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I've read that 'le' (to her) can be replaced by 'gli' in speech. How often does this happen, and in what contexts?

Example: Le dico qualcosa (a Laura). Gli dico qualcosa (a Laura).

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  • Would you allow a little humor? Since the most recent tendency is to make Italian language (as English and other languages) as neutral as possible, saying and writing lei/lui, "ti sei trovat' bene?", "ti sei divertitǝ?", well, it might be that in the near future we would say something like "Glile dico qualcosa" or, like the Venetian below, "Ghe dico qualcosa" :-) Sep 24 at 23:55
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The usage of gli for the dative case of the third person clitic personal pronoun is very common in speech and informal writing, despite it being considered inappropriate in formal writing.

From the Grammatica Italiana Treccani:

Per indicare il complemento di termine è sempre più comune, nel parlato e nello scritto informale, l’uso della forma pronominale atona gli, sia per il maschile, sia per il femminile (al posto di le) [...]

L’uso di un’unica forma è largamente attestato nel corso della nostra storia linguistica ed è conforme all’etimologia (la forma latina illi era sia maschile, sia femminile). Tuttavia quest’uso non è ancora accettato nella norma, e gli al posto di le viene percepito come forma popolare, familiare e colloquiale, da evitare soprattutto nello scritto formale.

To indicate the indirect object it is more and more common, both in speech and in informal writing, the usage of the pronominal clitic form gli, both for the masculine and for the feminine (instead of le). [...]

The usage of a single form is largely attested in our linguistic history and conformal to the etymology (the Latin form illi was both masculine and feminine). However this usage is not yet accepted as a rule, and gli instead of le is perceived as a popular form, familiar and colloquial, to be avoided especially in the formal writing.


However, Serianni in his book Italiano (VII.38) takes a much stronger view and declares the usage of gli in the feminine form "certainly to avoid, even in informal speech" (while being much more indulgent towards the usage of gli instead of loro), although noting that this usage is very common even in literary texts. In my experience this position does not represent the actual usage of the speakers, but I wanted to report it anyway given the high prestige of Serianni's book.


As usual in these cases I advise a learner to always use le, but to be prepared to encounter gli very often in the texts and speech of other people.

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    “Prevalent” and “completely superseded” sound like exaggerations. As always, this depends on geographical areas and so on. Gli for loro is on its way to be widespread, but in my experience gli for le is still quite limited and, more importantly, connotes negatively who uses it.
    – DaG
    Sep 16 at 8:20
  • @DaG I moderated the language in this answer, but note that even Serianni (who is highly critical of this usage of gli) notes that it is very present even in literary texts, from Boccaccio to Moravia.
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 16 at 8:47
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    May I suggest to change the Treccani link with the following one? treccani.it/enciclopedia/gli-o-le_%28La-grammatica-italiana%29 Sep 16 at 9:46
  • @GiuseppeRomanazzi Thank you, you're right this is better!
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 16 at 9:52
  • @DaG I thought about it, and maybe the difference in perception can be explained in the different substratum? For example in Venetian there's only one third person indirect pronoun (ghe), and the fact that the regional language still has a high prestige (in the linguistic sense) might influence the usage of that construction in spoken Italian. I do not know how things work in Roman, but it would be an explanation for the difference we perceived.
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 20 at 11:37
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If you heard this, it was a mistake. Italian has strictly rules on this, so the personal pronoun (the one that goes instead of the noun) is always "le" referring to "her" (a lei) as in this case, and "gli" referring to "him" (a lui).

"Gli dico qualcosa (a Laura)" is a mistake.

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! However I disagree, it might be a mistake in formal writing but in informal writing and speech the use of gli for the feminine third person complement pronoun is the most common form.
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 16 at 7:11
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    @DenisNardin, do you have source for “the most common form”? In my experience it isn't at all.
    – DaG
    Sep 16 at 8:26
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    @DaG I added an answer with a quote from the Grammatica Italiana Treccani exactly for this reason. I will revise a little my language to account for your comments but that's my experience (with the caveat I haven't lived in Italy for a while now)
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 16 at 8:35
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    You should tell this to Manzoni, who used it, in line with many other authors. Of course, in a term paper in primary school such usage of gli would be marked as an error. At some point grammarians arbitrarily decided for le, but this has been somewhat arbitrary.
    – egreg
    Sep 16 at 16:06
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    We all agree that he just asked about contemporary italian, in forms of speech, and not about the linguistic history, so no Manzoni, Boccaccio, Moravia, Dante, and all the remarkable authors. Just italian spoken. "gli" for "her" is wrong. You can use it ? For sure. Just, it's wrong.
    – RobyB
    Sep 16 at 19:31

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