Italian SI

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There are many tricky things about the Italian grammar, and today I have picked one of the trickiest: particle SI.

How many times have you encountered Italian SI? Look at the following examples:

 

(1)  Oggi SI va al mare! (=Today we are going to the seaside)

(2)  Le mele SI vendono dal fruttivendolo  (= You can buy apples at the greengrocer’s / Apples are sold at the greengrocer’s)

 

Wait a second, are you telling me that these are different Italian SI? Oh yes.

Let’s try to make this clear: we talk about SI IMPERSONALE (impersonal ‘si’) and SI PASSIVANTE (passivising ‘si’).

SI IMPERSONALE

Sentence (1) contains a SI impersonale. Other examples of this are the following:

(3) La domenica mattina SI dorme di più che il lunedì.   (= On Sunday mornings people sleep more than on Mondays)

(4) In Italia SI cena alle 8.   (= In Italy people/ you have dinner at 8)

When there is no definite subject, but we are talking about people in general doing something, we use SI IMPERSONALE: as the name suggests, it’s called impersonale because it is impersonal, e.g. it does not have a specific person as a subject.

Moreover, the verb is always used in the 3rd person singular!

 

SI PASSIVANTE

Look at sentence (2) above and at the following ones:

(5)  In Italia SI leggono pochi libri.   (= In Italy few books are read)

(6)  In Italia la pasta SI condisce con olio d’oliva e parmigiano. (=In Italy pasta is dressed with olive oil and parmesan cheese)

In this case, although the verb form is active, the meaning is passive (si leggono = are read / si condisce = is dressed). The verb agrees in number and gender with the subject of the sentence, so it will be 3rd person singular if the subject is singular and 3rd person plural if the person is plural.

It goes without saying that you can use SI PASSIVANTE only when the verb can actually be turn into passive, hence only transitive verbs (= verbs that can be followed by an object, such as mangiare – eat, leggere – read etc) can have this type of SI.

You cannot say: * In Italia si vanno in pensione tardi.  Completely wrong! You will need to say: In Italia si va in pensione tardi

because andare is an intransitive verb and is never passive!

 

To sum up:

SI IMPERSONALE

– has an indefinite subject (people in general, you..)

– the verb is always in 3rd person singular

– can be used for all verbs

 

SI PASSIVANTE

– makes the meaning passive

– the verb can be either in 3rd person singular or 3rd person plural according to the subject

– does not go with intransitive verbs

 

Clear? Good.

Actually there is also a third kind of Italian SI: it’s called SI RIFLESSIVO and characterises certain verbs which are reflexive by nature. There are many of them in Italian.

But more on one of my posts called “I verbi riflessivi”

If you have any questions about SI IMPERSONALE and SI PASSIVANTE just email me at serena@italianencounter.com.

I’ll be happy to help you!

Ciao ciao :)

 

 

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4 comments

    • Ciao Grahame,

      In the sentence “Si era militanti”, “SI” is an impersonal subject and, as such, whenever we are using adjectives or nouns referring to it, these need to be in the plural form.

      e.g. “Si è stanchi dopo una lunga camminata” = One gets tired after a long walk

      Hope this answers your question!

      ciao,
      Serena

  1. Serena!
    Am I reading you right ? You said impersonal “si” could use 3rd person singular OR plural , but answered Grahame by contradicting that? Maybe I am stupid? Tony

  2. Sorry I was incorrect . You actually said verb form always 3rd person singular in passive “si”. The adjective (or apposite noun ) “millitanti” is plural because “ci” here refers to many people .
    Apologies,
    Tony

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