TU or LEI in Italian?

When and how are "tu" and "Lei" used in Italian? Read today's new article to find out!

Hello everyone! Today we are going to talk about how and when to use "Tu" and "Lei" in Italian depending on the context. Some time ago I did a podcast where I told you about the difference between Lei and Voi and also told you their story! To listen to this podcast and download the transcript click here.

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Social uses

As you may already know, "tu" is used in Italian with friends and family members or otherwise people we know well. In addition, "tu" is often used among young people of the same age. I am 24 years old and if I meet someone that I have never seen in my life who is about the same age as me or even up to 30-35 years old I will probably use "tu".

"Lei" on the other hand is used with:

  • People older than us that we don't know, for example, an adult or an elderly person if we are young.

  • Between adults, for example two 50-year-olds if they do not know each other will probably use "Lei."

  • In formal settings, for example at the bar, post office, restaurant, or bank. Also, in very formal settings such as universities, many professors usually use "Lei" with students. Even at school, "Lei" is used with teachers who, in most cases, will simply use "tu" with students.

  • On the street, if you are young, you might use "Lei" with an elderly person and they will probably answer with "tu." However, since I have turned 20, I have noticed that if I use "Lei" with an older person, that person will still answer me with "Lei" as a matter of respect (as in the interview with Marco Zentilomo that you can watch here). This does not always happen, but it usually does.

  • Beware in the workplace where "tu" is now almost always used. You will usually use "Lei" the first time at an interview but then you usually use "tu" even with the boss.

Informal and formal greetings

As for informal greetings, I remind you of the simple and beautiful ciao. Formal greetings, on the other hand, are buongiorno and buonasera. Salve is considered formal by most Italians, although theoretically it is informal as most Italian grammars report. If you go into a store or bar you can use salve, but I do not recommend it in very formal settings such as university or when writing a formal email. To get attention in a formal way you can always use scusi or mi scusi as opposed to the informal scusa and scusami.


When we use Lei we must also be careful about pronouns and possessive adjectives.

Here we see the direct and indirect object pronouns. Indicated with arrows we can see the courtesy pronouns. Remember that when we write it is appropriate to indicate these pronouns with a capital letter even though it is not mandatory.

Here, on the other hand, we can see the courtesy forms for possessive adjectives, which are always capitalized.

Now let's look at some practical examples:

  • Le ho mandato una mail (a Lei). → I sent you (f.) an email.

  • Ho provato a chiamarLa ieri (La ho). → I tried calling you (f.) yesterday.

  • Professore, L’ho sentita parlare alla conferenza ieri → Professor, I've heard you speaking at the conference. Be careful here to change "sentito" to "sentita" because the pronoun is feminine! Even if we are talking to a man, the pronoun Lei is always feminine! In fact, if we were to say this sentence, "Professoressa, L’ho sentita parlare alla conferenza ieri", as you see it would not change, even if we are referring to a woman.

  • Dottore, Le ho scritto una mail ma non ho ricevuto risposta → Here we do not change "scritto" because we have an indirect pronoun. In fact, the rules of "concordanza" of the past participle with the verb avere apply only when we have a direct object, not an indirect object! → Doctor, I wrote to you (f.) an email but I haven't received a response.

  • Scusi, questa è la Sua giacca? → Excuse me, is this your (f.) jacket?

The position of pronouns with the imperative is also very important. Observe these examples:

  • Dammi 1 kg di pane/Mi dia 1 kg di pane. → Give me 1kg of bread.

  • Chiamalo più tardi/Lo chiami più tardi. → Call him later.

If you want to learn more about pronoun position, you can watch this video here.

Some useful forms of courtesy

Now let's look at some useful forms of courtesy:

  • La ringrazio grazie/thank you

  • Può cortesemente aiutarmi → per favore/please

  • Può aiutarmi per cortesiaper favore/please

  • Può darmi una mano gentilmenteper favore/please

We are done for today's article! I hope you enjoyed it and as always if you have any questions, send me a message in the contact section of my website.

Un abbraccio,

Teacher Stefano