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How to use the Italian possessives 'proprio' and 'altrui'?

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The word proprio is the equivalent of the English own (my own, your own, his own, her own, our own, their own). As a possessive adjective, proprio accompanies a noun to express relationships of ownership. Just like other Italian possessive adjectives, proprio takes article, gender, and number of the noun it refers to but is only used with lei/lui [she/he] and with loro [they].

Altrui is also a possessive adjective and it means “other people’s.It is somewhat special because it does not change, it remains altrui in all circumstances.  

Scroll down to know more! 

A Triple L Ownership: Lui / Lei / LoroHe / She / They

Remember to: 
Use proprio with lui / lei / loro and look at the noun to figure out G+N (gender and number) of proprio

Screen Shot 2021-07-13 at 3.55.03 PM

Regola d’oro: use proprio when owner = subject

The golden rule

Use proprio when lui/lei or loro is both the person who owns something (the owner) and the subject of the sentence.



The subject of a sentence is the main
person that does or is something.

Mario va in vacanza.           Mario is the subject 
Mario goes on vacation.          of this sentence,
                                                  the one who does 
                                                  the action of going
                                                  on vacation. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below we’ll see:

  1. when to use proprio;

  2. sentences that do not require proprio but just a regular possessive adjective for third person (suo, sua, sue, suoi etc.)

 

a.    Use PROPRIO when LUI / LEI / LORO is also the SUBJECT of the sentence

Example with lei:
Martina ha portato la propria tenda.
Martina brought her own camping tent.

In this sentence, Martina is both subject and owner.

Screen Shot 2021-07-13 at 3.55.45 PM

Martina is both the one who owns la tenda [camping tent] and the subject of the sentence.
She brought the tent she owns, hence, the tent is definitely her own or la propria :) 

Example with loro:
Laura e Francesco ( → loro) non trovano i propri bagagli
Laura and Francesco can’t find their luggage.

Also in this sentence, Laura and Francesco are both owners of the luggage and subject of the sentence. So, we use proprio or, in this case, i propri, since bagagli in Italian is masculine and plural.

b.    Do not use proprio when lui / lei / loro is the person who owns something (the owner) but NOT THE  SUBJECT of the sentence. Use the regular suo, sua, suoi, sue, loro etc., instead.

Example:
(io) Ho notato la sua giacca nuova
I noticed his/her new jacket.

  • Who is the person who noticed the jacket? io  [ I ]

  • Who is the owner? lui or lei  [he / she]

Screen Shot 2021-07-13 at 3.57.01 PM

So, because io is the subject of the sentence, which means that this sentence is all about me (io) noticing the jacket and whatnot — but the jacket is not mine — we don’t use proprio here, but sua to express whose jacket is this.

If “ANYONE” is the owner. . . and other formal circumstances

  • Like the English one’s own, proprio is also used in impersonal phrases.

Examples:

Si dovrebbe dare sempre il proprio meglio.
One should always give their best.

Bisogna difendere i propri valori.
One should defend one’s own values.

È importante ascoltare la propria coscienza.
It is important to listen to one’s own conscience.

 

  • And in phrases in which the subject — in this case the person who owns something — is left a bit vague or indeterminate.

Examples:

Ognuno ha le proprie opinioni.
Everyone has their own opinions.

Tutti devono portare i propri documenti.
Everyone needs to bring their own documents.

Ognuno è seduto al proprio posto.
Everyone is sitting in their own place.

ALTRUI means OTHER PEOPLE’S

Honestly, the possessive altrui, which means di altri [of others], is also used in pretty formal circumstances. In more colloquial situations it is often substituted by degli altri. Yet, you may encounter altrui, for instance, in laws, regulations, announcements of any kind, or even in written, polished Italian: 

Example:
È vietato parcheggiare in proprietà altrui.
It is forbidden to park cars on the property of others.

  IMPORTANT:

Altrui does not change in gender and number. 
As you can see, it always stays the same:

Non mi importano i giudizi altrui. 
I don't care about other people’s judgments.

Spesso le debolezze altrui sono anche le proprie.
Often the weaknesses of others are also our own.

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Miriam Muccione

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