What You Need to Know About Reflexive Verbs in Italian
What is a reflexive verb?
Reflexive verbs are verbs that have been conjugated with a special pronoun known as a reflexive pronoun. In Italian, reflexive verbs are more common than in English. In fact, many English verbs have an Italian equivalent that is a reflexive verb and thus requires a reflexive pronoun.
For instance: to have fun – divertirsi / to get up – alzarsi / to get married – sposarsi
There are also verbs that are reflexive both in Italian and English.
For instance: to wash oneself / lavarsi
Reflexive verbs are conjugated in the same way as other verbs, except that the reflexive pronouns (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si) must be used in front of the verb. Unlike in English, where they are placed after (I wash myself).
How do you conjugate the reflexive verbs?
First and foremost, a reflexive verb should be a “label” that we apply to certain verbs to remind us to conjugate them in a certain way (with the reflexive pronouns in front).
To conjugate any reflexive verb you should:
- remove the “si” ending
- add an “e”
- conjugate it as any other regular verb
- put the the reflexive pronouns in front
Let’s use the verb “lavarsi” as an example
LAVARSI (to wash one’s self) → LAVAR–SI → LAVAR+E
io mi lavo – I wash myself
tu ti lavi – you wash yourself
lui si lava – he washes himself
lei si lava – she washes herself
noi ci laviamo – we wash ourselves
voi vi lavate – you’ll wash yourselves
loro si lavano – they wash themselves
Proper and reciprocal reflexive verbs
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
- 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, si to mean each other.
- Capirsi → to understand each other
- Amarsi → to love each other
- Odiarsi → to hate other
- Ci capiamo molto bene → we understand each other very well
- Ci amiamo → We love each other
- Si odiano → they hate each other
All you need to know to use the Italian reflexive verbs correctly is that what makes then different from a regular verbs is that its infinite has a –si joint onto it (and drops the last “e”)
What does the “si” stand for?
The “si” is the so-called reflexive pronoun (pronome riflessivo) 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 ones. However, there are more reflexive verbs in Italian than English.
Common 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 use 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.
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!
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 reflexive sentences?
The “non” always precedes the reflexive pronouns.
Italian reflexive verbs with the passato prossimo (the Italian present perfect)
This is an advanced topic, 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).
Let’s see how the verb “divertirsi” is conjugated in the past perfect.
Io → subject
Mi → reflexive pronoun
Sono → helping verb
Divertito → past participle
Io mi sono divertito – 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.
- 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 possessive pronouns, as it would sound redundant.
The typical mistake I hear in my online Italian lessons is
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)