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Total honesty here, I tend to forget that I should be using the formal version of Italian with people that I should and sometimes I make people my age feel old when I accidentally use the formal on them.
One day though, I shall get it right.
And I look forward to that.
For now, I’m going to outline the differences between the formal and informal version of Italian so you have a leg up and hopefully never get them confused like me.
This isn’t an exhaustive lesson though.
I’m just going to tell you exactly what you need to know to be conversational with informal and formal Italian.
Yes, there are two forms.
Formal is used for people like teachers, elders, strangers, and acquaintances.
So, it’s like when I met an older gentleman last week and should’ve used ‘Lei’ instead of ‘Tu’, but alas, we can’t win all of the time.
Informal is used with friends, family members, children and peers your age.
Here’s the first thing that you need to know about the difference.
When you address people, you often use io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, e loro to say, respectively, I, you, he, she, we, you all, and they.
Io – I
*Used for the informal tense!
*Used for the formal tense!
Voi: You all
So, when the gentlemen asked me, “Hai dormito bene?” – Did you sleep well?
I should’ve answered: “Si, e Lei?” But I answered “Si, e tu?”
Here’s the 2nd thing.
Arrivederci – Good-bye (used in informal + formal situations)
Here’s the 3rd thing.
Di dove sei? – Where are you from? (informal)
Di dov’è Lei? – Where are you from? (formal)
Here’s the 4th thing.
Come stai? – How are you? (informal)
Come sta? – How are you? (formal)
Here’s the 5th thing & the overall rule.
This is a conjugation table for the verb ‘essere’.
Whatever verb form is in the third row down, the lui/lei/Lei/egli row, that’s the verb that you use for formal Italian.
Any verb form in the second row, the tu row, that’s the verb form that you use for informal Italian.
That’s it for now!
In the comments below, ask me any question that you have about informal and formal forms of Italian.
[photo credit: John Picken]