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Italian Reciprocal Reflexive Verbs

Reciprocal reflexive verbs are used when two or more people perform the same action together; this will make all people involved the subject of the action.

To express this type of situation in English we simply add the phrase “each other” after the verb that describes the action. Italians employ the -si ending, as with regular reflexive verbs with actions that revert back to the  speaker.

Listed below are verbs that commonly use the reciprocal reflexive form:

abbracciarsi to hug each other
aiutarsi to help each other
amarsi to love each other
baciarsi to kiss each other
chiamarsi to call each other
conoscersi to get to know each other
fidanzarsi to become engaged
guardarsi to look at each other
incontrarsi to meet each other
(planned meeting)
odiarsi to hate each other
parlarsi to speak to each other
salutarsi to greet each other
scriversi to write each other
sposarsi to marry each other
telefonarsi to call each other
trovarsi to meet each other
vedersi to see each other

A quick glance at this list reveals two things: (1) many of these reflexive verbs have non-reflexive forms with similar meanings, such as amare (to love), parlare (to talk), scrivere (to write), and vedere (to see); (2) many of these reflexive verbs are also used as simple reflexive verbs, such as fidanzarsi (to get married), and sposarsi (to get married).

The verb chiamare and its reflexive form chiamarsi are also interesting. Chiamare alone means “to call,” as in to yell over to someone (or to make a telephone call, now that technology allows us to do this) but chiamarsi in its simple reflexive form has a different meaning: “to call oneself a name.” Of course, every Italian student quickly learns the first conjugation of the verb chiamarsi as part of their initiation into the Italian language with the phrase,Mi chiamo…” for the English phrase “My name is…”  So chiamarsi does  “double duty” as a simple and a reciprocal reflexive verb, with different meanings depending on the context.

In short, reflexive verbs add shades of meaning to the Italian language in a simple, yet brilliant way.

How do we actually use Italian reciprocal reflexive verbs in conversation?

Let’s give this a try with the two most commonly used persons in spoken Italian, the first person plural noi and the third person plural loro forms.

If the speaker is involved in the action with someone else—we are doing the action—conjugate the verb in the sentence using the first person plural noi form and put its reflexive pronoun ci before the  conjugated verb.

If the speaker is talking about a group of other people—they are doing the action—conjugate the verb in the sentence using the third person plural loro form and put its reflexive pronoun si before the conjugated verb.

As we have learned in our previous blogs, the subject pronouns are almost always omitted  when conversing in Italian, and this “rule” applies to sentences that use reciprocal reflexive verbs.  But the subject pronouns have been included in parentheses in our Italian examples in the table below, just to make it immediately clear who is the subject. With time, we should not need this hint, at least for the noi form, with its easily recognizable -iamo verb ending, which is the same for all verbs in the present tense!

Also, notice that in Italian the immediate future is expressed by the present tense, while in English, we tend to use the future tense for every future activity.  It is easy in English to speak in the future tense, since all we have to do is place the word “will” in front of the verb. Since the word “will” is not actually included in the Italian sentences given as examples, and we are not conjugating in the Italian future tense, the word “will” is given in parentheses in our English translations in the table below.

 

If we try to think a little bit in Italian, and translate the Italian ideas into the English we would ordinarily use, we will find that it is really not that difficult to understand Italian reciprocal reflexive verbs!

Io e Francesca ci vogliamo bene. Frances and I care for each other very much.
   
(Noi) Ci sposiamo oggi. We (will) marry each other today.
(Noi) Ci scriviamo ogni giorno. We write each other every day.
(Noi) Ci vediamo al teatro. We (will) see each other at the theater.
(Noi) Ci vogliamo bene. We love each other very much.
Caterina e zia Rosa si salutano. Kathy and Aunt Rose greet each other.
Michele e Francesca si vogliono bene. Michael and Frances care for each other very much.
   
(Loro) Si vogliono bene. They care for each other very much.
(Loro) Si incontrano. They meet each other.
(Loro) Si chiamano ogni giorno. They call (telephone) each other every day.

Let’s try this in the past tense. Remember, of course, that all reflexive verbs take essere in the passato prossimo past tense, and that the past participle ending must change in gender and number when using essere as a helping verb.

Io e Francesca ci siamo voluti bene. Frances and I cared for each other very much.
   
(Noi) Ci siamo sposati oggi. We married each other today.
(Noi) Ci siamo scritti ogni giorno. We wrote each other every day.
(Noi) Ci siamo visti al teatro. We saw each other at the theater.
(Noi) Ci siamo voluti bene. We loved each other very much.
Caterina e zia Rosa si sono salutate. Kathy and Aunt Rose greeted each other.
Michele e Francesca si sono voluti bene. Michael and Frances cared for each other very much.
   
(Loro) Si sono voluti bene. They cared for each other very much.
(Loro) Si sono incontrati. They met each other.
(Loro) Si sono chiamati ogni giorno. They  called each other (on the telephone) every day.

There are, of course, many more occasions for the use of reciprocal reflexive verbs than those I have just listed.  How many more an you think of?

Remember how to the Italian reciprocal reflexive verbs and I guarantee you will use then every day!

If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE.

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

One comment

  1. Grazie per l’articolo!

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