Italian reflexive verbs

The Italian reflexive verbs are a special category of verbs that are used coupled with a reflexive pronoun (like the English pronoun oneself) so that the subject is the recipient of the action.

Alzarsi
To get (oneself) up

Divertirsi
To have fun
Literally: To enjoy oneself

Lavarsi
To wash (oneself)

drawing of a boy showering

How do you conjugate reflexive verbs in Italian? How do you use them? Read on to learn everything you need to know!


How to conjugate the Italian reflexive verbs

It is very easy to conjugate reflexive verbs in Italian because the verb itself always uses the same conjugations that you use for regular verbs. It’s just the pronoun that changes.

For example, you probably already know how to conjugate Italian verbs in the present tense. Let’s take lavare, which means to wash or to clean.

This is how you conjugate lavare in the present tense.

iolavo
tulavi
lui, leilava
noilaviamo
voilavate
lorolavano

For example, you could say…

Il ragazzo lava i piatti.
The boy washes the dishes.

La mamma lava la finestra.
Mom cleans the window.

woman cleaning a window

Now lavare has a reflexive form: lavarsi.

To make any Italian verb reflexive, remove the -e from the -are ending and add the reflexive pronoun si to the infinitive form of the verb.

To conjugate Italian reflexive verbs, conjugate the verb as any other verb and change the reflexive pronoun si according to this table:

iomi lavo
tuti lavi
lui, leisi lava
noici laviamo
voivi lavate
lorosi lavano

Any reflexive verb for the subject pronoun io will begin with the reflexive pronoun mi, to me. The subject tu will begin with ti, to you, and so on. You will notice that the si infinitive pronoun is the same as the singular and plural third-person pronouns.

Mi lavo literally translates as I wash myself.

Here are some other examples:

Ti arrabbi troppo facilmente.
You get (yourself) angry too easily.
(arrabbiarsi = to get angry)

Il bambino si sta divertendo.
The child is having (himself) fun.
(divertire = to amuse, divertirsi = to have fun)

A che ora vi alzate al mattino?
What time do you get (ourselves) up in the morning?
(alzare = to raise, alzarsi = to get up)

Il cane si è addormentato davanti al camino.
The dog fell (himself) asleep in front of the fireplace.
(addormentare = to numb, addormentarsi = to fall asleep)

Mi feci male con una spina.
I injured myself with a thorn.
(fare male = to harm, farsi male = to injure oneself)

Il gatto si lava.
The cat cleans (itself).
(lavare = to clean, lavarsi = to clean oneself)

red cat cleaning itself

To make a reflexive verb negative, simply add non before the reflexive pronoun.

Non mi sto lamentando!
I’m not complaining!
(lamentarsi = to complain)

Non ti sei ancora stancato di giocare?
Aren’t you tired of playing yet?
(stancarsi = to get tired)


Italian reflexive verbs in compound tenses

Compound tenses are made up of two verbs, the helper verb (auxiliary verb) and the main verb.

As we saw in our lesson on the passato prossimo in Italian, Italian has two possible helper verbs: avere, to have, and essere, to be. Depending on the verb, one or the other is used.

Reflexive verbs always use essere as an auxiliary verb for any compound tense in Italian. Always remember that the past participle of the verb must match the gender and number of the subject.

For example, you could say…

Ti sei annoiato alla conferenza?
Did you get bored at the conference?
(annoiarsi = to get bored)

Mi ero dimenticato di chiudere la porta.
I had forgotten to close the door.
(dimenticarsi di qualcosa = to forget to do sth)

Enrico non risponde al telefono. – Si sarà addormentato sul divano.
Enrico doesn’t pick up the phone. – He must have fallen asleep on the couch.
(addormentarsi = to fall asleep)

Ci siamo persi! Dove siamo?
We got lost! Where are we?
(perdersi = to get lost)

family looking at a map

Where to place the reflexive pronoun?

When Italian reflexive verbs in the infinitive form are placed after a modal verb (verbo modale or verbo servile in Italian), the reflexive pronoun that matches the subject can be placed before the modal verb or it can be attached to the infinitive reflexive verb removing the final -e.

There are 4 modal verbs in Italian:

  • volere (to want)
  • potere (can)
  • dovere (must)
  • sapere (to know)

For example, you could say…

Ti puoi sedere qui. Puoi sederti qui.
You can sit (yourself) here.

A che ora ci dobbiamo svegliare domani mattina? A che ora dobbiamo svegliarci domani mattina?
What time should we wake up (ourselves) tomorrow morning?

Mi devo fare una doccia. Devo farmi una doccia.
I have to take (myself) a shower.

guy with a dirty shirt

When Italian reflexive verbs come after verbs that are commonly followed by a preposition, such as credere a (to believe to) and decidere di (to decide to), the reflexive pronoun must match the subject and must be attached to the reflexive verb in the infinitive form. For example…

Abbiamo deciso di fermarci in città.
We decided to stop (ourselves) in the city.
(decidere di = to decide to + fermarsi = to stop, to halt)

Finisco di vestirmi e arrivo subito!
I’ll finish getting (myself) dressed and be right over!
(finire di = to finish to + vestirsi = to get dressed)

Quando inizierai ad allenarti in palestra?
When will you start training (yourself) in the gym?
(iniziare a = to start to + allenarsi = to train, to work out)


Italian reflexive verbs in the imperative mood

The imperative mood in Italian is the tense you use to give orders and commands.

When Italian reflexive verbs are conjugated in this tense, all reflexive pronouns are attached to the verb for all persons except the third person singular and plural.

Let’s conjugate muoversi, to hurry.

io
tumuoviti!
lui, leisi muova!
noimuoviamoci!
voimuovetevi!
lorosi muovano!

The pronoun si is always placed in front of the conjugated verb as a separate word. All the other reflexive pronouns must be attached to the verb.

For example, you could say…

Vestiti, dobbiamo andare!
Get dressed, we have to go!

Alzatevi, bambini! Sono quasi le undici!
Get up, children! It’s almost eleven o’clock!

Si fermi lì!
Stop right there! (polite)

thief caught by cctv camera

In the negative imperative, the reflexive pronoun can also be placed before the verb for the second-person singular and plural subjects. This rule doesn’t apply to other subjects.

io
tunon ti muovere! / non muoverti!
lui, leinon si muova!
noinon muoviamoci!
voinon vi muovete! / non muovetevi!
loronon si muovano!

Non ti muovere da lì! Non muoverti da lì!
Don’t move from there!

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

Learn to speak Italian like a native? Easy.
Italian All-in-One For Dummies appeals to those readers looking for a comprehensive, all-encompassing guide to mastering the Italian language. It contains content from all For Dummies Italian language instruction titles, including Italian For Dummies, Intermediate Italian For Dummies, Italian Verbs For Dummies, Italian Phrases For Dummies, Italian Grammar For Dummies, and Italian For Dummies Audio Set.


Gerund Italian reflexive verbs and past participles

These paragraphs describe advanced aspects of the grammar language, so if you are still a beginner in Italian, feel free to skip them.

Reflexive pronouns are always attached to the verb in its gerund form, as in…

Fermandosi all’improvviso, Michele gridò.
Stopping suddenly, Michele shouted.
(fermarsi = to stop)

Don’t confuse the gerund form with the Italian progressive tenses! In Italian progressive tenses (stare + verb in -ando/endo), the reflexive pronoun is placed before stare.

Luigi si sta arrabbiando.
Luigi is getting angry.

Ti stai divertendo?
Are you enjoying yourself?

The reflexive pronoun must be attached to any past participle that’s not part of a compound tense, such as in…

Fermatisi davanti alla porta, i ragazzi suonarono al campanello.
Once dressed (himself), Mario left the house.

Una volta vestitasi, Federica uscì di casa.
Once dressed (herself), Federica left the house.

woman in a red dress

Common and tricky Italian reflexive verbs

As you have probably noticed, many reflexive verbs in Italian are not reflexive verbs in English. Since many Italian reflexive verbs are also very common verbs, such as alzarsi, to get up, and sedersi, to sit down, it’s very important that you learn the most common verbs by heart.

The following table lists a number of common Italian reflexive verbs.

Italian reflexive verbs behave very differently from English reflexive verbs, but you will find that many of them are translated into English as collocations with the verb to get.

addormentarsito fall asleep
allenarsito work out
alzarsito get up
ammalarsito get sick
annoiarsito get bored
arrabbiarsito get angry
asciugarsito dry yourself off
chiamarsito be called
chiedersito wonder
dimenticarsito forget
diplomarsito graduate (high school)
divertirsito have fun
farsi la barba, radersito shave
farsi la docciato take a shower
farsi maleto hurt oneself
fermarsito stop
impegnarsito work hard
innamorarsito fall in love
innervosirsito get upset
lamentarsito complain
laurearsito graduate (college)
lavarsito wash yourself
pentirsito regret, to feel sorry
perdersito get lost
pettinarsito comb yourself
preoccuparsito get worried
prepararsito get ready
ricordarsito remember
sbagliarsito make a mistake
sbrigarsito hurry up
sedersito sit down
sentirsito feel
spogliarsito get undressed
stancarsito get tired
stressarsito get stressed
svegliarsito wake up
truccarsito put on make up
ubriacarsito get drunk
vergognarsito feel ashamed
vestirsito get dressed
voltarsito turn
drunk woman sleeping

Here are a few examples of these Italian reflexive verbs…

Mio fratello si è laureato a maggio.
My brother graduated in May.
(laurearsi)

Ti stai sbagliando. La somma fa 25, non 23.
You are mistaken. The sum is 25, not 23.
(sbagliarsi)

Mi sono innamorato di una mia compagna di classe.
I fell in love with one of my classmates.
(innamorarsi)

Michele si arrabbia spesso.
Michele often gets angry.
(arrabbiarsi)

Gli ospiti si siedono attorno al tavolo.
The guests sit down around the table.
(sedersi)

Mi annoio! Dovrei trovarmi un hobby.
I’m bored! I should get a hobby.
(annoiarsi)

bored kid playing on his phone

Possessive pronouns and reflexive verbs in Italian

We don’t use possessive pronouns with Italian reflexive verbs that involve parts of the body.

Mi lavo i capelli.
I wash my hair.
Never say: Mi lavo i miei capelli.

Martina si lava il viso.
Martina washes her face.
Never say: Martina si lava il suo viso.


Reciprocal Italian reflexive verbs

There is a special category of reflexive verbs in Italian that describe actions that occur between two people. These are sometimes translated into English with each other or one another.

abbracciarsito hug
aiutarsito help one another
amarsito love each other
baciarsito kiss
guardarsito look at each other
incontrarsito meet each other
piacersito like one another
sposarsito get married

For example, you could say…

Incontriamoci alle 9 davanti al cinema.
Let’s meet at 9 a.m. in front of the movie theater.

Gli sposi si baciano.
The bride and groom kiss.

boyfriend kissing girlfriend on her cheek

Reflexive Italian verbs in the colloquial language

Italians often turn a regular verb reflexive when talking about experiences they have had, such as…

Mi sono slogato una caviglia scendendo le scale.
I sprained (myself) my ankle coming down the stairs.

Mi sono mangiato tutto il pacchetto di patatine.
I ate the whole packet of chips.

That’s the end of our lesson! Now you know all the most common Italian reflexive verbs. Make sure you frequently practice them and don’t forget to take a peek at the Verb Trainer where you will find plenty of exercises for verbs!


What next?

Now that you’ve seen how the Italian reflexive verbs work, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

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