Mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si… what the hell are they? Find out what are and how to use the subject and reflexive pronouns with this new video-lesson!
Subject and reflexive pronouns in Italian
The PRONOUN replaces a noun, an adjective, a verb, an other pronoun or an entire sentence.
In Italian, there are many kinds of pronouns, but in this lesson we deal with PERSONAL PRONOUNS, those replacing nouns of things and people involved in the communication.
There are 3 categories of personal pronouns:
- subject pronouns
- reflexive pronouns
- complement pronouns
Now we are going to consider the subject and the reflexive pronouns.
The complement pronouns are more difficult, so we decided to dedicate an entire lesson to them!
The subject pronouns indicate who performs the action and, in Italian, they are:
EGLI, ELLA (for people) / ESSO, ESSA (for things) → he, she, it
ESSI, ESSE (they)
1) Actually, in Italian, we don’t use subject personal pronouns so much, since the verb has generally got different endings according to the subject that performs the action, so it is useless to indicate it.
Siamo andati a Roma perché volevamo vedere il Colosseo. (We went to Rome because we wanted to see the Colosseum)
This is the most natural way to speak Italian as Italians do: we don’t need to add “noi” before the verbs (noi siamo andati, noi volevamo), because the suffix -amo only indicates the first person plural and no one else.
2) We use subject personal pronouns only in certain specific cases, such as:
- to emphasize the subject, to highlight its identity → Poi abbiamo visto Piazza Navona ma io volevo vedere Piazza San Pietro (Then we saw Piazza Navona but I wanted to see Piazza San Pietro → I am underlying that I wanted to go somewhere else)
- to avoid misunderstandings, in those few cases in which the endings of the verbs are the same for more than one person (for example the present subjunctive: Penso che tu abbia ragione (I think you’re right) → “che io / tu / lui / lei abbia”, therefore we need to specify which person we’re talking about).
3) Subject personal pronouns such as “egli, ella, esso, essa, essi, esse” are now only used in grammar books or in extremely formal texts. In the everyday communication, instead, we tend to use the pronouns “lui, lei, loro” as subjects (for example: “Lui è francese, mentre lei è inglese” → He’s French while she’s English).
4) In Italian, the politeness pronoun is “lei“, used for both men and women (with men, of course, it agrees to the masculine gender) with the verb in the third person singular (For example: Sono felice che lei si sia trovato bene con noi. / Sono felice che lei sia trovata bene con noi → I’m happy you enjoyed our company).
Reflexive pronouns are used in the verbs conjugations when the person who performs the action and the person who undergoes the action is the same. Therefore, the verb form becomes reflexive:
alzare (basic form) → alzarsi (reflexive form)
Io alzo la mano → I raise the hand (I = subject that performs the action / the hand = object that undergoes the action → they’re different, therefore the form isn’t reflexive)
Io mi alzo dal divano → I stand up from the sofa (I = subject that performs the action / myself = object that undergoes the action → they‘re the same, therefore the form is reflexive and we use the reflexive pronoun before the verb, agreed with the subject)
incontrare (basic form) → incontrarsi (reflexive form)
Tu incontri Marco → You meet Marco (you = subject that performs the action / Marco = object that undergoes the action → they are different, therefore the form isn’t reflexive)
Noi ci incontriamo vicino al bar → We meet next to the cafe (we = subject that performs the action / ourselves = object that undergoes the action → they’re the same, therefore the form is reflexive and we use the reflexive pronoun before the verb, agreed with the subject)
In Italian there are some verbs that only have a reflexive form (so they cannot be used without reflexive pronouns)!!
Italian verbs that only have a reflexive form are:
pentirsi (to regret)
vergognarsi (to be ashamed)
arrabbiarsi (to get angry)
ribellarsi (to rebel)
arrendersi (to surrender)
impadronirsi (to take over)
imbattersi (to come across)
suicidarsi (to commit suicide)
These verbs are conjugated like the reflexive verbs we’ve seen before (reflexive pronoun + verb):
Mi pento di averlo conosciuto. (I regret having met him)
Si vergogna di mostrarsi debole. (He’s ashamed to appear weak)
Ci siamo* arresi davanti all’evidenza. (We surrendered in front of the evidence)
Si è* suicidato con una corda. (He committed suicide with a rope)
* N.B. To form the compound tenses of verbs in a reflexive form, it is always used the verb “to be“.
Notice instead that in the infinitive, in the imperative and in the gerund the pronouns always follow the verb, creating one word with it! With the infinitive, the pronoun used is always “si“.
Vergognati! (Shame on you!)
È una persona molto calma: per arrabbiarsi ci deve essere qualcosa di molto grave. (She’s a very calm person: if she got angry, something really serious happened)
Non bisogna mai arrendersi. (Never give up)
Now, learn Italian relative pronouns!
Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!