Italian Impersonal Form

In Italian, we have a simple way to make a generalization or to make a sentence where the subject is not specified: the impersonal form.

The impersonal form is made up by:

si + any verb conjugated in the 3rd person singular

Example:

In Italia, si mangia bene.In Italy, we generally eat good food.

Italian vs. English

In English, these sentences are translated by subjects such as one, they, you, or the passive voice

More examples of the ‘impersonal si

In Italia, si beve buon vinoin Italy, one drinks delicious wine
In Italia, si pranza tardiin Italy, they eat lunch late
In Italia, si parla italianoin Italy, they speak Italian
Viaggiando, si cresceBy traveling, you grow
Viaggiando, si cambia opinione sulla vitaBy traveling, you change your opinion about life
Viaggiando, si diventa più maturiBy traveling, you become more mature

Impersonal form with the verbs ‘dovere’ and ‘potere’ 

The Italian impersonal form is often used with the verbs dovere and potere, indicating what it’s necessary or not necessary to  or what can or cannot be done.

impersonal forms with dovere 

  • si deve – you must/need (when the subject is not specified)
  • non si deve – you must/need (when the subject is not specified)

impersonal forms with potere 

  • si può – you can (when the subject is not specified)
  • non si può – you can’t (when the subject is not specified)

Examples with these impersonal forms 

A scuola… – at school…

  • si deve studiare – you need to study 
  • non si può usare il cellulare – you can’t use your phone 
  • si deve essere puntali – one must be punctual 

 In ufficio… – at the office…

  • si deve arrivare in orario – one must arrive on time 
  • non si può mangiare davanti al pc – one can’t eat in front of the computer 
  • non si può fumare – you can’t smoke 

Use of the impersonal verb bisogna 

The forms si deve (one must/need/should) or non si deve (one must not/should not), can be replaced by the impersonal verb bisogna, which is always followed by an infinitive verb and means “it’s (not) necessary.

For example:  

  • A scuola bisogna studiare – At school you have to study
  • A scuola bisogna essere puntuali – At school you have to be on time
  • A lavoro non bisogna fare tardi – Don’t be late at work 

When si ‘ci si‘ used?

Sometimes the impersonal form appears with a “ci” in front of the “si”, like in the following phrases. 

  • ci si diverte – one is having fun 
  • ci si rilassa – one is relaxing 
  • ci si sveglia!- one is waking up

But, what does “ci si” stand for? 

Ci si” marks the impersonal form of a reflexive verb conjugated in the 3rd person. Why? Because every reflexive verb is, by nature, conjugated with a “si” in the third person singular.

  • si diverte – he/she is having fun 
  • si diverte – he/she is relaxing 
  • si sveglia – he/she Is waking up

So, if we had to say that one has fun when traveling (so, if we had to make a sentence with the impersonal form with “si” of the verb divertirsi), we would end up with two “si”: one for the impersonal form and one for the reflexive form. Like this: 

  • si si diverte 

But we don’t say that. Why? Because repeating “si si” twice would result in a cacophony (a bad sound). So, to avoid this, we replace the first “si” with a phonetic “ci”.

The resulting form is, thus, ci si:

  • ci si diverte viaggiando – when travelling, you have fun
  • ci si sveglia tardi nel weekend – over the weekend, you wake up late
  • ci si rilassa sempre la domenica – on Sunday, you always relax 

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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