What are the reflexive verbs (i verbi riflessivi)?

There two types of Italian reflexive verbs:

Proper reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs where the subject and the object are the same or where the action is carried out by the same person that receives it.

  • Divertirsi → to have fun
  • Svegliarsi → to get up
  • Rilassarsi → to relax

Examples:

  • io mi diverto → I have fun (myself)
  • io mi sveglio → I wake up (myself)
  • io mi rilasso → I relax (myself)

 

Reciprocal reflexive verbs

Reciprocal reflexive verbs are ones that use the plural reflexive pronouns ci, vi, to mean “each other” or another

  • Capirsi → to understand each other
  • Amarsi → to love each other
  • Odiarsi → to hate other

Examples:

  • Ci capiamo molto bene → we understand each other very well
  • Ci amiamo → We love each other
  • Si odiano → they hate each other

To make it easier, to start using a reflexive verb correctly everything you need to know is that, what makes different an Italian reflexive verb from a regular one is that its infinite has a –si joint onto it (and drops the last “e”)

What does the “si” stand for?

“Si” is the so-called reflexive pronoun which in English stands for oneself.

The si takes differ forms when conjugated, as follows: 

Does English has any reflexive verbs?

Yes. Verbs, like enjoying oneself or hurting oneself, are reflexive verbs. The good news is that English reflexive verbs are also reflexive verbs in Italian.

  • Enjoying oneself → divertirsi
  • Hurting oneself → farsi male

Also, many verbs including to get (in English) are reflexive verbs in Italian. For instance:

  • To get angry → arrabbiarsi
  • To get married → sposarsi
  • To get sick → ammalarsi


Luckily, most Italian verbs are not reflexive. However, there are more reflexive verbs in Italian than English.

Most used Italian reflexive verbs

Svegliarsi – to wake [oneself] up

Alzarsi – to get up

Lavarsi – to wash oneself [have a wash]

Pettinarsi – to comb one’s hair

Sedersi – to sit down

Sentirsi – to feel

Spogliarsi – to undress

Addormentarsi – to fall asleep

Truccarsi – to do the 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

How to conjugate the Italian reflexive verbs?


The rule of thumb is keeping in mind that you are conjugating the infinite of the reflexive verb deprived of the – si.

For instance, if you are conjugating the verb rilassarsi you need to remove the “si” and to add an “e” onto the infinitive, and there it is, you have an easy to conjugate Italian infinitive verb.

Example: 

RILASSARSI → RILASSARE

SVEGLIARSI → SVEGLIARE

Where to put the reflexive pronoun “si”?

First of all, the si takes on different shapes which are mi ti si ci vi si (the reflexive pronouns/i pronomi riflessivi)

Generally, the reflexive pronouns go right before the verb:

Present tense → io mi diverto, tu diverti, lui si diverte, noi ci divertiamo, voi vi divertite, loro si divertono
Past Perfect → mi mi sono divertito/a, tu ti sei divertito/a, lui si è diverito/ lei si è divertita, noi ci siamo divertiti/e, voi vi sierte divertiti/e, loro si sono divertiti/e
Imperfect Tense → io mi divertivo, tu ti divertivi, lui si divertiva, noi ci divertivamo, voi vi divertivate, loro si divertivano 
Future Simple → io mi divertirò, tu ti divertirai, lui si divertirà, noi ci divertiremo, voi vi divertire, lor si diverteranno
Simple Conditional → io mi divertirei, tu ti divertiresti, lui si divertirebbe, noi ci divertiremmo, voi vi divertireste, loro si diverterebbero 
Present Subjunctive → io mi diverta, tu ti diverta, lui si diverta, noi ci divertiamo, voi vi diverite, loro si diverano 
Imperative (formal) → si diverta! 


However, there are few exceptions in which the reflexive pronouns go at the end of the verb and attached to the verb

Imperative (informal)→ divertiti!
Gerundio → divertendomi, etc
Infinitive → mi piace divertirmi, ti piace divertiti, le piace divertirsi, ci piace divertirci, vi piace divertirvi, gli piace divertirsi

What happens in negative sentences?

The reflexive pronouns always follow the “non.”


Italian reflexive verbs in compound tenses

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). 

Let’s see how the verb “divertirsi” is conjugated in the past perfect

Io → subject
Mi → reflexive pronoun
Sono → helping verb
Diverito → past participle

Io mi sono diverito – I had fun


When in a compound tense (past perfect, compound future, past conditional, past subjunctive, etc…) the reflexive verbs always use a helping a verb. The helping verb still to be used is essere.

Using essere as a helping verb implies that the following past participle has to agree with the gender and number of the subject.

Examples:

  • Penso che Luisa si sia annoiata alla festa – I think Luisa got bored at the party
  • Ieri sera ci siamo divertiti a teatro – Last night we had fun at the theatre 
  • Mi sarei svegliata tardi stamattina, ma non ho potuto – I would wake up later this morning, but I couldn’t


REFLEXIVE VERBS AND PARTS OF THE BODY

When using reflexive verbs with parts of the body,  you usually don’t need to use a possessive pronoun, as it would sound redundant

The typical mistake I hear in my online Italian lessons is

Mi lavo le mia faccia ❌

Mi lavo la faccia ✅ – I wash my face

Mi lavo i miei capelli ❌

Mi lavo i capelli  ✅ – I wash my hair

mi faccia la mia barba ❌

Mi faccio la barba ✅ – I shave (myself)

 

I hope you find this article useful. If have any questions or doubts, leave a comment below.  

 

Happy Italian Learning

 

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