The Italian Reflexive Verbs: A Guide
What’s a Reflexive Verb in Italian?
Reflexive verbs are verbs that require a reflexive pronoun in their conjugation and their default form (the infinitive). The reflexive pronoun reflects the action of the verb back to the subject. For example:
- Svegliarsi = to wake oneself up
- Divertirsi = to have fund
- Arrabbiarsi = to get mad
Reflexive verbs are the same as regular verbs, with the exception of the reflexive pronoun. The only difference is that reflexive verbs have the reflexive pronoun “so” added to the end of the infinitive form.
How Do You Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in Italian?
To conjugate reflexive verbs in Italian, follow these steps:
- Remove the “si” from the end of the infinitive form of the verb.
- Add an “e” to the infinitive form.
- Conjugate the verb as any other regular verb
- Don’t forget to use the corresponding reflexive pronouns for the subject in front of the conjugated verb.
- Remove the “si” ending → lavar
- Add an “e” to the end→ lavar+ e = LAVARE
- Conjugate “lavare” (in any tense you want!)
- Add the reflexive pronouns (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si) in front of the conjugated forms.
Lavarsi (to wash oneself)
Another way to conjugate reflexive verbs in Italian is to drop the last four letters of the infinitive form and add the appropriate conjugation endings.
For example, the reflexive verb “divertirsi” (to have fun) becomes “divert” as the root verb, and the conjugation endings can be added, such as:
Divertirsi – to have fun
Most Common Italian Reflexive Verbs
- Svegliarsi — to wake [oneself] up
- Alzarsi – to get up
- Lavarsi – to wash oneself
- Pettinarsi – to comb one’s hair
- Sedersi – to sit down
- Sentirsi – to feel
- Spogliarsi – to undress
- Addormentarsi – to fall asleep
- Truccarsi – to put on make-up
- Farsi la doccia – to take a shower
- Chiamarsi – to be named
- Laurearsi – to graduate (from university)
- Diplomarsi – to graduate (from school)
- Allenarsi – to work out
- Impegnarsi – to work hard
- Ubriacarsi – to get drunk
- Farsi la barba – to shave
- Innamorarsi – to fall in love
- Lamentarsi – to complain
- Stressarsi – to get stressed
- Innervosirsi – to get nervous
- Ammalarsi – to get sick
- Vestirsi – to get dressed
- Annoiarsi – to get bored
Italian Reflexive Verbs & the Past Tense
This is an intermediate grammar topic, so if you are a beginner, you can skip it for now.
Italian grammar is made up of simple tenses and compound tenses.
A simple tense is a simple verb (made of just one verb, e.g., the present simple), while a compound tense is a verb made of a combination of a helping verb (auxiliary verb) and another verb, the past participle (e.g., the past perfect).
When a reflexive verb appears in a compound form, for example, the past tense, the auxiliary will always be “essere”.
To conjugate reflexive verbs into the past tense in Italian, follow this pattern:
- Reflexive pronoun (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si)
- Helping verb (essere)
- Past participle
For example, the past tense (passato prossimo) of the verb “divertirsi”, “lavarsi” and “svegliarsi” would be
Io mi sono divertito – I had fun
Ti sei lavato/a – you washed yourself
Ci siamo svegliati/e – we woke up
The same pattern applies for all of the other compound tenses (e.g. past perfect, compound future, past conditional, past subjunctive, etc.). In all of the compound forms, the helping verb will always be essere.
Also remember that, using essere as a helping verb implies that the past participle has to agree with the gender and number.
The pattern for conjugating reflexive verbs into other compound tenses, such as the past perfect, compound future, past conditional, past subjunctive, etc., remains the same. The auxiliary verb will always be “essere”.
It’s important to note that when using “essere” as the auxiliary verb, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject.
For example, in the past perfect tense:
- Io mi ero lavato (I had washed myself)
- Tu ti eri lavato (You had washed yourself)
- Lui/Lei si era lavato (He/She had washed himself/herself)
- Noi ci eravamo lavati (We had washed ourselves)
- Voi vi eravate lavati (You had washed yourselves)
- Loro si erano lavati (They had washed themselves)
When are the reflexive pronouns added onto the infinitive?
In Italian, reflexive pronouns are often appended onto infinitives to indicate that the subject of the sentence is performing the action on itself. This is particularly common with modal verbs and verbs that are followed by prepositions (e.g., finire di, smettere di, continuare a, etc.).
For example, in the sentence “Voglio svegliarmi presto domani,” the reflexive pronoun “mi” is added to the end of the infinitive “svegliare”. Similarly, in the sentence “Devo smettere di arrabbiarmi per le piccole cose,” the reflexive pronoun “mi” is added to the end of the infinitive “arrabbiare”.
In Italian, when certain verbs like “voglio” (I want) and “smettere di” (to stop) are followed by an infinitive, the infinitive cannot be conjugated, but the reflexive pronoun must still be declined to match the subject of the sentence.
- Continuiamo a rilassarci – We keep relaxing
- Hai finito di lamentarti – Are you done complaining?
In both of these examples, the reflexive pronoun is added to the end of the infinitive to express a reflexive action, even though the infinitive cannot be conjugated.
Reflexive Verbs and Negative Sentences
The “non” always precedes the reflexive pronouns. For example:
- Non mi diverto – I’m not having fund
- Non mi sono arrabbiata – I didn’t get mad
Other Conjugations of Reflexive Verbs
Present → io mi diverto, tu ti diverti, lui/lei si diverte, noi ci divertiamo, voi vi divertite, loro si divertono
Present Perfect (passato prossimo) → mi sono divertito/a, tu ti sei divertito/a, lui si è divertito/ lei si è divertita, noi ci siamo divertiti/e, voi vi siete divertiti/e, loro si sono divertiti/e
Imperfect → io mi divertivo, tu ti divertivi, lui/lei si divertiva, noi ci divertivamo, voi vi divertivate, loro si divertivano
Future Simple → io mi divertirò, tu ti divertirai, lui/lei si divertirà, noi ci divertiremo, voi vi divertirete, loro si divertiranno
Present Conditional → io mi divertirei, tu ti divertiresti, lui/lei si divertirebbe, noi ci divertiremmo, voi vi divertireste, loro si divertirebbero
Present Subjunctive → io mi diverta, tu ti diverta, lui/lei si diverta, noi ci divertiamo, voi vi divertiate, loro si divertano
Imperative (formal) → si diverta!
In a few cases, the reflexive pronouns are attached to the end of the verb.
Imperative (informal)→ divertiti!
Gerund → divertendomi, divertendoti, divertendosi, divertendoci, divertendovi, divertendosi
Infinitive → mi piace divertirmi, ti piace divertiti, gli/le piace divertirsi, ci piace divertirci, vi piace divertirvi, gli piace divertirsi
Reflexive Verbs and Parts of the Body
When using reflexive verbs with parts of the body, possessive pronouns are usually not used as it sounds redundant.
A common mistake in Italian language is to include possessive pronouns when not necessary when using reflexive verbs with parts of the body. For example:
- Mi lavo le mia faccia – I wash my face (WRONG)
- Mi lavo la faccia – I wash my face (CORRECT)
- Mi lavo i miei capelli – I wash my hair (WRONG)
- Mi lavo i capelli – I wash my hair (CORRECT)
- Mi faccia la mia barba – I shave (WRONG)
- Mi faccio la barba – I shave (CORRECT)
Does English Have Any Reflexive Verbs?
Yes! Like enjoying oneself or hurting oneself. And it’s worth noting that English reflexive verbs are also reflexive verbs in Italian.
- Enjoying oneself → divertirsi
- Hurting oneself → farsi male
However, most times, there’s no correspondence, and what is a non-reflexive verb in English is a reflexive one in Italian.
An interesting trend is that many verbs that use “get” in English are translated with a reflexive verb in Italian: For instance,
- To get angry → arrabbiarsi
- To get married → sposarsi
- To get sick → ammalarsi