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The imperative of "distrarre" is "distrai!". This is like "fare", whose imperative is "fa'" or "fai". With an object particle it becomes "fallo". Does that happen with "distrarre" (and "trarre") as well? Because "distrallo" and "trallo" sound terrible to me, but a friend of mine is convinced they're right. I would say "distràilo" and "tràilo". Which is right?

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    There is a joke on this theme for when you want to correct someone speaking bad Italian: "Ma almeno l'italiano sallo!" (instead of "sappilo"). – Giovanni Mascellani Nov 29 '14 at 22:00
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(dis)tràilo and tràilo are correct.

(About the mere words and their existence in Italian it comes to my mind only strallo: a steel cable for buildings or in boats)

But why in tràilo the "i" pre-clitic is preserved while in dallo and fallo is "lost"?

Probably because dare and fare (together with dire, stare, andare) don't follow the "usual" pattern of conjugation and have an apocopated/shortened form.

Source:

http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/imperativo_%28Enciclopedia_dell%27Italiano%29/

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    Thanks for the Traccani link: so, fa'-like forms predate fai-like ones! (Probably coming from the irregular Latin imperative forms dic, fac etc.) – DaG Nov 26 '14 at 18:42
  • @DaG That's the same I knew: the two forms fa' and fai developed independently. The apostrophe is just an orthographic device, not really related to truncation/elision. – egreg Nov 26 '14 at 22:55
  • @metafora I was talking about the specific case, where the apostrophe doesn't denote the elision fai > fa', as the latter form predates the former. – egreg Nov 27 '14 at 10:46
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I'm a native Italian speaker and I agree with you, I say "Distràilo" and not "Distrallo" which is incorrect. Same goes for the verb "Trarre", "Trailo" is the correct form while "Trallo" is incorrect.

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    Indeed. Fallo derives from the fa' form; since distra' does not exist, distrallo has no reason to exist either. – DaG Nov 26 '14 at 15:08
  • Yes, Correct @DaG – Mattia Righetti Nov 26 '14 at 15:09
  • Never use very common verbs as a template to infer the rules for the other verbs. :-) Words that are used a lot become worn out and develop exceptional behaviours. – Mauro Vanetti Dec 10 '14 at 11:30
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This phenomenon is known as univerbation with syntactic gemination (or syntactic doubling [raddoppiamento sintattico in Italian]) that occurs when clitics (clitici in italian) are welded with strong monosyllabic verbal forms (typically the second person singular of the imperative).

We have:

  • fare: imp. fai, fa' → fa'+lo=fallo, fa'+ti=fatti
  • dire: imp. di'→ di'+lo=dillo, di'+ci=dicci
  • dare: imp. dai, da'→ da'+lo=dallo, da+mi=dimmi
  • andare: imp. vai, va'→ va'+ci=vacci
  • stare: imp. stai, sta'+ci=stacci
  • etc.

The second person singular, thanks to his affective content (volitive), is inclined to shorten (see Rohlfs, Historische Grammatik der italienischen Sprache und ihrer Mundarten, Vol. 1, §606).

See for example:

  • tenere: imp. tieni, tieni+lo=tienilo but we have
    Tienlo a mente, e legatelo al dito.,
    E tienlo un poco in collo, almen tanto, che pianga la madre.
    (cfr. colloquial forms te’ ‹tè› or tie’ ‹ti̯è›)
  • venire: imp. vieni, vieni+ci=vienici but we have
    Siam derelitti pargoli. Deh! vienci a benedir.

With the verbs trarre and its compounds (contrarre, distrarre, attrarre, etc.) we don't have vowel apocope or shortening of the regular form in the imperative and we have univerbation only:

  • trarre: imp. trai → trai+lo=trailo
  • distrarre: imp. distrai → distrai+lo=distrailo
  • attrarre: imp. attrai → attrai+le=distraile
  • Do you know if there is a linguistic explanation on why vowel elision does not happen on trarre? – Federico Poloni Dec 29 '17 at 11:10
  • (dis)trai follows the rule, *fa', da', di', etc.' are exceptions (some of them coming from latin fac, dic) – alexjo Dec 29 '17 at 12:23
  • @alexjo They're not “exceptions”. As already told in a comment to the accepted answer, fa', da', di', va', sta' predate fai, dai, dici, vai, stai and are not elisions thereof. – egreg Dec 29 '17 at 13:41
  • @egreg Actually it's apocope. In this sense an "exeption" – alexjo Dec 29 '17 at 13:44
  • @alexjo No, in those case it isn't apocope, or whatever you want to call it: the forms with the apostrophe predate the longer ones, so they cannot be their truncations, elisions, apocope or whatever. – egreg Dec 29 '17 at 13:48

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