Italian reflexive verbs, called “verbi riflessivi”, are used when the action (verb) has direct effect on the subject itself.
Explaining the Italian reflexive verbs is quite tricky, because the matter is usually over-simplified. We will explain the verbi riflessivi in a simple fashion, including some important details.
Some teachers will say that you can spot reflexive verbs because they have the infinitive ending in -si (lavarsi), a reflexive pronoun (Carlo si lava) and because subject and direct object are the same entity (Carlo washes himself). But this is just half of the story. Let’s start with the perfect situation. Have a look at the reflexive pronouns and the conjugation of the verb LAVARSI.
- mi (io)
- ti (tu)
- si (lui/lei)
- ci (noi)
- vi (voi)
- si (loro)
Reflexive verb LAVARSI conjugation
- Io mi lavo
- Tu ti lavi
- Lui/Lei si lava
- Noi ci laviamo
- Voi vi lavate
- Loro si lavano
Reflexive pronoun +
In this case, LAVARSI is a proper reflexive verb (verbo riflessivo proprio). IO MI LAVO -> Subject and direct object create a loop, they are the same entity. The reflexive pronoun MI takes place of the direct object (IO). I wash myself.
It’s not always like that
The easiest and most common way to explain the use of the Italian reflexive verbs is by describing the morning routine. Lets do that in Italian. Read the sentences below and listen to the audio file:
Ogni mattina mi sveglio alle 7 e mezza. Dopo la colazione, mi lavo i denti, mi vesto e vado in ufficio con il mio collega Dario. Io e Dario ci conosciamo da dieci anni. Quando arrivo in ufficio, mi siedo e comincio a lavorare.
There are four different types of verbi riflessivi. In this clip we have:
- The verbs SVEGLIARSI and VESTIRSI are both a verbo riflessivio proprio. Everything is under control
- The second verb LAVARSI (i denti) is not a proper reflexive verb, because the direct object and the subject of the sentence are different. In this case we talk about a verbo riflessivo improprio or apparente, because although the conjugation is similar to the reflexive verb, the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object (lit. translation would sound like” I wash the teeth to myself).
- The verb CONOSCERSI is called verbo riflessivo reciproco because the plural conjugation of such verb implies a reciprocal action: io conosco Dario e Dario mi conosce, we know each other. Technically riflessivi reciproci are not proper reflexives. It obviously happens only in plural conjugations. IO MI CONOSCO (I know myself) is a verbo riflessivo proprio.
- The last verb SEDERSI is called verbo riflessivo pronominale because it exists only as reflexive verb. In Italian I sit is always Io mi siedo, (lit. it would be “I sit myself”).
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Italians use verbi riflessivi as slang, in spoken Italian, to emphasize an action. For example: Mi mangio una mela; Mi sono fatto la macchina nuova etc. They obviously are incorrect but part of the spoken language.
There are plenty of Italian reflexive verbs, we want to mention some. If you know others, please add them in the comments.
accorgersi, addormentarsi, allontanarsi, alzarsi, ammalarsi, annoiarsi, avvicinarsi, chiamarsi, chiudersi, dimenticarsi, divertirsi, emozionarsi, fermarsi, guastarsi, informarsi, innamorarsi, innervosirsi, muoversi, offendersi, pentirsi, perdersi, pettinarsi, pulirsi, raffreddarsi, rattristarsi, ribellarsi, ricordarsi, riscaldarsi, rompersi, sdraiarsi, seccarsi, sedersi, staccarsi, stupirsi, svegliarsi, svilupparsi, trasferirsi, vergognarsi.
We hope you enjoyed this lesson. Please have a look at the quiz below about the topic of today for reviewing the Italian reflexive verbs