REFLEXIVE and RECIPROCAL verbs in Italian: What are they? How are they used?

In this article we’re going to talk about a very important grammar topic that some of you may have had to deal with at least sometimes: I am talking about the Italian so-called “reflexive verbs“. For example: lavarsi, cambiarsi, salutarsi, aspettarsi… And so, do you know that there are differences between the several reflexive verbs? I will show you all of them and I will also give you many examples to show you how to use them properly.

RECIPROCAL and REFLEXIVE verbs in Italian

Under the name of “reflexive verbs”, you can actually find many different types of verbs, which do not always have identical characteristics, for example, a verb such as “lavarsi” can’t be considered on the same leves as the verb “aspettarsi”. The Accademia della Crusca, the supreme authroity of the Italian language, comes to our aid and it tells us that there is a macro-category that includes all these verbs: the pronominal verbs.

What are the pronominal verbs?

By pronominal verbs we mean all those verbs accompanied by a pronoun.

In the case of reflexive verbs, the pronoun is a reflexive pronoun (the word “-si”  is postponed to the infinitive verb, which is conjugated according to the person).

Within pronominal verbs, then, there are sub-categories: in other words, there are reflexive and reciprocal verbs (eg, lavarsi vs. abbracciarsi). Within reflexive verbs there is a further distinction between direct and indirect reflexive verbs. 

Let’s stop with these theoretical grammatical definitions, whichs seem an un unknown language. Let’s try to understand the difference between all these definitions, starting with reflexive verbs that are divided into two fundamental groups:

The reflexive direct verbs 

When we are dealing with direct reflexive verbs we can always replace the reflexive pronoun (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si) with “me stesso” o “te stesso” and so on; this is because the pronoun really corresponds to a direct object. Let’s see some examples:

Io mi lavo = io lavo me stesso.
Tu ti asciughi = tu asciughi te stesso.
Lei si è iscritta = lei ha iscritto se stessa.

The most common and imortant verbs which follow this rule are:













The reflexive indirect verbs

However, this rule can’t be applied to the reflexive indirect verbs: in this case, the pronoun doesen’t correspond to a direct object complement, and therefore it can not be replaced with “me stesso”, “te stesso” and so on. Indeed, sometimes this type of verb takes a completely different direct object. Let’s see some examples:

Io mi aspetto grandi cose da te. (—> In questo caso, è “grandi cose” l’oggetto)

Tu ti penti di averlo fatto.

Lei si ribella alle nostre decisioni.

The most common and imortant verbs which follow this rule are:









Incavolarsi – incazzarsi








The reciprocal verbs

On the other hand, the reciprocal verbs express an action performed at the same time by two different subjects, one towards the other. Let’s see some examples:

I due bambini si abbracciano.

Marta e Giorgio si amano.

In some reciprocal verbs, such as “ABBRACCIARSIe “AMARSI, the reflexive pronoun represents the direct object and, in these cases, it can be accompanied by the expressions l’un l’altro”, “a vicenda”, “scambievolmente” and so on, even if these are not necessary. For example, in this case we will have:

I due bambini si abbracciano (l’un l’altro).

Marta e Giorgio si amano (l’un l’altro).

In other cases, however, the reflexive pronouns don’t correpsond to direct objects, but to indirect objects. In these cases, the expression “l’un l’altro” could be added but it would also be necessary to use a preposition, the one that requires the verb. Let’s see some examples:

Io e Giulio non ci scriviamo più.

In this case, if we want to add the expression  “l’un l’altro”, we have to add the preposition a:

Io e Giulio non scriviamo più l’uno all’altro.


Marco e Giulia si sono detti “ti amo”. —> Marco e Giulia hanno detto l’uno allaltra “ti amo”.

However, if we want to add expression such as “a vicenda” o “scambievolmente” and it is not necessary add any preposition. We would then say:

Matteo e Sofia non si parlano più.


Matteo e Sofia non si parlano più a vicenda.

In some cases, when we add the expressions “l’un l’altro” (with or without prepositions) or “a vicendait is necessary to distinguish unclear cases, where it is not clear wheter it is a direct reflexive verbs or a reciprocal verbs. Let’s see some examples:

Gli spettatori si chiedevano cosa sarebbe successo.

There are two possibilities: or “gli spettatori chiedevano a se stessi cosa sarebbe successo” and in this case we have a proper reflexive verb;se lo chiedevano gli uni agli altri” and in this case we have a reciprocal verb.

I giocatori si buttarono a terra.

—> I giocatori buttarono se stessi a terra. (reflexive direct)

—> I giocatori si buttarono a terra l’un l’altro. (reciprocal)

In both these cases, if the meaning we wanto to convey is that of the reciprocal verb, it is better to specify it by adding “l’un l’altro” or “a vicenda” and so on. This does not encourage misinterpretation.

In conclusion, let’s see some examples i order to summarise:


Luca si siede al tavolo (Luca siede se stesso)

Giorgia si alza in piedi (Giorgia alza se stessa)


Ogni tanto si ricorda di me.

Questa volta mi sono presa una bella sbandata.

Non si è mai pentito di avertelo detto.


Non ricordo la prima volta che ci siamo incontrati (l’uno con l’altro).

I miei genitori si sono separati (l’uno dall’altra).

Here we are at the end of today’s lesson! Well, as you may have noticed, there are a lot of reflexive verbs and they are used very often also in colloquial Italian, so it is very important to know them well and to know how to use them correctly. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll see you back in the lesson regarding the omission of the article in Italian.

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

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