Si Impersonale – Part 1 Posted by Serena on Feb 22, 2012 in Grammar
Si dice che al finesettimana avremo temperature primaverili (They say that at the weekend we’ll have spring like temperatures). In Italian we often use the impersonal pronoun ‘si’, known as si impersonale. It is commonly translated in English as ‘one’, but can also mean ‘they’, ‘you’, or ‘it’ in an impersonal sense.
To clarify, let’s first have a look at when we would use it:
1. The si impersonale comes in very handy when we don’t express the subject of the action, i.e. who is carrying out the action, especially in those very generic expressions such as ‘si dice che’ (‘they say that’, or ‘it is said that’), ‘si pensa che’ (‘it is thought that’), ‘si crede che’ (‘it is believed that’), and so on.
2. The si impersonale is used in sayings and aphorisms such as quando si ama il proprio lavoro, non si sente la fatica (‘when one loves one’s own job, one doesn’t get tired’ or ‘When you love your job, you don’t feel the tiredness’), or non si vive di solo pane (one does not live on bread alone).
3. It is also common to use the si impersonale when giving impersonal instructions such as in leaflets, guides, recipes, or written polite orders:
all’incrocio si gira a destra (at the junction you turn right, or, turn right at the junction);
si deve rispettare la legge (one must respect the law, or, the law must be respected);
si mette l’acqua in una pentola profonda (put the water in a deep saucepan);
si prega di non toccare (please, do not touch).
Now let’s have a look at how to use the si impersonale:
The si impersonale is normally followed by a verb in the third person singular (the ‘lui’ form), e.g. si mette l’acqua…, however when it’s followed by a plural direct object, the verb is in the third person plural, e.g.: si mettono gli spaghetti nell’acqua bollente (put the spaghetti in the boiling water).
Because of its similarity to the reflexive pronoun ‘si’, the passato prossimo (present perfect) is always built with the verb essere, even with transitive verbs that would normally have the verb avere, e.g. dopo che si è messa l’acqua nella pentola (after you’ve put the water in the saucepan).
In the impersonal construction si è + aggettivo (you are + adjective), the adjective is always plural, e.g. è dificile leggere quando si è stanchi (it’s difficult to read when you are tired), or quando c’è il sole si è più allegri (when it’s sunny you feel happier).
I’ll be looking at some other aspects of the si impersonale in Part 2 of the blog. A presto!