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.

1
si + verb in the 3rd-person singular when the direct object that follows the action is singular Al bar in Piazza Dante si guarda la partita di Coppa Campioni.
2
si + verb in the 3rd-person plural when the direct object that follows the action is plural    Al bar in Piazza Dante si guardano le partite di Coppa Campioni.
3
si + verb in the 3rd person singular with verbs that are not followed by a direct object La domenica si va allo stadio.
 4 ci si + verb in the 3rd-person singular with reflexive verbs Ci si diverte allo stadio.

There are theoretical differences between the passive si (in the first two cases above) and impersonal si (in the third and fourth cases 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 a game one is disappointed = When people lose a game 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 with si.
  • 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].

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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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