always the most troublesome, aren't they, in any language?) Your approach provides reasons for the structures, and therefore understanding of why things are used as they are. I hope you will be able to shape the Italian to German tree this way, and that the other Italian trees will follow your example.

As you say - and I think you knew this already - many English forms are not very different from German, because the roots of English are Germanic (although it has been also influenced by Romance languages, especially French). The thing I find amazing is that there are so many similarities among all languages, which use more-or-less different forms to express similar ideas about ourselves and our relations to the world. It is those similarities - and those cultural differences - that make learning languages valuable. Anything that gets us closer to those commonalities, to the way people actually think, is an improvement.

And thanks again for your correction of "dammelo!" I think we've done this one before; those little "clitics" are tough. But the indirect object still comes directly after the verb, followed by the direct object, even if I got the vowel wrong! Always exceptions, nicht wahr?

January 23, 2015

Very useful! grazie!

September 7, 2014

Really great academic job! If you would wake up in a classroom with a bunch of 14year olds, how would you prefer to teach clitics to them? Grazie

September 8, 2014

Grazie mille!

September 8, 2014

Thanks for the great reference!

I'm confused by the first couple of sentences. [Edit: not anymore :) ]

Also, out of curiosity, is the Italian tree structured with the "clitics" lesson simply because the way Duolingo is set up, you have to do things like learn all the meanings of ci at the same time?

January 22, 2015

In my opinion is one of the problems that in this course (by the users, because DL doesn't teach grammar) the word clitic is used for object pronouns and all the little words /particles without a further distinction.

A clitic is a word that cannot exist separately without another word it's based on.. (so it depends on this word and normally the two words are pronounced as if they are one word. e.g."andarsene"... the word clitic derives form the Greek word "to lean on/against something".

I hate the clitic lesson, because without teaching grammar first it's only a guessing game. In the Italian to German tree I hope we can change this, but unfortunately it seems to be impossible because we can't yet implement completely new lessons. I personally would divide into "direct object and direct object pronouns", "reflexive verbs, reciprocal verbs etc." , "indirect object and indirect object pronouns" and "pronominal verbs" "ci and ne" ... but we will see how the Incubator will evolve...

January 22, 2015

Ah, so is it correct to say that an object pronoun might be a clitic (when it's connected to another word) but might not be (when it's separate)?

Really looking forward to the German from Italian course (since I live in Italian-speaking Switzerland)- thanks for all the hard work on it!

January 22, 2015

Very very useful information!! It is so much useful information, you could spread it out over at least a number of subjects:

  • types of verbs Transitive, Intransitive or both. Which verbs can take an indirect object and which don't
  • when to use the stressed object
  • how to use 'the small words' for direct and indirect objects
  • how do reflexive verbs work (there are 4 sub-types!)
  • how do ne and ci work
  • ...

2 annotations:

  • "I want to go to him" is not a very good example of a verb taking an indirect object in my opinion. In fact, I don't think that 'to him' is an indirect object in this sentence but more like an adverbial or something. I would use the example "I want to speak to him". In that sentence 'to him' is the indirect object in English and in Italian.

  • The part about direct objects coming directly after the verb, while indirect objects use a preposition is not correct I think, but to be honest I'm not 100% sure. In the sentence 'Rispondo alla domanda', isn't 'la domanda' the direct object? Or in 'Mi ricordo del suo compleanno', wouldn't 'il suo compleanno' be the direct object?

January 22, 2015

1) In Italian you have direct and indirect complements.. The only direct complement is the "direct object", instead there a lot of indirect complements.. also "I want to go to him" is an indirect one, "un complemento di moto a luogo". but maybe "speak to him" would be better because of the use of the of the preposition "a".

2)the information that direct objects come directly after the verb is correct... Every German book about Italian grammar says that.. but I have had some difficulties to find also an English website with the same information.

citation: "In Italian, an indirect object must always be preceded by a preposition."

a) "rispondere a qualcosa/qualcuno" uses in Italian the indirect object..

have a look here:

citation: Some Italian verbs take an indirect object in contrast to their English translations, which take a direct object. The most common are: domandare o chiedere a I’ll ask (something) (to) her. piacere a telefonare a I’ll telephone (to) him at nine. rispondere a

b) ricordarsi di is also a indirect object.

citation (unfortunately in Italian): "No, il complemento di specificazione rientra nella grande classe dei complementi indiretti (definizione con cui si indicano i complementi introdotti da una preposizione), ma non coincide con il complemento oggetto indiretto, perché quest'ultimo indica l'entità che subisce il processo verbale: completa il verbo. Possono reggere complementi oggetto indiretti i verbi che esprimono un sentimento dell'animo (meravigliarsi di qualcosa o qualcuno), una sensazione fisica (profumare di qualcosa), verbi di memoria (ricordarsi di qualcosa o qualcuno) e altri verbi come abusare, approfittare, disperare, vendicarsi ecc."

January 22, 2015

ok... so according to you, in these 2 sentences

  1. "Ti sei ricordato del compleanno di tuo nonno?"
  2. "Si, me lo sono ricordato."

'il compleanno di tuo nonno' is NOT the direct object, but 'lo' is the direct object?

Because if that is the case, the definition of a direct object in the Italian language is getting very strange...

PS yes the 'rispondere a' example was ill chosen.

January 22, 2015

In my opinion the correct form is:

  1. Ti sei ricordato del compleanno di tuo nonno?

  2. Si, me NE sono ricordato.

expressions with "di" asks for "ne".

January 22, 2015

Ahhh that makes a lot of sense. I think in that case my source was wrong and "Me lo sono ricordato" is incorrect Italian.

These ones should be correct:

  • “Hai ricordato il compleanno?” “Si, l’ho ricordato”
  • “Ti sei ricordato del compleanno?” “Si, me ne sono ricordato”

Note that in the last sentence, the direct object is 'me' although it looks like it is the indirect object!

January 22, 2015


Is this just an incorrect Italian sentence in DL? Or are we still missing something here?

January 23, 2015

It seems to me that the problem here is that "ricordare" and "ricordarsi" are almost identical in meaning and use. "Remember" and "remind" are quite different in English. Either Italian verb can translate both. Perhaps "remind oneself" is equivalent to "remember," but those reflexive pronouns complicate how one parses the syntax. Sandra's "ne" seems right in any case, and eriktillema's last versions look fine to me.

January 22, 2015

Hi Sandra. This is a helpful post on a most difficult topic. I would just like to comment that I thought that the word who was used in English when referring to a direct object.

... In Italian direct objects stand directly after the verb (dire qualcosa, fare qualcosa). English you ask for them with: what? or whom? ...


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

I think both those should use who.

January 25, 2015

I am not sure. I am not very proficient in English, but I found it in some English grammar books

have a look here:

But it seems as if "whom" is less used nowadays, so maybe you are right.

January 25, 2015

Yes, you are right, sorry for any confusion. It seems that it depends on the function that who or whom takes, and I read those sites and visit a few others, I think I remembered this incorrectly.

Many sites show the he vs him rule .. if you can answer the question with he, then it should be who. If you can answer the question with him, then it should be whom. So in your example, 'Whom do you phone?' The answer is 'I phone him.' Therefore whom is correct, because it acts as a direct object in the clause, not the subject. Sorry for cluttering your post (but glad to be corrected!)

January 25, 2015

Sandra, your summary is really impressive. I took me half an hour to read and understand it. And I shall have to read it a couple times more to remember most of it. Again, very impressive and thank you very much for the effort.

July 4, 2018

thank you very much

July 4, 2018

un grande aiuto, grazie mille!

July 8, 2018

As clitics appear to be so important but English speakers find them so difficult, then DuoLingo needs to give a wider base of instructional lessons in its training programme with a slower incline of difficulty level. Otherwise, students will run into a brick wall and decide to stop learning.

July 17, 2018
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