What is an Italian reflexive verb?
A reflexive verb, in Italian verbo riflessivo, is a verb that ends in -si in its infinitive form (the ‘’to’’ form).
The -si in the infinitive is a reflexive pronoun and can be translated as “to self” or “to oneself” and it expresses that there is a reflection of the action on the subject.
As far as we know, all the Italian verbs end in – are, – ere, – ire in infinitive.
The reflexive verbs, instead, end in -si. All we have to do is drop the last letter -e from the infinitive form (-are, -ere, -ire) and add the reflexive pronoun si.
svegliare → to wake up
sedere → to sit down
vestire → to dress
svegliarsi → to wake oneself up
sedersi → to sit oneself down
vestirsi → to dress oneself
NOTE: Keep in mind that not all verbs can be turned into reflexive verbs. Some of them can either be used as reflexive or non-reflexive, others are used only in their reflexive form and should be memorized as such.
But, don’t worry, once you figure out when and how the reflexive verbs are used, you will start using them without even noticing!
When to use a reflexive verb in Italian?
In order to understand when to use a reflexive verb, we must first understand the relationship between the crucial parts of one simple sentence:
- the subject: the person doing the action
- the object: the person/object on which the action is performed
- the verb: the action
Let’s start with an example: the verbs lavare (to wash) and lavarsi (to wash oneself).
|The person doing the action||the action||person/object on which the action is performed|
In this case, the verb lavare is transitive, non-reflexive verb because the action passes from one person to another person or, in this case, object. The subject is me (io). The object are the dishes (i piatti). So, the subject and the object are not the same.
|The person doing the action||the action||person/object on which the action is performed|
In this case, the subject and the object are the same. The person doing the washing is me (io). The person receiving the washing is again me (me stessa). Therefore, we use reflexive verbs when the action that the subject does have effects on the subject itself.
This formulation se stessi means “oneself”, or “to self” (that the action is carried out by me and to me).
Unfortunately, se stessi is used extremely rarely and we find it in the form of a reflexive pronoun, as part of the verb in the infinitive form:
|Lavare se stessi → lavarsi|
|to wash oneself → to wash oneself|
And in between the subject and the verb in the conjugated form:
|Io lavo me stessa → Io mi lavo|
|I wash myself → I wash myself|
The reflexive pronoun -si is needed while conjugating reflexive verbs and it changes in form depending on the subject of the sentence.
Here the chart of Italian reflexive pronouns:
|Personal pronoun||Reflexive pronoun||Meaning|
How to conjugate reflexive verbs in present
Finally we have all the information to conjugate reflexive verbs! All you have to do is follow this simple formula:
- subject + reflexive pronoun + verb conjugated in the present tense.
|SVEGLIARSI – to wake (oneself) up|
|(Io)||mi||sveglio||I wake (myself) up|
|(Tu)||ti||svegli||You wake (yourself) up|
|(Lui/Lei)||si||sveglia||He/She wakes (himself/herself) up|
|(Noi)||ci||svegliamo||We wake (ourselves) up|
|(Voi)||vi||svegliate||You wake (yourselves) up|
|(Loro)||si||svegliano||They wake (themselves) up|
As shown on this chart, it is all very simple once you follow these few steps:
1. Pick the subject of the sentence (io, tu, lui, Marco, la mamma…)
2. Use the reflexive pronoun according to the personal pronoun (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si).
3. Conjugate the verb as you would normally do for -are, -ere, -ire verbs.
In order to understand what conjugation to follow, drop the final -si from the infinitive and see what is the vowel before the -r-. For example the verb svegliarsi follows the -are conjugation, because there is an -a– before the -r-. The base of the verb would be svegli- to which you will have to add the right final ending connected to the subject.
Svegliarsi → svegli-ar-si → mi sveglio
alzarsi – to get up (literally: to get up yourself)
Ragazze, voi quando vi alzate? – Girls, when do you get up?
perdersi – to get lost (literally: to lose oneself)
Maria si perde sempre – Maria always gets lost
divertirsi – to have fun (literally: to enjoy oneself)
Mi diverto un sacco – I have a lot of fun.
Reflexive verbs in negative form
To make a negative sentence with reflexive verbs in Italian, just add non before the reflexive pronoun:
Subject + non + reflexive pronoun + verb
(io) Non mi diverto – I don’t have fun
(io) Non mi sono alzato in tempo – I didn’t wake up in time
(io) Non mi sono vestita bene – I didn’t dress nicely
Reflexive verbs in infinitive tense
If the verb is in the infinitive form the reflexive pronoun is attached to the verb.
Rilassarsi – to relax (oneself)
In vacanza voglio rilassarmi – On vacation I want to relax (myself).
Laurearsi – to graduate
Voglio laurearmi in Lingue.
I want to graduate in languages.
Ubriacarsi – to get drunk
Se una persona beve troppo vino, può ubriacarsi.
If a person drinks too much wine, he can get drunk.
How to conjugate reflexive verbs in passato prossimo
If you have already studied the past tense in Italian, you can continue reading, if not, I recommend reading our article on the passato prossimo first.
The structure of the sentence of reflexive verbs in past tense is the same as the one for the present the present tense:
- Subject + reflexive pronoun + verb
The verb would be conjugated in passato prossimo, using the verb auxiliary essere and the past participle of the main verb.
Remember that when using the auxiliary essere the past participle has to agree in gender and number with the subject.
Io mi sono lavato. – I washed myself (the subject is male)
Io mi sono lavata. – I washed myself (the subject is female)
Noi ci siamo lavati. – we washed ourselves – (the subject is masculine plural)
Noi ci siamo lavate. – we washed ourselves – (the subject is feminine plural)
Here’s the example of the verb lavarsi (to wash oneself) conjugated in the past tense:
|LAVARSI – to wash oneself|
|(Io)||mi||sono lavato/a||I washed (myself)|
|(Tu)||ti||sei lavato/a||You washed (yourself)|
|(Lui/Lei)||si||è lavato/a||He/She/It washed (himself/herself)|
|(Noi)||ci||siamo lavati/e||We washed (ourselves)|
|(Voi)||vi||siete lavati/e||You washed (yourselves)|
|(Loro)||si||sono lavati/e||They washed (themselves)|
In case the passato prossimo and auxilIary verbs are new subject for you, please check our lesson about passato prossimo.
Most common Italian reflexive verbs
There are plenty of reflexive verbs in Italian. Let’s take a look at some of them and their practical use in a sentence:
to fall asleep
|Marco si addormenta sempre davanti alla TV.
Marso always falls asleep in front of the TV.
to get up
|Io mi alzo presto ogni giorno.
I get up early every day.
to get bored
|Lucia e Paolo si annoiano al lavoro ogni giorno.
Lucia and Paolo are bored at work every day.
to get angry
|Oggi mi sono arrabbiata molto.
Today I got angry a lot.
to have fun, to enjoy oneself
|Noi ci divertiamo sempre insieme.
We always have fun together.
to get hurt, hurt oneself
|Paola, ti sei fatta male?
Paola, did you hurt yourself?
to fall in love with
|Mi sono innamorato di te.
I fell in love with you.
|Uno si lamenta sempre della vita.
Someone always complains about life.
to wash oneself, to have a wash
|Tu ti lavi sempre prima di uscire?
Do you always wash (yourself) before going out?
|Congratulazioni, ti sei finalmente laureata!
Congratulations, you are finally graduated!
to put clothes on
|Marco, cosa ti metti stasera?
Marco, what are you going to wear tonight?
|Non ti muovere!
to sit down
|Lei si è seduta accanto a lui.
She sat down next to him.
|Ti senti meglio oggi?
Do you feel better today?
|Mi sono spogliato davanti a tutti.
I undressed myself in front of everybody.
to get married
|Anna e Gianluca si sono sposati quest’anno.
Anna and Gianluca got married this year.
to wake up
|Questa mattina mi sono svegliata molto presto.
This morning I woke up very early.
|Vi transferite a Londra?
Are you moving to London?
to get dressed
|Voi vi vestite adesso? Siamo in ritardo.
Are you getting dressed now? We are late.
Different kinds of reflexive verbs in Italian
There are two more groups of reflexive verbs in Italian.
Verbi Riflessivi Reciproci – Reciprocal reflexive verbs
In these verbs the reflexive pronoun doesn’t mean “oneself”, but “to each other” or “one another”.
vedersi – to see each other
(Noi) ci vediamo domani. – We’ll see each other tomorrow.
incontrarsi – to meet each other
Dove vi incontrate? – Where will you meet (each other?)
amarsi – to love each other
(Loro) si amano tanto. – They love each other a lot.
innamorarsi – to fall in love with each other
Stefania e Nicola si sono innamorati al primo sguardo
Stefania and Nicola fell in love (with each other) at first sight.
Verbi Riflessivi Apparenti – Apparent reflexive verbs
Reflexive verbs that are not connected with the subject directly, but indirectly.
lavarsi I denti – to brush the teeth?
Quante volte al giorno ti lavi i denti?
How many times a day do you brush your teeth?
farsi la barba – shave (the beard)
Io mi faccio la barba tutti i giorni.
I shave my beard every day.
asciugarsi i capelli – to dry one’s hair
Ti sei già asciugata i capelli?
Have you already dried your hair?
farsi la doccia – take a shower
Noi ci facciamo la doccia dopo la palestra.
We take a shower after the gym.
Now you are finally able to esprimerti (express yourself) using Italian reflexive verbs.
All you need to remember is:
- Follow the structure:subject + reflexive pronoun + verb
- Always use the auxiliary verb essere in passato prossimo
Expose yourself as much as possible to Italian songs, Italian books and Italian news and you will be surprised how frequent reflexive verbs are!