I was asked to translate the sentence "She loves him for his wealth." into Italian. And I wrote the following: "Lei gli ama per la sua ricchezza."

My software corrected it and said it should be: "Lei lo ama per la sua ricchezza." or, better: "Lei l'ama per la sua ricchezza."

While I know that both of those forms are correct -- I thought that gli was also used for "him" as a clitic. Is there an idiomatic difference, or is this a mistake in the software?

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    There is a big difference: at the third person singular lo is used for the direct object and gli is used for the indirect object (complemento di termine in Italian).
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:55
  • As in, the same way that mi becomes me when followed by another clitic -- lo becomes gli?
    – Marco
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:57
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    No, as in indirect object vs direct object. They are different grammatical categories and not intechangeable at all.
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:59
  • Wow! That makes a lot more sense (all the other questions I got wrong in a similar vein now are clearer). Thank you. Can you post that as an answer so I can accept it?
    – Marco
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 17:06
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    Are you or is your software (which one, by the way?) saying that Lei l'ama would better than Lei lo ama? While it's true that lo can often be truncated (for instance l'avevo detto sounds better than lo avevo detto), my ear – for what's worth – wouldn't do so in such a sentence as this one.
    – DaG
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:02

1 Answer 1


There is indeed a big difference: one is used for the direct object and the other is used for the indirect object. Those are different grammatical roles and using one for the other is a serious mistake.

Here is the list of the clitic forms for the direct object and the indirect object respectively.

|  D.O. |   I.O. |
| mi    | mi     |
| ti    | ti     |
| lo/la | gli/le |
| ci    | ci     |
| vi    | vi     |
| li    | (gli?) |

You will notice that they are distinguished only at the third person. Moreover, the third person plural doesn't really have a clitic form, although in spoken Italian it is often used gli.

Care should be taken when there are clitic pronouns both for the direct object and the indirect object. In that case the indirect object is always first, and its last vowel is changed from i to e (E.g. Me lo diede, he gave it to me). At the third singular form something weirder happens and the two pronouns combine in glielo, gliela or glieli. This form is correct only when the direct object is a third person pronoun too (although it might be plural), e.g. Gliela diede, he gave her to him.

Last, let me mention that while Duolingo is a pretty good substitute for a practice book (and in some ways it is even better than a traditional practice book), it does a really poor job of explaining the grammar. Its use should be complemented by a good grammar book or, at the very least, the Italian wikicourse.

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    By the way, the usage of gli as third person plural pronoun is more recognized that I gave it credit for. It still sounds quite ugly to me and I would avoid it as a language learner.
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 23:46
  • Having more than one clitic was always confusing to me and now I realize they are entirely different thanks to your explanation. Also, I always knew Duolingo would not be the only stop in my education, but I agree with you -- the practice drills helped me to memorize most of of the 2-3k words. Aside from that wiki (which on perusal, looks great), do you have a grammar book that you would recommend?
    – Marco
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 20:57
  • Unfortunately the Italian wikibook is incomplete, someone should really look into it. I am not familiar with good grammar books, but you might look into our resources page for inspirations. Usually I recommend to choose grammar books in your native language (or another language you speak exceedingly well).
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 21:10
  • @Marco Coming a couple of years later I've found an excellent grammar book for language learners: it is Lepschy & Lepschy's The Italian Language Today. A bit late for you, probably, but still I hope this is helpful for any future reader.
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 6:38

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