Il “si” impersonale e passivante

Impersonal and passive si

Remember those useful phrases you learned in your first Italian class – Come si dice…? [How do you say…?] Come si scrive…? [How do you write/spell…?]  and Come si legge…? [How do you read/pronounce…?]  The word si has a general meaning of people, everybody, one, and an unspecified you, and it is often used in Italian to express actions that are common to many people. One can say – si può dire – for example:  Il mercoledì si guarda la Coppa Campioni which means Il mercoledì la gente guarda la Coppa Campioni.  Here is how it works:


si + verb in the 3rd-person singular when the direct object that follows the action is singular


Qui si vende la maglietta di Ronaldo.



si + verb in the 3rd-person plural when the direct object that follows the action is plural   


Qui si vendono le scarpe con i tacchetti.



si + verb in the 3rd person singular with verbs that are not followed by a direct object


La domenica si va allo stadio.


There are theoretical differences between the passive si (in the first two cases above) and impersonal si (in the third case above). Do not worry about them, as si means the same thing in both cases.

Notice that:

A.   Si can also mean we, as in Si va? [Shall we go?].

B.   With si, we use adjectives in the masculine plural form, because si has a plural connotation (people, everybody, one, an unspecified you), as in Quando si perde una partita si è delusi [When one loses/people lose a game one is/people are disappointed].

C.   Si can be used with all tenses:

  • Present tense:  Oggigiorno si giocano alcune partite il sabato.
  • Imperfetto:  Un tempo si giocavano tutte le partite la domenica.
  • Passato prossimo:  Ieri sera si è giocato a calcio.   In a compound tense one always uses essere – si usa il verbo essere.
  • and other tenses you will learn.

D.   Do not confuse the passive and impersonal si [In questa lavanderia si lavano i cappotti] with the reflexive si  [Lui si lava le mani].  As a matter of fact, when using a reflexive verb with the impersonal or passive si you will have to say ci si as in Ci si lava le mani prima di mangiare = Uno si lava le mani prima di mangiare, so as not to have si si (si si lava le mani prima di mangiare: INCORRECT)


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Spunti: Italiano elementare 2 by Daniel Leisawitz and Daniela Viale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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