Let’s begin our discussion of the important phrases “he said” and “she said” by looking at how to use the verb dire — to say — in the past tense. The past tense for “he said” and “she said” in Italian, a one-time event, uses the passato prossimo, and is “ lui/lei ha detto.” This Italian past tense verb also translates into the less commonly used English past tense, “he has said” and “she has said.”
Since the subject pronoun is generally left out of an Italian sentence, we are left with “ha detto” to describe both what he said and what she said. The subject pronouns lui (he) or lei (she) may be added before the verb for emphasis in this case, but generally those having a conversation know who they are talking about.
Because the phrases “he said” and “she said” are used frequently in everyday conversation, we should commit the Italian passato prossimo verb “ha detto” to memory.
To make a complete sentence using the verb dire to describe what was said, use either “di” or “che” to link the subject and verb to the topic that was discussed. Di is used as the conjunction in the examples in the table below to answer a question in the affirmative or negative. Of course, even though our focus in this blog is on how to use the verb ha detto, it should be noted that one usually answers “yes,” or “no,” for themselves with ho detto, although they can also relay someone else’s answer using a different conjugation of dire, such as ha detto, abbiamo detto, etc. In all situations, when answering “yes” or “no” in Italian, the conjunction di is required.
|Ho detto di si.
|I said yes.
|Ho detto di no.
|I said no.
|Ha detto di si.
|He/She said no.
|Ha detto di no.
|He/She said no.
|Abbiamo detto di si.
|He/She said yes.
|Abbiamo detto di no.
|He/She said no.
Adding an indirect object pronoun before the verbs ho detto, abbiamo detto, or ha detto will allow the speaker to describe to whom something was said. For this section, though, our discussion will focus only on “ha detto” and Italian indefinite articles.
Why focus on “ha detto?“ One of the most popular every day phrases is, “He/She said to me,” which is, “Mi ha detto” in Italian. In fact, the phrase “mi ha detto” is used so often that it usually said in one breath! We can build on this simple, easy to remember phrase to describe more complex situations. For instance, we can substitute other indirect object pronouns for mi (to me), such as ti (to you), gli (to him), or le (to her).
In English, when we use the indirect object pronouns “to me,” “to you,” “to him/her,” they are placed after the verb, while in Italian, they are placed before the verb. This may take some time to get used to. In the summary table below, the indirect object pronouns are in red.
|He said / She said
|Mi ha detto
|He said / She said to me
|Ti ha detto
|He said/ She said to you
|Gli ha detto
|He said / she said to him
|Le ha detto
|He said / She said to her
The next table uses our verb ha detto and indirect object pronouns in example sentences. For these examples (and for all other instances in Italian except those given in the table in the previous section regarding a “yes” or “no” answer), “che” is used as the conjunction.
The subject pronoun is included in some of the examples in the table below for clarity. Again, the Italian and English indirect object pronouns are in red. In all cases except the first, when the subject is directly quoting what someone else has said to them, English uses a direct object pronoun in these cases instead, and this is given in green. Notice how many permutations of the same sentence are possible with only the singular indirect object pronouns!
|Lui ha detto che il film era bello.
Lei ha detto che il film era bello.
Mi ha detto: “Il film era bello.
|He said that the film was good.
She said that the film was good.
He/She said to me: “The film was good.”
|Mi ha detto che il film era bello.
|He/She told me that the film was good.
|Ti ha detto che il film era bello?
|Has he/she told you that the film was good?
|Giovanni gli ha detto che il film era bello.
|John told him that the film was good.
|Anna gli ha detto che il flim era bello.
|Ann told him that the film was good.
|Giovanni le ha detto che il film era bello.
|John told her that the film was good.
|Anna le ha detto che il film era bello.
|Ann told her that the film was good.
Our example sentence, “Mi ha detto che il film era bello,” and its translation, “He/She told me that the film was good,” brings up an important difference between Italian and English verbs and object pronouns; not all Italian verbs that take indirect object pronouns do so in English!
We have just seen the the Italian verb dire takes an indirect object pronoun that goes before the verb, whereas its English counterpart “to say,” in typical conversations usually takes a direct object pronoun that goes after the verb. We would not say, “He told to me that the film was good,” although this is correct in Italian!
This adds to the difficulty in choosing when to use an Italian indirect object pronoun, since the correct English translation will not always reflect the indirect object pronoun choice in Italian.
The difference in the Italian and English [object pronoun-verb] combination may not be immediately apparent in the phrase “mi ha detto,” since the Italian pronoun mi plays double duty as both an indirect and direct object pronoun! The Italian pronoun mi can be translated as both “me” (direct object pronoun) and “to/for me” (indirect object pronoun).*
The same goes for the Italian pronoun ti, which is translated as “you”(direct object pronoun) as well as “to you” (indirect object pronoun).*
Choosing between an indirect and direct Italian object pronoun when conversing about others in Italian becomes important in the masculine third person, as one must decide between lo (him) and gli (to him). For females, the choice is between la (her) and le (to her).
*And, of course the reflexive pronoun mi stands for “myself” and ti stands for “yourself.”
So how does an English speaker know when to choose an indirect object pronoun in Italian?
Italian verbs of communication and giving
take indirect object pronouns
when referring to a person.
The table below is a short list of the verbs of communication that take Italian indirect object pronouns when referring to other people in conversation. You will recognize the example verb in this blog, dire, at the top of the list.
Note that if one of these verbs is followed by a person’s name, the Italian pattern to follow is [verb + a + name]. The Italian indirect object pronoun can be though of as substituting for the “a” placed before a person’s name.
In some cases, both Italian and English verbs take an indirect object pronoun but in other cases the English translation uses a direct object pronoun, as we’ve already mentioned. Unfortunately, there is no rule that connects the Italian way of speaking to the English way, so the Italian verbs that take [a + name] or indirect object pronouns just need to be memorized. In short, in order to speak Italian, we must think in Italian!
Some Italian verbs of communication that take indirect object pronouns:
|to give advice
Examples that use Italian verbs of communication with indirect object pronouns are given below. The indirect object pronouns are in red, the direct object pronouns are in green, and the person to whom the object pronoun refers to is underlined. Of course, there are a infinite number of combinations! Try to create your own sentences, taking situations from your own life!
Ho detto a Maria che… I told Maria that…
Le ho detto che… I told her that…
Ho domandato a Franco se… I asked Frank if…
Gli ho domandato se… I asked him if…
La Signora Rossi ha spiegato a me che… Mrs. Rossi explained to me that…
La Signora Rossi mi ha spiegato che… Mrs. Rossi explained to me that…
Some Italian verbs of giving that take indirect object pronouns:
Examples that use Italian verbs of giving with indirect object pronouns are given below. The indirect object pronouns are in red, the direct object pronouns are in green, and the person to whom the object pronoun refers to is underlined. Of course, there are a infinite number of combinations! Try to create your own sentences, taking situations from your own life!
Ho dato a Maria il vino. I gave Maria the wine.
Le ho dato il vino. I gave her the wine.
Ho offerto a Franco un lavoro. I offered Frank a job.
Gli ho offerto un lavoro. I offered him a job.
La Signora Rossi ha mandato a me… Mrs. Rossi gave me…
La Signora Rossi mi ha mandato… Mrs. Rossi gave me…
Remember how to use the phrase
“mi ha detto” in Italian and I guarantee
you will use this phrase every day!