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Italian Language/Impersonal and passive pronouns


Hi Maria,

I was wondering if you could explain to me the use of the impersonal and passive pronoun. I've managed to understand and put into practice personal, relative, demonstrative, disjunctive, etc pronouns, but I don't understand WHEN and HOW to use the impersonal 'si' and passive pronoun.

Thank you!


first  of all  I have to tell you that in Italian there is no passive pronoun simply because it is the verb that can be passive in a sentence, not the pronoun.

For example, in the passive sentences  “Lui è stato aiutato dai suoi amici”, “Costoro furono presi prigionieri dai nemici”, “L’uomo che è stato investito era un mio amico”  the personal pronoun “lui”, the demonstrative pronoun “costoro” and the relative pronoun “che” maintain the same form they have in the active  phrases as e.g. in  “Lui ha ricevuto l’aiuto dei suoi  amici”, “Costoro sono in prigione ”, “L’uomo che è finito sotto le ruote della macchina era un mio amico” where “ha ricevuto”, “sono” and “è finito” are in the active form.

I think however that you want to refer to the use of the so-called “si passivante” (passive “si”) which is different from the impersonal “si” or the reflexive “si”, but has nothing to with the pronouns.

So, the Italian “si passivante” denotes a passive construction where the “si” is nothing but the mark of a passive verb form  used to indicate that the subject of a sentence is the recipient of the action of the verb rather than the performer.

For example, in the sentence “Si vendono molti libri" (literally, “Many books are sold”)”, the verb “si vendono” with the “si passivante” stands for “sono venduti ”  (are sold) in the passive voice, just to denote that the subject “molti libri” (many books” )is the recipient of the action of the verb  “si vendono”/”sono venduti”(are sold).

In fact, in the Italian sentences where we find the “si passivante” there is  already a subject and then the “si passivante” is not impersonal, since the “si” impersonal has no subject in Italian, as in e.g. ”Si  parte tra poco” (we're leaving soon) where “si parte” has  no subject, as you can see, though in English the Italian impersonal “si” corresponds to the subject pronoun “we”.

To sum up, in Italian the particle “si” can be:

1)IMPERSONAL, i.e. without a subject, like in “Si  parte tra poco” ( we're leaving soon).
Please note that the impersonal "si", which is  always placed  before a verb in the 3rd.person singular, can be translated into English  as "One", "You", "We", "They", "People", "Man" ,"Men", like in the following examples:
- “Si dice” (They say/People say)
-“A scuola si viene in orario” ( you must come to school on time)
-“Si direbbe che...” (one would say that...)
-“Non si  deve dimenticare che...” ( we  must not forget that...)
-“Si  parte tra poco” ( we're leaving soon)

2) PASSIVE, i.e. with a third-person singular or third-person plural, according to the subject of the sentence, like in e.g. “La mostra si inaugurerà il mese prossimo” ( the exhibition will be inaugurated next month) where the subject “la mostra ”(the exibition) is in the 3rd.person singular as well as  the passive verb “si inaugurerà” equivalent to the passive voice  “sarà/verrà inaugurata”(will be inaugurated).
See also:
-“Qui si  producono ottimi vini“( excellent wine is produced here).
The subject “ottimi vini ” is in the 3rd.person plural as well as  the passive verb “si producono” (sono/vengono prodotti).

-“Affittasi / vendesi appartamento” as well as “Si vende/Si affitta un appartamento”( literally, “A flat is let/rented /sold”) where the subject is “un appartamento”(singular), while the verb “si vende”/si affitta”, that  in Italian stands for “è venduto” / “viene venduto/affittato”, is in the  3rd.person singular, passive voice of “vendere”.
Note that in “Affittasi/Vendesi” the “si passivante” is used as an enclitic, i.e. attached to the end of “vende”/ “affitta”.
It is obvious that both “si affitta”/affittasi" and  “si vende”/"vendesi" stand for “è/viene affittato” and “è/viene venduto”(passive voice) respectively.

-“Qui si parla Inglese” (English is spoken here ).
The subject “Inglese” is in the 3rd.person singular as well as  the verb “si parla” equivalent to the passive “è parlato” (is spoken).

3)REFLEXIVE, like in “Si  vestirono per il pranzo” (they dress for dinner); ”Ella si guardò allo specchio” (She looked at herself in the mirror), etc.

As for the reflexive “si”, we find it with some verbs like “fermarsi”, ”vestirsi”, “spogliarsi”, “lavarsi”, “prepararsi”, etc. that are not in the passive  form and then have nothing to do with the “si passivante”.
The reflexive verbs, in fact, are used to express an action applied to oneself, as in "Io mi lavo" (I wash myself).
See also: ”Io mi preparo”;  “Egli si lavava” ; ” Noi ci fermiamo”, “ Essi si vestirono”;  etc. which are active sentences where the subject expresses an action applied to oneself and is the agent of the verb, not the recipient of its action.

Hope this can be helpful to you, though the matter is not so easy  for a non –native Italian speaker. Feel free however to ask me again.

Best regards,

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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.


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I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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