The complete guide to Italian reflexive verbs

Italian reflexive verbsDid you know that there are far more reflexive verbs in Italian than there are in English? Although Italian reflexive verbs often concern students, this is actually quite an easy concept to master if you read this article!

By means of an explanation, a reflexive verb is a verb in which the idea of one’s self is obvious. When studying a list of the common Italian reflexive verbs, you will notice that many of them refer to a person’s daily routine.

For example:

  • “vestirsi” means “to dress one’s self”
  • “alzarsi” means “to get up”.

To fully understand reflexive verbs in Italian, we need to understand how the subject of the sentence relates to the verb and the direct object. A reflexive verb may be used when the direct object and the subject are one and the same. The action performed by the subject affects the subject itself and is therefore reflexive.

Another easy way to understand reflexive verbs is to think about the direct meaning of reflexive verbs, which is “verbs that reflect”.

One thing that reflexive verbs all have in common is the verb ending of “SI”. This is actually the reflexive pronoun and it translates into “self”.

Please refer to this video, which explains reflexive verbs beautifully (remember to turn the English captions on):


Let’s take a look at some of the most common Italian reflexive verbs with their English translation:

  • svegliarsi = to wake up
  • alzarsi = to stand up / to get up
  • lavarsi = to wash oneself
  • chiamarsi = to call oneself
  • coricarsi = to lie down
  • farsi la doccia= to shower oneself
  • lavarsi= to wash oneself
  • mettersi = to put on
  • pettinarsi = to comb oneself
  • pulirsi = to clean oneself
  • radersi/farsi la barba = to shave oneself
  • sedersi = to sit
  • spogliarsi = to undress oneself
  • svegliarsi= to wake up
  • vestirsi = to dress oneself
  • voltarsi = to turn oneself around

When it comes to sentences using Italian reflexive verbs with modal verbs, the position of the reflexive pronoun in the same sentence, the position of the reflexive pronoun (MI, TI, CI, VI, SI) can change but the meaning of the sentence is the same. For example:

Domani mi devo alzare presto / Domani devo alzarmi presto (=Tomorrow I’ll have to get up early)


With Italian reflexive verbs in the past tense, they use the auxiliary verb “ESSERE” in the past tense (passato prossimo). It is also important to keep in mind that the past participle must agree with the subject, for example:

– Ieri Marco si è svegliato presto = Yesterday Marco woke up early

– Ieri Maria si è svegliata presto = Yesterday Maria woke up early

To test whether or not a verb is reflexive or not, ask yourself if you are able to substitute the reflexive pronoun with the word “oneself” (or “sé stesso” in Italian).

For instance:

If you would like to say “I wash myself”, ask yourself who you will be washing and if the answer is “myself” or “oneself”, you would use the reflexive verb.

For more information on how to use auxiliary verbs with reflexive verbs, take a look at this link which explains in great detail the Italian verbs essere and avere.

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