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Tu cercavi noi, noi cercavamo te.

How does this phrasing compare to saying:

Tu cercavi noi, noi ti cercavamo.

I was under the impression that "te" should be used with a preposition, but it's not the case here. Also, I thought that a direct object should come before a verb, so I wonder why "te" comes after a verb here?

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    Both "te" and "ti" are personal pronouns with the function of direct object, the first is called "forma forte o tonica" and the second "forma debole o atona". The difference is that with the "forma forte o tonica" you put more stress on the direct object "you".
    – Charo
    Jan 5 '18 at 14:36
  • As it is explained in the Treccani Encyclopedia I linked in my previous comment, "cercavamo te" puts the stress on the person you are looking for, whereas "ti cercavamo" puts the stress on the verb.
    – Charo
    Jan 5 '18 at 14:43
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As you can read in Treccani Encyclopedia, both "te" and "ti" are personal pronouns with the function of direct object or indirect object, the first is called "forma forte o tonica" and the second "forma debole o atona". The difference between them is that with "forma forte o tonica" you put more stress on the direct or indirect object "you". The pronoun in "forma forte", i.e. "te", can also have the function of other complements as, for instance, in this sentence that I took from Treccani Encyclopedia:

È arrivata una lettera per te.

When the pronoun "te" acts as indirect object or as another complement, it is used with a preposition, but such a preposition is not present when this pronoun has the function of direct object. This is the reason why you don't find a preposition in the sentence "cercavamo te": the function of this "te" is direct object.

In Treccani Encyclopedia you can read this explanation:

Se il pronome svolge la funzione di complemento oggetto o di complemento di termine, la scelta tra la forma forte e quella debole dipende dallo scopo di chi parla o scrive. Ad esempio

hanno chiamato te pone l’attenzione sulla persona

ti hanno chiamato pone l’attenzione sul verbo

That is, when the pronoun has the function of direct or indirect object, the choice between "forma forte" and "forma debole" depends on the purpose of the person who is speaking or writing. For instance

"hanno chiamato te" = they have called you

puts the focus on the person (that is, on "you")

whereas

"ti hanno chiamato" = they have called you

puts the focus on the verb.

So, the difference between the sentences of your question is that "cercavamo te" puts the focus on the person you are looking for, whereas "ti cercavamo" puts the focus on the verb "cercavamo".

To answer the question about word order in the sentence "cercavamo te", I will quote some explanations from the book Grammatica italiana per stranieri by Maria Cristina Peccianti:

Posizione dei pronomi personali
[...]
2. Basta Emmanuele! Sono stanca di discutere sempre con te.
3. Come stai Patrizia? Tua sorella mi ha detto che non sei stata bene.
[...]

- I pronomi personali con funzione di complemento diretto o indiretto di forma tonica stanno sempre dopo il verbo (2). - ‎I pronomi personali con funzione di complemento diretto o indiretto di forma atona stanno di solito prima del verbo (3).
Questi pronomi stanno tuttavia dopo il verbo e si uniscono ad esso formando una sola parola nei seguenti casi.
- Quando il pronome personale è complemento di un infinito. In questo caso l'infinito perde la vocale finale: Vado subito a prenderti il libro che mi hai chiesto.
- ‎Quando il pronome personale è complemento di un imperativo. Ragazzi, fatemi un favore: andate fuori a giocare.

That is, when we use this pronoun in the tonic form, i.e. "te", we must always place it after the verb, as in the example (2) above. When we use it instead in the weak form, i.e. "ti", we usually have to put it before the verb, as in the example (3) (there are some exceptions to this rule mentioned in the quoted text). This is the reason why you say "cercavamo te" with the pronoun "te" after the verb, but "ti cercavamo", with the pronoun "ti" before the verb.

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