The Ultimate Guide to Italian Pronominal Verbs (Verbi Pronominali): 9 Must-Know Rules
1. What ‘s a pronominal verb in Italian? A pronominal verb is a type of verb in which a pronoun is used as an integral part of the verb. In Italian, a pronominal verb is a combination of a basic verb and one or more pronouns, which together create a new verb with a different meaning than the basic verb alone. For example, let’s take the verb “andare” which means “to go”. If we add the pronouns “si” and “ne” to “andare”, we create the pronominal verb “andarsene” which means “to go away” or “to leave”.
- Me ne vado – I’m leaving, I’m going a way
2. The pronouns attached to the infinitive of the verbs slightly or entirely change the original meaning of the verb. For example, the verb “sentire” means “to hear” in Italian. But if you add the reflexive pronouns “si” and “la” to it, as in “sentirsela”, it becomes “to feel like” or “to have the courage of doing something”.
- Scusa, ma non me la sento di scalare quella montagna – Sorry, but I don’t feel like climbing that mountain
3. Pronominal verbs are vastly used in conversational Italian, especially in everyday speech and informal situations. As with any language, it’s important to be aware of context and the level of formality when using pronominal verbs in Italian.
Examples of pronominal verbs used in Italian slang.
- Non ce le faccio più = I’m exausted
- Me ne frego = I don’t care
- Me la spasso = I’m having a blast
4. Italian pronominal verbs are hard to translate into your native language as they don’t have a sole translation, and the meaning can slightly vary from one context to the next. Let’s take the example of the verb farcela (which is a combination of fare+ce+la). It has two principal meanings: to manage and not to manage.
5. Pronominal verbs are easy to conjugate, yes they are. When conjugating pronominal verbs in Italian, it’s important to separate the pronouns from the infinitive form of the verb. After doing so, you can conjugate the verb as you normally would, placing the pronouns before the verb. For example, let’s take the verb “andarsene”. To conjugate it, separate the pronouns from the infinitive (in this case, “se” and “ne”), and then conjugate the verb “andare” as you normally would, placing the pronoun before the verb.
FARCELA (to manage) = FAR(E) + CE + LA
io ce la faccio
tu ce la fai
lui/lei ce la fa
noi ce la facciamo
voi ce la fate
loro ce la fanno
In the conjugation of pronominal verbs, the attached pronouns ce, ne, la do not change. However, when it comes to the pronominal verbs incorporating “se” onto the infinitive (e.g., sentirsela, bersela, andarsene), you will need to decline the “se”, which stands for the reflexive pronoun, into me, te, se, ce, ve, se. Like in the verb “andarsene”
ANDARSENE (to leave, to go away) = ANDAR(E) + SI + NE
Io me ne vado
Ty te ne vai
Lui/ Lei se ne va
Noi ce ne andiamo
Voi ve ne andate
Loro se ne vanno
Most common Italian pronominal verbs list
Italian pronominal verbs with “CI“
- Entrarci con – to have to do with something
- Entrarci in – to fit in something
- Volerci – to take time (with no subject, impersonal
- Metterci – to take time (with a subject)
- Arrivarci – to understand
Italian pronominal verbs with “NE“
- Non poterne più – can’t put up with something or someone anymore
Italian pronominal verbs with “SELA“
- Sentirsela di – to have the courage of doing something or to feel like
- Cavarsela in + noun / A + infinitive – to be good at something or at doing something
- Prendersela con – to be irritated with someone
- Passarsela bene o male – to be good or bad
- Spassarsela – to have a blast
- Sbrigarsela – to sort out a situation in a short time
- Cavarsela – to come out of difficult situations, easily
- Tirarsela – to show off
Italian pronominal verbs with “CELA“
- Mettercela tutta – to do one’s best
- Avercela con – to be upset with someone
Italian pronominal verbs with “SENE“
- Fregarsene di – to not care about something or someone
- Andarsene – to go away somewhere
6. In Italian, pronominal verbs that end in “-sela” or “-sene” always require the auxiliary verb “essere” in compound tenses. Consequently, the past participle agrees with the pronoun or subject, as shown in the following examples.
- Non me la sono sentita (agreement with the feminine pronoun la) – I didn’t have the courage (to do something)
- Me ne sono andata (agreement with the feminine subject) – I left
7. If the pronominal verb ends in -ci, -ne, -cela, -cena the auxiliary verb to use in compound tenses is “avere”.
- Non ce l’ho fatta (agreement with the feminine pronoun la) – I didn’t manage it
- Me la sono presa (agreement with the feminine pronoun la) – I got upset (with something or someone)
8. Some verbs are always matched with fixed prepositions, for example:
- Farcela a – to manage
- Sentirsela di – to have the courage to do something
- Avercela con – to be upset with someone
- Riuscire a – to be able to
- Smetterla di – to stop doing something
9. Pronominal verbs are commonly used in informal and colloquial Italian speech. Using them can make your Italian sound more natural. Here are a few examples of colloquial Italian sentences that use pronominal verbs:
Passarsela means “stare (bene/male)”
- Come te la passi? – How are you doing?
Fregarsene means “not to give a damn about something”
- Me ne frego di quello che pensi – I don’t care about what you think
Farcela (positive) means “to manage”
- Ce la facciamo a finire questo lavoro entro oggi? – Can we manage to finish this work within today?
Arrivarci means “to understand something (colloquial)”
- Me lo puoi ripetere? Non ci arrivo – Can you repeat it? I don’t get it
Farcela (negative) means “to be fed up, to be exhausted or to be unable to cope with something”
- Non ce faccio più! – I am exhausted!
Spassarsela means “to have a blast”
- Ce la siamo spassata l’altra sera- we had a blast the other night
Italian pronominal verbs and the imperative tense
When using the imperative tense to give commands or advice in Italian, a general rule of thumb is to place the pronouns after the verb and attach them to it.
- Smettila! – Enough!
- Metticela tutta! – Do your best!
- Vattene! – Go away!
- Non andartene! – Don’t go!
- Non avercela con me! – Don’t be mad at me!
What’s the most effective to learn Pronominal Verbs in Italian?
The most effective way to learn how to use Italian pronominal verbs is through a technique called “shadowing“. How does it work? First, it’s important to understand how they work and how to conjugate them correctly. Once you have a good grasp of the grammar, you’ll start listening for pronominal verbs in natural Italian conversations or reading them in context. Since many pronominal verbs don’t have a direct translation and are highly contextual, the best way to learn them is by observing how native speakers use them in different situations. In other words, learning with visual and contextual examples can be very beneficial
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