The Indirect Object in Italian (I)

Pronouns can be difficult to master in Italian, especially those pronouns that function as direct and indirect objects. This short post will start our regular updates for 2015! I thought that it would be good to start the year by learning about the indirect object — an aspect of Italian grammar that many students find troubling. It is also a question that I am asked quite regularly so this is a good place to begin the year!

The Italian equivalent to the English indirect object can be:

  • complemento di termine

and sometimes:

  • complemento di vantaggio

The complemento di termine in Italian asks the question a chi or a cosa (to whom or to what). Remember: the indirect object in English is usually someone or something that is affected by the verb. In Italian, this is where the action in the phrases ends (il termine):

I threw the ball to John.
Ho lanciato la palla a Giovanni.


I threw John the ball.
Ho lanciato la palla a Giovanni.

In our example above, Giovanni is where the action ends after I throw the ball. The ball receives the action of the verb (that I have given it by throwing it).

The complement di vantaggio can also be the equivalent to the English indirect object only when it asks the question per chi or per cosa, for whom or for what:

I bought a present for Giovanni.
I bought Giovanni a present.
Ho comprato un regalo per Giovanni.

I prepared a nice dinner for my friends.
I prepared my friends a nice dinner.
Ho preparato una bella cena per i miei amici.

Some points to consider:

  1. In Italian, when the indirect object is not a pronoun, it is always preceded by a preposition. This can be seen in our examples above.
  2. Complementi di termine or Complementi di vantaggio can be substituted for indirect object pronouns (mi, ti, gli, le, ci, vi, a/per loro).
  3. Not all complementi di termine or complementi di vantaggio are equivalent to the indirect object in English! They are only the same when they ask the questions a chi/a cosa or per chi/per cosa. Some complementi di termine can be used with adjectives, too!
  4. Italian has many different complementi (complemento di termine, di materia, di vantaggio, di argomento, etc.). Only the complemento di termine (and less commonly the complemento di vantaggio) can used indirect object pronouns! All other complements must use the tonic pronouns.


It is important to know what your nouns and proper nouns are doing in the sentence so that you know how to substitute them with pronouns. In the next post, we will explore this argument further and show you how to use object pronouns properly!