Reciprocal verbs, passive si (si passivante) and impersonal si (si impersonale)


Many Italian verbs may be used reflexively in the plural to express reciprocal action. 

Vi amate? – “Do you love each other?” (This could, theoretically, also be translated as ‘Do you love yourselves?’)

Ci vediamo spesso. – “We see each other often.”

Loro si ammirano. – “They admire each other.”

Si parlano? – “Do they speak to each other?”

The reflexive may mean “oneself” (“myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” etc.).

Mi lavo. – “I wash myself.”

The reflexive pronoun often need not or cannot be translated.

Si divertono. – “They have a good time (amuse themselves).”

Mi alzo. – “I get up.”

Come si chiama questo signore? — “What is this man’s name?”

As may be seen in the above examples, the reflexive pronoun precedes the verb in most cases. One exception to this has already been mentioned: it is attached to the end of the infinitive. A second exception is the imperative, where the reflexive pronoun is also attached to the end of the verb” Divertitevi! (“Have fun!“or “Have a good time!”), Alziamoci (“Let’s get up”), etc.

The pronominal particle si is often used to express the passive voice (especially when inanimate objects are involved). This construction is often referred to as the si passivante and is not reflexive in meaning.

Le medicine si vendono all farmacia. – “Medicines are sold at the drugstore.”

Questi libri si pubblicano in Italia. – “These books are published in Italy.”

Come si pronuncia questa parola? – “How is this word pronounced?”

The pronominal particle si may also render the impersonal idea of “one,” “they,” “people,” “we,” “you.” This construction is often referred to as the si impersonale. Note that, while this construction uses the same pronoun as reflexive verbs (si), it does not have a reflexive meaning. 

Come si dice “good morning” in italiano? – “How do you (does one) say good morning in Italian?”

Si dice che è molto ricca. – “They say she is very rich.” (=”It is said….”)

Quando si studia, s’impara. – “When one studies, one learns.”



at least
 dir (=dire)
to say
fare l’istruito
to play the learned man
loro (adj.)
to seem/appear
si tengono
they keep themselves (3d pl. tenere)
want (3d. pl., volere)
demanded, required (pp. volere)
 vuol (=vuole)



Italian for Reading & Translation Copyright © by Lauren Surovi and Carleton W. Carroll. All Rights Reserved.

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