Teaching Italian - Language notes - Formal / informal


Tu come ti chiami?
What's your name? informal
Lei come si chiama?
What's your name? formal

  • Tu and Lei both mean "you".
  • Tu is informal, used when talking to someone your own age or younger, or someone you know well.
  • Lei is formal, used when talking to someone you don't know well or someone older than you.
  • If in doubt, use Lei, especially in a business situation or when addressing an older person. You may then be invited to use tu: Diamoci del tu?

    The choice affects the ending of the verb linked to tu or lei, even when the actual words are not used.

    Come ti chiami?
    What's your name? informal
    Come si chiama?
    What's your name? formal
    Cosa mangi? What are you eating? informal
    Cosa mangia? What are you eating? formal

    The word used to address more than one person, in a formal or informal way, is voi. The verb linked to it has another ending, too.

    Voi come vi chiamate?
    Come vi chiamate?
    What's your name?
    informal or formal, more than one person
    Di dove siete?
    Where are you from?
    informal or formal, more than one person
    Cosa mangiate?
    What are you eating?
    informal or formal, more than one person

    see also...
    io, tu, lei...
    Verb endings

    BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

    This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.