In the following lesson, we are going to deal with a topic that’s very confusing for foreign students (and some Italians too), namely SI impersonale, since it has rather complex and particular formation rules.
How and When to use the “SI impersonale” in Italian
Il SI impersonale is used to talk, in a detached manner, about events or situations involving an indefinite and nonspecific subject (all the people) and it’s used both in spoken and written language (but it’s used more in this last case).
Unlike the SI riflessivo, which refers to a person or a group of specific people, the SI impersonale replaces “la gente”, “le persone” (the people), “tutti” (everybody) and it’s always used in the third person, singular and plural, with the auxiliary verb essere (to be).
Now let’s see all the case in which we can use the SI impersonale and how:
1) with simple tenses (present, past, future… ) of transitive verbs
If the verb is transitive and takes a direct object, it must be conjugated:
– in the third person singular, if the object taken is singular
– in the third person plural, if the object taken is plural
Example: “Alla festa si berrà birra e si mangeranno panini” (At the party we will drink beer and eat sandwiches)
Let’s see other examples with the same principle:
“In vacanza si prende il sole e si leggono molti libri” (On holiday you can sunbathe and read many books).
“Qui si studia l’italiano” (We study Italian here)
In these cases, we have the so-called SI passivante, the case in which the direct object of the verb is nothing but the subject of a passive clause:
“Alla festa si berrà birra e si mangeranno panini” –> Alla festa sarà bevuta birra e saranno mangiati panini (At the party beer will be drunk and sandwiches will be eaten)
“In vacanza si prende il sole e si leggono molti libri” –> In vacanza è preso il sole e sono letti molti libri (On holiday you can sunbathe and many books are read)
“Qui si studia l’italiano” –> Qui è studiato l’italiano. (Italian is studied here)
2) with simple of intransitive verbs
If the verb is intransitive (not taking a direct object), or it is transitive but doesn’t take any object, then the verb is always in the third person singular.
Examples: “D’estate si va al mare” (On summer you go to the sea)
“In questo ristorante si mangia molto bene!” (In this restaurant you eat really well)
In this last case, the used verb is always “mangiare” (to eat), which is transitive, but since it doesn’t take any object in this sentence, it is conjugated in the third person singular.
3) with simple tenses of reflexive verbs
If the verbs already include a “si” (reflexive pronouns) in the third person singular, you will have not to use the repetition (si si), but the combination ci si! In this case, il verb is always singular, even when followed by a plural object.
Examples: “In vacanza, ci si alza sempre tardi” (On holidays, you always get up late)
“Prima di mangiare, ci si lava le mani” (Before eating, we wash our hands)
4) with compound tenses (present perfect, pluperfect tense, future perfect…)
The auxiliary used to form compound tenses after the “SI impersonale” must be “essere“, always! As for the past participle, it varies according to the type of verb we’re using (transitive, intransitive…).
– If the SI impersonale precedes a verb that has the verb “essere” (to be) as auxiliary (like a movement or state verbs, a reflexive or a passive verb), then the past participle ends with -i (or -e if we’re talking about women)
Examples: “Si può mangiare solo se prima ci si è lavati le mani” (Verbo riflessivo) (You can eat only if you have washed your hands first)
“Se si è state lasciate, bisogna andare dal parrucchiere e farsi belle!” (Passive verb) (If you’ve been dumped, you need to go to the hairdresser to in order to look nice)
“Quest’estate si è andati in Portogallo” (Intransitive verb) (This summer we’ve been to Portugal)
– If the SI impersonale precedes an intransitive verb that has the verb “avere” (to have) as auxiliary (like laughing or walking) or a transitive verb without object, then the past participle will always end with -o
Examples: “Era un film triste e non si è riso per niente!” (It was a sad movie and we didn’t laugh at all)
“Alla festa del direttore si è mangiato veramente bene!” (At the manager’s party we ate very well!)
– if the SI impersonale precedes a transitive verb followed by a direct object, then the past participle is related with the object (so it might end with -o, -a, -i, -e). In this case, if the object is plural even the verb “essere” (to be) will be plural.
Examples: “Non so lì ma qui non si è vista nemmeno una persona” (I don’t know if there it’s the same, but nobody came here)
“Il colpevole non è stato catturato perché non si sono analizzate bene tutte le prove” (The culprit wasn’t caught because the evidences weren’t analyzed properly)
“Purtroppo per questa patologia non si sono ancora fatti dei progressi” (Unfortunately, no progress has yet been made for this condition)
*Even in these sentences, there’s the case of SI PASSIVANTE.
– If the SI impersonale precedes a link verb (a verb that doesn’t make any sense on its own, but that creates a link between the subject and a noun (or adjective), like “essere” (to be), “sembrare” (to seem), “diventare” (to become), “nominare” (to appoint/name)…), then the past participle ends with -i (or -e if we’re talking about women)
Examples: “Una volta che si è diventati ricchi, la vita diventa più facile” (Once you have become rich, your life gets easier)
“Se si è state amiche, si è andate almeno una volta a pranzo fuori insieme” (If you have been friends, you have gone out for lunch at least once)
5) SI IMPERSONALE with another pronoun referred to the same verb
The other pronoun va prima del SI, in the order: PRONOUN + SI + VERB.
Examples “-Quando si fa la cena? –La si fa quando tutti sono tornati a casa”
“Si è andati in vacanza a Parigi l’anno scorso e ci si è andati per celebrare un anniversario di matrimonio” (We went on vacation to Paris last year and went there to celebrate a wedding anniversary)
“Non si dovrebbero avere dubbi sulle torte: le si è fatte bene!” (There should be no doubt about the cakes: they were done well)
“Non mi si deve prendere in giro! Né ora né mai! O ci saranno conseguenze!” (You must never ever make fun on me! Not now, not ever! Or there will be consequences!)
Alright, our lesson has come to an end, but if you stil have doubts or questions let us know in the comment section! Now if you want to relax a little bit, you can take a look at our video on the 10 TV Italian shows you must watch, especially in these days in which we spend a lot more time at home!
Instead, if you want to learn the TRUE Italian, the one used by Italians every day, don’t forget to read our book Italiano Colloquiale!