How To Conjugate Reflexive Verbs In Italian

Yesterday, we took a moment to understand reflexive verbs, and various ways in which they might be used. Today, we're going to figure out how to use them in Italian.

Reflexive Italian verbs

As we've already learned, Italian verbs have three endings: -are, -ere, and -ire. All three endings end on an e, and that's all we need to know.

To make any verb reflexive you simply drop that e and replace it with si. Thus, Italian reflexive verbs end in -arsi, -ersi, or -irsi.

Conjugating reflexive Italian verbs

That si on the end of the verb is call the "reflexive pronoun". Any time you see that -si on the end of a verb, you know that it is reflexive. But it's only on the end in the infinitive form. When conjugating the verb, you remove that ending and move it to the front, making sure to match the subject. Then, conjugate the verb normally.

The reflexive pronouns are:

 singularplural
1st personmici
2nd persontivi
3rd personsisi

So for instance, to conjugate the verb larvarsi (to wash), you move the ending to the front, changing it for the correct reflexive pronoun above. Then conjugate the verb normally:

 singularplural
1st personmi lavoci laviamo
2nd personti lavivi lavate
3rd personsi lavasi lavano

Not so hard.

Using reflective verbs in Italian

Some verbs which which are not reflexive in English become reflexive when you use them in Italian.

chiamarsi
To be named. Literally, "to call yourself."
farsi la doccia
Take a shower. Literally, "to make yourself a shower."
vestirsi
Get dressed. Literally, "to dress yourself".

Thus, to say "I am taking a shower", you would say io mi faccio la doccia. Or to say "my name is Randy", I say io mi chiamo Randy.

As we learned yesterday, we can also use the reflexive to indicate reciprocal action. For instance, Maria e Pietro si baciano — "Maria and Pietro kiss each other."

And to speak in a more passive manner, we can use the anticausative, such as la porta si apre a la sinistra, to say "the door opens to the left." Or, we can use the intransitive, for instance to describe a library:

Questa è una biblioteca. Qui si leggono i libri.
This is a library. Books are read here.

As you can see, understanding reflexive verbs is not only vital for certain verbs, but also opens the door to advanced grammatical constructs!


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  • Hello everyone,
    What I dont understand is you wrote vestirsi "to dress yourself". So I could say to someone "ti vesti dobbiamo andare" for example. But could I also say "vestirsi dobbiamo andare?" I dont think so. I'm having a hard time grasping how to use the reflexive verb in its full form. amarsi, vestirsi, lavarsi etc...
    I could say "non lavarsi qui" - "Dont wash your self here"
    But why wouldnt I just say "non si lava qui" or "non ti lavi qui" or "non lavarti qui"
    I dont understand!

  • What I dont understand is you wrote vestirsi "to dress yourself". So I could say to someone "ti vesti dobbiamo andare" for example. But could I also say "vestirsi dobbiamo andare?" I dont think so. I'm having a hard time grasping how to use the reflexive verb in its full form. amarsi, vestirsi, lavarsi etc...
    I could say "non lavarsi qui" - "Dont wash your self here"
    But why wouldnt I just say "non si lava qui" or "non ti lavi qui" or "non lavarti qui"
    I dont understand!

  • good lesson! let me just "correct" a thing. In the last exemple you should say "Questa è una biblioteca, qui si LEGGONO i libri". The sentence should preferably be considered passive, so the subject is the plural "books".
    Apart from that, I'm a teacher of Italian language to foreigners and I'm learning some new ideas and tips from your blog...so, thank you! :-)

  • Thanks for the correction, I've updated the text.
    And thank you for your compliments! If you can spare a minute to tell me, I'm curious to know what are some examples of new ideas and tips that you've picked up from the blog?

  • actually I was not referring to some specific example... In general I find it useful for me to see how a foreign student has taken the rules of Italian and explains them to others. After reading I wonder if I disagree with the explanation, or, if there is any uncertainty, I ask myself if it should be absolutely corrected or if you can accept to make it easier to understand.
    Moreover, I've never taught English-speaking students, but, if this will ever happen in the next future, I'll already have some sentences to use as examples or some comparisons with English language, which I studied too much time ago to remember well ! That's all. I just try to improve myself, in whatever way I can. :)

  • To your first example, you could say "vestati! dobbiamo andare!" although I personally have found that construct less common than the "ti vesti" form.But I think what you're having trouble understanding is that the full form of the reflexive verb is really just a full (non-conjugated) verb form. For example, you could say "aspettami, che devo lavarmi le mani". Take note that the verb form becomes infinitive, but the reflexive pronoun still changes to match the subject of action. Another example: "Dispiace - non posso uscire. Sto per guardare le donne vestirsi."

  • Thansk Randy for the quick reply. When would I though use the full verb form in a sentence? Like those verbs I listed in the first post? Such as amarsi, lavarsi, arrabiarsi....When I hear people speaking Italian I hear them use it but cant understand myself when to use them. I do understand, however, the si lavanno, ci conosciamo, si vede etc....Like if I wanted to say to someone not to say something or the 3rd person will become mad....would I, or could I, say "non dirlo che lui si arrabiarsi?" or "non dirlo che lui arrabiarsi?" Thanks for your help.

  • Not quite. Rather, the full form is used more like a gerund. For example, "I have to go" -- devo andare. With a reflexive verb, you might say, "I have to get dressed" -- devo vestirmi. Or, in the 3rd person, "lui deve vestirsi."I suspect you're probably more accustomed to hearing verb forms like "si deve vestire" and thinking it's the same, but this construct is slightly more generic -- "si va" isn't actually reflexive, although it looks like it is. This is actually how Italians say something like "one goes" or "people go". So where "deve vestirsi" would sound more like "he has to get dressed", whereas "si deve vestirsi" is closer to "one must dress".

  • I don't know if this helps but I see what you mean. For example, vestirsi, is the verb as you would see it in it's pure form without being congugated. So in the same way you'd use it in English, ('to get dressed' - 'vestirsi') you could use it in the same way as the English: "To get dressed in the mornings is so annoying" "Vertirsi di mattina e' cosi' noioso" (boring). So in the same way that you would have to modify it to use it with people or yourself in English (To dress myself in the morning is so boring) you would need to modify the verb to show who you are referring to, so: Vestirmi di mattina, e cosi' noioso.
    Otherwise as Randy said, if you hear si deve asciugare, or amarsi, arrabiarsi, that is usually a certain congugation in which in the first one si deve asciugare is referring to the 3rd person - he has to dry himself and amarsi - is you can say either si amano - they love eachother or amarsi you can see it like 1.amarsi e' bello or 2.devono sempre amarsi. 1.to love eachother or one another is beautiful. 2.They must always(we say still) love eachother. So one is referring to the reflexive as the straight verb like i said before: To love one another and the second is refering to the them si amano, si devono amare, devono sempre amarsi they love eachother, they must love eachother, they must always(still) love eachother.
    So arrabiarsi the last example in bold above is the same thing. Si arrabiano sempre (reflexive they always get angry) or arrabiarsi sempre e' brutto (as the general affirmation. Always getting angry is horrible / to get angry all the time is horrible. Sorry if this is very long! But I hope this was the right track :) (I teach Italian so love to help people understand)

  • Thank you for this, I really couldn't get my head around the concept of reflexive verbs. You've made it simple. Now I just have to remember the vocabulary!

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