To Speak Italian

A Quick-Guide to Beginning Italian Grammar!

To speak Italian is not easy at first! Take that verb, to speak, for instance. The simple verb “to speak” has 8 different conjugations. Eight different ways of translating to speak! (Aiuto! Help!)

But it’s not really as bad as it seems, if you remember that the Italian language (like all Latin languages) is built around respect.

It’s an issue of formality. Italians address each other with two modes: formal and informal. The informal is what we use for friends and family. But it’s considered poor form to address strangers, elderly, or authority figures so informally.

Now all of this means that our simple English word you, gets translated with four different terms!

We have tu, voi, Lei, Loro. (Of which the latter two are always capitalized.) Tu and voi are informal; Lei and Loro formal. And the terms tu and Lei are singular, while voi and Loro are plural. Fun, huh?

It goes something like this (using the verb to speak):

  • Informal singular: tu parli. [You speak.]
  • Formal singular: Lei parla. [You speak.]
  • Informal plural: voi parlate. [You speak.]
  • Formal plural: Loro parlano. [You speak.]

In the beginning, it helps to just remember that all four words mean you. The rest comes little by little. But at least you’ll know they’re saying, “You speak!”

It also helps to keep in mind that all persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd) have their own verbal conjugation. Like this:

  • I speak — io parlo
  • We speak — noi parliamo
  • He/she/it speaks — lui/lei parla
  • They speak —  loro parlano
But as I said, it’s really not all that bad!

Because, in the end, communication is what’s important, not saying everything perfectly. So don’t let a few measly verbs get in your way!

Now, study this chart, before taking the following interactive quiz!

Come on, try it! It’s just two simple questions! 🙂

PERSON (English) PERSON (in Italian) In Italian we say (Or you can say it using only 1 word) Which means, in English
I io Io parlo. Parlo. I speak.
you tu  (singular, informal) Tu parli. Parli. You speak.
you Lei  (singular, formal) Lei parla. Parla. You speak.
he/she/it lui, lei Lui/lei parla. Parla. He/she speaks.
we noi Noi parliamo. Parliamo. We speak.
you voi (plural, informal) Voi parlate. Parlate. You speak.
you Loro (plural, formal) Loro parlano. Parlano. You speak.
they loro Loro parlano. Parlano. They speak.
And now, Quiz Time!

Select your answer. A correct answer will turn green. Incorrect answers turn red, with an explanation of why the answer is incorrect. (So even colorblind people can do it!)

Translate the following phrase, by selecting the correct answer: Tu parli Italiano?
Do you speak Italian?
Does he speak Italian?
Incorrect. Does he speak Italian is: Lui parla Italiano?
Do they speak Italian?
Incorrect. Do they speak Italian is: Loro parlano Italiano?
Now answer the previous question, by selecting the correct answer.
Io parlo Italiano.
Noi parliamo Italiano.
Incorrect. This sentence says: We speak Italian.
Lei parla Italiano.
Incorrect. This sentence says: She speaks Italian.

Bravo! Now you can show your friends how well you speak Italiano!

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