Reflexives and Reciprocals
Read this page, then try this practice.
Reflexive verbs are, technically speaking, verbs in which the subject and the object are the same. They often convey a sense of a person doing something to himself (e.g. brushing his hair, washing himself, buying himself something, etc.). In English, we use terms like myself, yourself, ourselves, etc. to convey this property of reflexivity, whereas in Italian there are special pronouns that do the job. Let’s look at the reflexive pronouns, and then we’ll go into the use of these verbs in greater detail.
|Subject pronouns||Reflexive pronouns|
you all (yourselves)
If you have already learned the direct and/or indirect object pronouns, you will notice immediately that the reflexive pronouns are identical to them in the first and second person, singular and plural forms. That only leaves one new form, si, which is used for both third-person singular (him/her) and third-person plural (them).
(to get up)
(to put on)
(to have a good time)
|mi alzo||mi metto||mi diverto|
|ti alzi||ti metti||ti diverti|
|si alza||si mette||si diverte|
|ci alziamo||ci mettiamo||ci divertiamo|
|vi alzate||vi mettete||vi divertite|
|si alzano||si mettono||si divertono|
As you can see, reflexive verbs are conjugated just like non-reflexive verbs, according to their standard -are, -ere, or -ire endings. Remember when choosing the correct reflexive pronoun, it must correspond to the subject pronoun (see chart above!).
✽ When you learn new reflexive verbs, don’t be confused by the fact that they end in an -si instead of the -are, -ere or -ire you are used to. When conjugating them, knock off the -si and add an -e to the verb and you will have the regular forms you are used to. Conjugate these like you do any other verb, and just don’t forget to go back and add the reflexive pronoun to the beginning.
Just like the direct and indirect object pronouns, the reflexive pronouns go directly before the verb:
- Mi alzo alle 9.00. (I get up at 9:00.)
- Ci divertiamo sempre alla spiaggia. (We always enjoy ourselves at the beach.)
- Maria non si mette mai gli occhiali. (Maria never puts her glasses on.)
However, If you use two verbs together, attach the pronoun to the infinitive of the second verb, after dropping the final -e:
- Devo alzarmi più presto. (I have to get up earlier.)
- Speriamo di divertirci alla spiaggia. (We hope to enjoy ourselves at the beach.)
- Maria non vuole mettersi mai gli occhiali. (Maria never wants to put her glasses on.)
In the passato prossimo, all reflexive verbs go with essere:
- Mi sono alzata alle 9.00. (I got up at 9:00.)
- Ci siamo divertiti alla spiaggia. (We enjoyed ourselves at the beach.)
- Maria non si e’ messa gli occhiali. (Maria didn’t put her glasses on.)
Common Reflexive Verbs
|acommodarsi||to make oneself comfortable|
|alzarsi||to get up|
|ammalarsi||to get sick|
|annoiarsi||to get bored|
|arrabbiarsi||to get angry|
|confondersi||to get confused|
|divertirsi||to have a good time, to enjoy oneself|
|lavarsi||to wash (oneself)|
|mettersi||to put on|
|pettinarsi||to comb hair|
|svegliarsi||to wake up|
Perhaps you can see from the list that many reflexive verbs invoke some quality of performing an action upon oneself (e.g. washing, combing hair, putting on a coat, etc.) It is also very common to use reflexive verbs to indicate a change of state, (e.g. a person getting angry, getting bored, getting sick, etc.).
Reciprocal verbs are kind of like they sound: two or more people performing an action to each other, in other words, reciprocating an action (e.g. calling each other, meeting each other, hugging each other, etc.) When there is a need to express this kind of reciprocal action in Italian, you use the reflexive verbs, only this time you’ll only use their plural forms!
|Io e i miei amici ci incontriamo sempre dopo la lezione.||My friends and I always meet (each other) after class.|
|Dove vi siete conosciuti tu e tuo marito?||Where did you and your husband meet?|
|Gli amici italiani si baciano quando si vedono.||Italian friends kiss each other when they see each other.|
|Quando possiamo sentirci?||When can we talk? (literally, when can we hear each other?)|
✽ You will notice from the examples that there are cases in which, in English, we would not need to use
the term each other (see examples 1, 2 and 4). In Italian, however, you must use the reciprocal construction (i.e. the reflexive verb forms) when it is implied that the action is mutual or reciprocated.
Reflexives and Reciprocals: Practice