In this article, I am going to talk about the Italian pronouns Tu, Lei and Voi and I will also talk about their evolution throughout the centuries. I will also explain which one is the most used pronoun nowadays. So, if you want to know more about this topic, read the following text!

If you go around the Italian peninsula you may notice that there are several pronouns used to address people (allocutive pronouns).

These pronouns are:

  • Tu: used to address to people we are familiar with;
  • Lei: used as a form of respect;
  • Voi: used as a polite form, (like Lei) but less common.

A bit of history

What is the history of these pronouns, and how has their use changed over time?

In origin, the Italian language only provided for the use of Tu (like in Latin), but since this pronoun was considered too informal and not suitable for all situations, the pronoun Voi was added.

Since the XIV century, Lei began to spread, gathering more and more approval, so much so that it became an alternative to the pronoun Voi between 1500 and 1600.

A century later, however, in the XVIII century, many Italians widely criticized the word Lei, and the reason was its foreign origin. This criticism came from the thought that in 1600 there was the maximum diffusion of the Spanish language and culture in Italy. Numerous intellectuals, including the illuminist Pietro Verri, supported these criticisms.

Some centuries later, during the Fascist period, there was another severe criticism of the pronoun Lei. Everybody knows that Fascism sought to eliminate every foreignism and the word Lei, having a Spanish origin, had to be banned in favor of Tu. However, the pronoun Lei was already so widely used that, despite all the fascists’ attempts, it continued and continues to be alive and kicking.

The language is alive and is always evolving

From the history of the Italian pronouns we can see that it is impossible to govern a language and decide in advance how it should change.

Language is free. It evolves and changes naturally without following any established rule. Every day new words are born and others fall into disuse. This is the beauty and the uniqueness of each language. There is nothing that you can set in advance, but everything is in constant evolution.

If you want to practice the courtesy form click here!

Read the Italian version!

ilaria firma

Remember! You can read something more about the allocutive pronouns and the polite form Lei.

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