Addressing people formally and informally, greetings and introductions. Listen to the podcast.
The Podcast is about making friends and starting a conversation.
“LEI” AND “TU”
In Italian, we have two different levels of communication: formal and informal. When we want to address someone informally, we use the pronoun TU (you). On the other hand the formal pronoun is LEI (she) used for both men and women. The first one is equivalent to the English YOU, so there’s no problem here. The LEI is a form of respect that creates distance between speakers. For example:
- Come ti chiami (tu)?
- Come si chiama (lei)?
They both mean what’s your name, but the latter is more appropriate if you speak to an adult you don’t know, or need to pay respect to someone. For example, I know many people using the Lei with their parents in law, their bosses and colleagues at work, their customers. It depends on the situation.
Sometimes the Lei is not necessary because the nature of the relationship is informal. Italians are friendly, so most probably the Lei will be necessary only when you introduce yourself. You will soon use the informal Tu.
Since you are a foreigner, people will understand it’s difficult for you to use the Lei. In any case, it’s recommended to show some politeness and learn greetings and introductions using Lei. Then, you can ask to switch to the informal Tu saying:
- Diamoci del tu.
- Possiamo darci del tu?
Let’s proceed with order:
Italians use titles more than English speakers. The following is the basics:
- Signore – Sir
- Signora – Ma’am
- Signorina – Miss
- Signor Rossi – Mr. Rossi
- Signora Bianchi – Mrs. Bianchi
- Signorina Ferrari – Miss Ferrari
On top of it, people tend to give a lot of importance to graduated professionals. Every Italian holding a university degree is a dottore if male or dottoressa if female and the title is used instead of signor or signora before the last name, even outside the working environment. The most common are:
- Dottor Rossi
- Dottoressa Bianchi
- Avvocato Martini
- Professor Armani
- Professoressa Lamborghini
- Ingegner Campari
You can see that titles for males ending in “e”, drop the “e” before the last name. Signore becomes Signor Rossi, Dottore becomes Dottor Rossi and so on.
Greetings in Italian follow the same simple rules you have in English. They can be formal, informal, common or less common depending on the situation. Down below the most common.
- Buon giorno – Good morning, but also good afternoon until dusk
- Buon pomeriggio – Good afternoon, not as common as Buongiorno
- Buona sera – Good evening
- Buona notte – Good night
- Buona giornata – Have a good day
- Buona serata – Have a good evening
These can be used in formal and informal situations and are all rather polite. I’d rarely say buona sera to a close friend.
- Ciao – Hi
- Salve – Hello
Ciao is what I would say to a friend or a relative. It’d be very rude to say ciao to a person who deserves the formal Lei.
Salve is the formal version of ciao. Use it when necessary.
- Arrivederci – See you.
- Ci vediamo – See you.
- Ci si vede- We’ll see each other.
- Ci sentiamo – Speak to you soon.
- A presto – See you soon.
- A domani – See you tomorrow.
- Alla prossima – See you next time.
- A dopo – See you later.
- Benvenuto / Benvenuta / Benvenuti – Welcome.
Arrivederci is quite formal. It’s ok to use it with the Lei form. Same with A presto. All the others are rather conversational and informal. Ci sentiamo is more like “we’ll hear from each other”.
You probably learned that “Mi chiamo…” means “My name is…”. Right, but the literal translation is “I call myself …”. Chiamarsi is a verbo riflessivo, a reflexive verb. Visit the linked page if you want to learn more. So, what’s your name is “Come ti chiami? – How do you call yourself?”. The complete conjugation of the verb chiamarsi is the following:
- Io mi chiamo –
- Tu ti chiami –
- Lui / Lei si chiama –
- Noi ci chiamiamo –
- Voi vi chiamate –
- Loro si chiamano –
If you want to ask “what’s your name” you have two options
- Come ti chiami (tu)? Informal
- Come si chiama (lei)? Formal
Remember that we can omit the subject, so it’s not necessary to say Tu or Lei like in English. The person would answer “Mi chiamo…” or simply say his or her name.
We can say “nice to meet you” in different ways:
- Piacere di conoscerla – “Pleasure to know you” – Lei, formal
- Ciao, piacere – Hi, pleasure – Tu, informal
- Molto piacere – Much pleasure – Very polite, impersonal
If you introduce someone else to some people, there are the usual two options:
- Le presento il Dottor Bianchi – I introduce to you (Lei) Dr. Bianchi
- Ti presento la mia amica Lucia – I introduce to you (Tu) my friend Lucia
- Vi presento Il signor Martini – I introduce to you Mr. Martini (voi, you plural)
The podcast and examples above are basic. It would be enough to get you started. Down below, more examples.
LEI & TU
- Buongiorno dottore, come sta?
- Mi scusi, sa che ore sono?
- Dove abita?
- Dov’è il suo albergo?
- Che lavoro fa?
- La ringrazio.
- Lei ha figli?
- Posso aiutarla?
- Buongiorno Marco, come stai?
- Scusami, sai che ore sono?
- Dove abiti?
- Dov’è il tuo albergo?
- Che lavoro fai?
- Ti ringrazio.
- Tu hai figli?
- Posso aiutarti?
- Good morning, how are you?
- Excuse me, what time is it?
- Where do you live?
- Where is your hotel?
- What’s your job?
- Thank you.
- Do you have children?
- Can I help you?
In red, the LEI version, in blue the TU version. These are just a few examples and show how a few words in Italian can change the tone and the level of respect in a conversation. These sentences may be useful as ice-breakers for starting a conversation.
All the following examples are with the courtesy form “Lei”.
- Buon Natale Signor Rossi.
- Avvocato Berlusconi, a che ora ci incontriamo?
- Chiedo scusa signorina, ha bisogno di aiuto?
- Signora Martini, sa che ore sono?
- Ingegnere, ha completato quel progetto?
- Mi scusi signore, ha perso le chiavi.
- Vorrei parlare con il professor Campari. È disponibile?
- Dottoressa Bianchi, ammiro molto il suo lavoro.
- Le presento il signor Bonaventura.
- Merry Christmas, Mr. Rossi.
- Avvocato Berlusconi, what time shall we meet?
- I beg your pardon Miss, do you need any help?
- Mrs Martini, do you know what time is it?
- Ingegnere, have you finished that project?
- Excuse me Sir, you have lost your keys.
- I would like to talk to Professor Campari, is he available?
- Dottoressa Bianchi, I admire very much your work.
- Let me introduce Mr. Bonaventura.
- Buon giorno a tutti!
- Buon pomeriggio signora, posso aiutarla?
- Buona sera Franco, come va?
- Buona notte e sogni d’oro.
- Buona giornata e buon lavoro.
- Buona serata e buon divertimento.
- Ciao Luca, da quanto tempo!
- Salve signora Rossi, i miei saluti a suo marito.
- Arrivederci e a presto.
- Ci vediamo la settimana prossima.
- Grazie mille Michela, ci si vede.
- Ciao Giulia, a presto.
- Grazie mille per la bella serata. Ci si vede.
- Benvenuti in Italia!
- Good morning everyone.
- Good afternoon Ma’am, can I help you?
- Good evening Franco, how is it going?
- Good night and sweet dreams
- Have a good day and a good time at work.
- Good evening and have fun.
- Ciao Luca, long time no see!
- Salve signora Rossi, my regards to your husband.
- See you soon.
- See you next week.
- Thanks a lot Michela, I’ll see you.
- Bye Giulia, see you soon.
- Thanks a lot for the lovely evening. We’ll see again.
- Welcome to Italy!
These are formal and informal greetings and farewells. The expression “buon lavoro” doesn’t really have an equivalent in English. It’s a farewell, in this case it doesn’t mean “good job!”.
- Mi chiamo Luca, piacere.
- Ti chiami Fabio, vero?
- Lui si chiama Stefano, è un mio amico
- Come si chiama la tua amica?
- Piacere di conoscerla dottoressa Ferrari.
- Piacere di conoscerti, mi chiamo Dario.
- Piacere mio.
- Posso presentarle il professor Bianchi?
- Posso presentarti Laura, la mia ragazza?
- Vi conoscete già?
- My name is Luca, nice to meet you.
- Your name is Fabio, right?
- He’s Stefano, a friend of mine.
- What’s the name of your girlfriend?
- Pleased to meet you doctor Ferrari (woman)
- Nice to meet you, my name is Dario
- My pleasure.
- May I introduce professor Bianchi?
- Can I introduce Gianni, my boyfriend?
- Do you already know each other?