Si impersonale: Explained
All Italian learners have come across sentences such as “Non si lavora la domenica” (One does not work on Sundays). These sentences do not have a specific subject, and are therefore called impersonal.
In Italian, there are different ways of constructing an impersonal sentence. One of the most common ones is the use of the impersonal si.
Some very common impersonal forms are:
- Si dice…
It is said…
- Si sa…
It is known…
- Si pensa…
It is thought…
Si impersonale: When to use
Unlike the reflexive si, which refers to a particular subject, this impersonal construction is used to talk in a generalized manner about events or situations that do not have a specific subject. The use of the impersonal si can substitute generalized subjects like:
- La gente (people):
In Francia si parla francese = In Francia la gente parla francese. (In France people speak French).
- Tutti (everyone):
D’estate si va in vacanza = D’estate tutti vanno in vacanza. (In the summer everyone goes on holiday).
- Nessuno (no one):
Non si lavora la domenica = Nessuno lavora la domenica (No one works on Sundays).
You can use his construction if you want to avoid mentioning the specific subject of an action or event.
Si impersonale & si passivante: Rules
This impersonal construction is formed by using the word si followed by a verb. If the verb is intransitive, which means it does not have a direct object, si will always be followed by the verb conjugated in the third person singular (i.e. the same as lui, lei).
If the verb is transitive, which means it does have a direct object, the verb that follows si will be conjugated either in the third person singular (lui, lei) or the third person plural (loro) according to the number of the object.
In this case, we can speak of si passivante, as the particle si is now making the construction of the sentence passive as well as impersonal.
Have a look at the following examples, in which mangiare is used both as an intransitive and as a transitive verb.
- In questo ristorante si mangia bene.
In this restaurant one eats well.
In this example mangiare is an intransitive verb and is used in the third person singular (si mangia).
- In asia si mangiano alcuni tipi d’insetti.
In asia people eat some kinds of insects
In this example, mangiare is a transitive verb and it is conjugated in the third person plural (si mangiano) according to its object (alcuni tipi d’insetti).
Both sentences are impersonal, the only difference is that the first does not have a subject at all, while the second one has a grammatical subject (alcuni tipi d’insetti) which has been made passive by the use of si.