Italian Reflexive Verbs

This page explains Italian reflexive verbs, what they are and how to use them.

A reflexive verb is a verb where the person doing the action is also the recipient of the action. An example of a sentence using a reflexive verb in English could be ‘I wash myself’. The reason for it being reflexive is the person doing the washing is also the person doing the action.

Let’s firstly look at a non-reflexive verb, ‘lavare’ which literally means to ‘to wash’. It is a normal ‘are’ verb and has normal ‘are’ verb endings:

  • Lavo = I wash
  • Lavi = You wash (speaking to one friend/one child)
  • Lava = He washes/She washes + You wash (speaking to one stranger)
  • Laviamo = We wash
  • Lavate = You wash (speaking to 2(+) people)
  • Lavano = They wash

The above verb is fine by itself for when a person wants to say that they wash something else, for example ‘Lavo la macchina’ = ‘I wash the car’.

The alternative ‘lavarsi‘ literally translates as ‘to wash oneself‘ (i.e. to have a wash) and in the present tense is as follows:

  • Mi lavo = I wash myself
  • Ti lavi = You wash yourself (talking to one friend/one child)
  • Si lava = He washes himself/She washes herself + You wash yourself (talking to one stranger)
  • Ci laviamo = We wash ourselves
  • Vi lavate = You wash yourselves (talking to 2(+) people)
  • Si lavano = They wash themselves

You would use ‘lavarsi’ when you want to say that someone is having a wash, etc.

If you compare ‘lavare’ with ‘lavarsi’, you will see that the verb endings are the same for both versions. The reason for this is ‘lavare‘ is the verb for ‘lavarsi’.

All that has happened is that for the reflexive version we need to add an extra word (‘mi’ (myself), ‘ti’ (yourself), etc.) to show that the person is doing the action to themselves.

Now let’s look at the verb ‘chiamare’ means ‘to call’, so can be used, for example, in the sense of ‘to phone’:

  • chiamo = I call
  • chiami = You call (speaking to one friend/one child)
  • chiama = He calls/She calls + You call (speaking to one stranger)
  • chiamiamo = We call
  • chiamate = You call (speaking to 2(+) people)
  • chiamano = They call

The reflexive form however ‘chiamarsi‘ means ‘to call oneself‘ and is used to ask/tell what someone’s name is and is shown as follows:

  • mi chiamo = I call myself (i.e. ‘My name is….’)
  • ti chiami = You call yourself (one friend/one child) (i.e. ‘Your name is….’)
  • si chiama = He calls himself/She calls herself (i.e. ‘His/Her/Its name is….’) + You call yourself (one stranger) (i.e. ‘Your name is….’)
  • ci chiamiamo = We call ourselves (i.e. ‘Our names are….’)
  • vi chiamate = You call yourselves (2(+) people) (i.e. ‘Your names are….’)
  • si chiamano = They call themselves (i.e. ‘Their names are….’)

Again you will see the only difference between the non-reflexive verb (chiamare = to call) and the reflexive verb (chiamarsi = to call oneself) is with reflexive verbs you simply need to add an extra word before the verb to show who the action is being done to (i.e. ‘mi’ (myself), ‘ti’ (yourself), etc). The same applies for all reflexive verbs.

Do all Italian verbs have a reflexive version?

Most Italian verbs are not reflexive and have no reflexive version. Reflexive verbs in fact only represent a small (but significant) number of the total number of verbs used in the Italian language.

Remember that:

  • All reflexive verbs have a non-reflexive version, but most non-reflexive verbs do not have a reflexive version.
  • For example, mangiare (to eat) does not have a reflexive version.

Handy Tips for understanding how to use reflexive verbs

Sometimes, it may not always seem logical or clear why a reflexive verb is reflexive. There is however (almost) always a logical reason why.

To be able to use the language and reflexive verbs effectively, whenever you want to learn a new reflexive verb, always also learn the meaning of the non-reflexive verbs.

In this way you know what you are literally saying when you speak and understand when to use the reflexive version and the non-reflexive version.

So far you know:

  • ‘Lavare’ means ‘to wash (something)’ and ‘Lavarsi’ means ‘to wash oneself’ (i.e. to have a wash)
  • ‘Chiamare’ means ‘to call’ and ‘Chiamarsi’ means ‘to call oneself’ (i.e. to be named)

One key tip is whenever you came across a new reflexive verb, learn the reflexive version and the non-reflexive verb at the same time.

Learning the meaning of the reflexive version and the non-reflexive version allows you to know which to use when with confidence.

If you need more help, feel free to get in contact

Feel free to get in contact with any questions you have about Italian reflexive verbs or if you wish to book Italian tuition with me. Online Italian Tuition starts at £12 for 30 minutes. (More details on my Italian Language Tuition services can also be seen by clicking here).

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