Easy Learning Italian

Reflexive verbs - Easy Learning Grammar Italian

What is a reflexive verb?
Reflexive verbs
in English are ones where the subject and object are the same,
and which use reflexive pronouns such as myself, yourself and themselves, for example I’ve hurt myself; Look after yourself!; They’re enjoying themselves.

1  Using reflexive verbs

The basics
  • There are more reflexive verbs in Italian than in English. The infinitive form of a reflexive verb has –si joined onto it, for example, divertirsi (meaning to enjoy oneself). This is the way reflexive verbs are shown in dictionaries. si is a reflexive pronoun and means himself, herself, itself, themselves and oneself.
  • Verbs that are reflexive in English, such as to hurt oneself or to enjoy oneself are reflexive in Italian. In addition, many verbs that include get, for example to get up, to get dressed, to get annoyed, to get bored, to get tanned, are reflexive verbs in Italian. Here are some important Italian reflexive verbs:
accomodarsito sit down; to take a seat
addormentarsito go to sleep
alzarsito get up
annoiarsito get bored; to be bored
arrabbiarsito get angry
chiamarsito be called
chiedersito wonder
divertirsito enjoy oneself; to have fun
farsi maleto hurt oneself
fermarsito stop
lavarsito wash; to get washed
perdersito get lost
pettinarsito comb one’s hair
preoccuparsito worry
prepararsito get ready
ricordarsito remember
sbrigarsito hurry
svegliarsito wake up
vestirsito dress; to get dressed
Si accomodi!Take a seat!
Mi alzo alle sette.I get up at seven o’clock.
Come ti chiami?What are you called?
Non vi preoccupate!Don’t worry!
Sbrigati!Hurry up!
Ci prepariamo.We’re getting ready.
Matteo si annoia.Matteo is getting bored.
Lucia si è fatta male.Lucia hurt herself.
I bambini si divertono.The children are enjoying themselves.
  • Note that in English, you can often add a reflexive pronoun to verbs if you want
    to, for example, you can say Don’t worry yourself! or He didn’t hurry himself. Whenever you can do this in English, the Italian equivalent is likely to be a reflexive verb.
  • Some Italian verbs can be used both as reflexive verbs, and as ordinary verbs
    with no reflexive pronoun. If you are talking about getting yourself ready you use prepararsi; if you are talking about gettting the dinner ready you use preparare.
Mi preparo alla maratona.I’m getting ready for the marathon.
Sto preparando il pranzo.I’m getting lunch ready.
Mi chiedo cosa stia facendo.I wonder what he’s doing.
Chiedi a Lidia perché piange.Ask Lidia why she’s crying.
  • Note that chiedersi literally means to ask oneself.
Grammar Extra!Some reflexive verbs in Italian add the pronoun ne after the reflexive pronoun. The most important of these verbs is andarsene (meaning to go away, to leave).
Me ne vado.I’m leaving.
Vattene!Go away!
Ce ne andiamo.Let’s be off.
Se ne sono andati.They’ve left.
The pronouns mi, ti, si, ci and vi become me, te, se, ce and ve when they are followed by another pronoun, such as ne.

2  How to make the present tense of reflexive verbs

  • First, decide which reflexive pronoun to use. You can see how the reflexive pronouns correspond to the subject pronouns in the following table:
Subject pronounReflexive pronounMeaning
(io)mimyself
(tu)tiyourself
(lui), (lei), (Lei), (loro)sihimself, herself,itself,
yourself, themselves
(noi)ciourselves
(voi)viyourselves
Mi alzo presto.I get up early.
Mia sorella si veste.My sister’s getting dressed.
Si lamentano sempre.They’re always complaining.
  • The present tense forms of a reflexive verb are just the same as those of an ordinary verb, except for the addition of the reflexive pronoun in front of the verb.
  • The following table shows the reflexive verb divertirsi in full.
Reflexive forms of divertirsiMeaning
mi divertoI’m enjoying myself
ti divertiyou’re enjoying yourself
si divertehe is enjoying himself
she is enjoying herself
you are enjoying yourself
ci divertiamowe’re enjoying ourselves
vi divertiteyou’re enjoying yourselves
si divertonothey’re enjoying themselves

3  Where to put reflexive pronouns

  • The reflexive pronoun usually goes in front of the verb, but there are some exceptions. The pronoun goes in front if the verb is:
  • an ordinary tense, such as the present simple
Si diverte signora?Are you enjoying yourself madam?
Mi abituo al lavoro.I’m getting used to the work.
  • the polite imperative
Si avvicini, signore.Come closer, sir.
  • an imperative telling someone NOT to do something
Non vi avvicinate troppo, ragazzi.Don’t come too close, children.
Non si lamenti, dottore.Don’t complain, doctor.
  • The pronoun comes after the verb if it is the tu or voi form of the imperative,
    used positively:
Svegliati!Wake up!
Divertitevi!Enjoy yourselves!
  • In the case of the infinitive, used with non to tell someone NOT to do something, the pronoun can either:
  • go in front of the infinitive

    OR
  • join onto the end of the infinitive
Non ti bruciare! ORDon’t burn yourself!
Non bruciarti!
Non ti preoccupare! ORDon’t worry!
Non preoccuparti!
  • Note that, when telling someone not to do something, you use non with the infinitive for people you call tu.
  • There are also two options when you use the infinitive of a reflexive verb after
    a verb such as want, must, should or can’t. The pronoun can either:
  • go in front of the main verb

    OR
  • join onto the end of the infinitive
Mi voglio abbronzare. ORI want to get a tan.
Voglio abbronzarmi.
Ti devi alzare. ORYou must get up.

Devi alzarti.
Vi dovreste preparare. ORYou ought to get ready.

Dovreste prepararvi.
Non mi posso fermare molto. ORI can’t stop for long.
Non posso fermarmi molto.
  • In the same way, in continuous tenses, the reflexive pronoun can either:
  • go in front of the verb stare

    OR
  • join onto the gerund
Ti stai annoiando? ORAre you getting bored?
Stai annoiandoti?
Si stanno alzando? ORAre they getting up?
Stanno alzandosi?
  • Note that the pronoun is always joined onto the gerund when it is not used
    in a continuous tense.
Incontrandoci per caso,
abbiamo parlato molto.
Meeting by chance, we had a
long talk.
Pettinandomi ho trovato un capello bianco.When I combed my hair I found a white hair.
Key points
  • Reflexive verbs are commoner in Italian than in English.
  • English verbs that include get are often translated by an Italian reflexive verb.
  • Reflexive pronouns usually go in front of the verb.

4  Using reflexive verbs with parts of the body and clothes

  • In Italian you often talk about actions to do with your body or your clothing using a reflexive verb.
Mi lavo i capelli ogni mattina.I wash my hair every morning.
Mettiti il cappotto!Put your coat on!
Si è rotta la gamba.She’s broken her leg.
  • Note that you do not use possessive adjectives in this kind of sentence. Instead you use the definite article il, la, i and so on with the noun, and a reflexive verb.
Mi lavo le mani.I’m washing my hands.
  • For more information on Articles, see Articles.

5  How to use reflexive verbs in the perfect tense

  • The English perfect tense, for example, I have burnt myself, and the English simple past, for example I burnt myself yesterday, are both translated by the Italian perfect tense.
  • The perfect tense of reflexive verbs is always made with the verb essere and the past participle.
Mi sono fatto male.I’ve hurt myself.
  • The past participle used in the perfect tense of reflexive verbs has to agree with the subject of the sentence. You change the –o ending of the participle to –a if
    the subject is feminine. The masculine plural ending is –i, and the feminine
    plural is –e.
Silvia si è alzata tardi stamattina.Silvia got up late this morning.
Vi siete divertiti, ragazzi?Did you have a nice time, children?
Le mie sorelle si sono abbronzate.My sisters have got suntanned.
TipIf you are female always use a feminine adjective when you are talking about yourself, and always make the past participle feminine when you are talking about what you have done.
Mi sono svegliata, mi sono I woke up, got up and got dressed.
alzata e mi sono vestita.

6  Other uses of reflexive pronouns

  • ci, vi and si are used to mean each other and one another.
Ci vogliamo molto bene.We love each other very much.
Si vede che si odiano.You can see they hate one another.
Vi conoscete?Do you know each other?
TipRemember that when you is used to mean people in general, it is often translated by si.
Si fa così.You do it this way.
Non si tocca!You can’t touch them!
Come si dice “genitori” in inglese?How do you say “genitori” in English?
Key points
  • The perfect tense of reflexive verbs is made with essere, and the past participle agrees with the subject of the verb.
  • Reflexive verbs are used with the definite article to talk about washing your hair, breaking your leg, putting on your coat, and so on.

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