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 one in the sense of people, everybody and an unspecified you, and it is often used in Italian to express actions that are common to many people.
||si + verb in the 3rd-person singular when the direct object that follows the action is singular||Un tempo si mangiava meno carne.|
||si + verb in the 3rd-person plural when the direct object that follows the action is plural||Un tempo si mangiavano pochi dolci.|
||si + verb in the 3rd person singular with verbs that are not followed by a direct object||Un tempo si andava poco in vacanza.|
|4||ci si + verb in the 3rd-person singular with reflexive verbs||Un tempo ci si sposava generalmente più giovani.|
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.
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 aiuta qualcuno si è contenti [When one helps someone one is happy = When people help someone people are happy].
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].