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Italian Reflexive Verbs: A Simple Guide + QUIZ & FREE PDF 📚

Master Italian reflexive verbs with this step-by-step guide. Including rules, conjugations, and practical examples.

by Michele
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How to use Italian Reflexive Verbs
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When you start learning Italian, one of the first things you likely pick up is how to say Mi chiamo… (My name is…). But beyond just being a handy way to introduce yourself in Italian, this simple phrase holds a key piece of Italian grammar

Yep, because chiamarsi (to call oneself) is what we call a reflexive verb. These verbs are a cornerstone of everyday conversation in Italian. You’ll hear them all the time when Italians talk about their daily routines, feelings, activities, and more. So, understanding them is essential for becoming fluent

In this guide, I’ll break down how reflexive verbs work in Italian, helping you incorporate them seamlessly into your speech. To see how much you’ve learned, don’t forget to take the free quiz at the end of this lesson!

But first, make sure to download your free PDF cheat-sheet, which includes all the key points we’ll cover in this guide. Just enter your email below and I’ll send it to you straight away.

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Table to Contents

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide. Click on any title to jump to each section.

What are reflexive verbs in Italian?

Italian Reflexive Verbs - What are reflexive verbsA verb takes on a reflexive form when the subject performing the action is also the recipient of it. In simpler terms, the subject both does and receives the action. These verbs are called reflexive precisely because the action “reflects” back onto the subject. Let’s illustrate this with some examples:

  • La professoressa mi interroga sempre – The teacher always questions me → here, the verb is not reflexive because the subject (la professoressa – the teacher), is different from the object (mi -me).
  • Mi interrogo spesso sul senso della vita – I often wonder about the meaning of life → here, instead, the verb is reflexive because the subject (io – I) coincides with the object (mi – myself).
  • Carlo non aveva l’ombrello e si è bagnato – Carlo didn’t have an umbrella and got wet → the verb is reflexive because the subject (Carlo) is the same as the object (Carlo).
  • Carlo si è bagnato le scarpe (Carlo got his shoes wet) → here, the object (le scarpe – the shoes) is different from the subject (Carlo) but the verb is still used in reflexive form to emphasize that Carlo did that to himself (ore on this later in the lesson).

Reflexive verbs in Italian are easy to spot because they always end in -si, unlike regular verbs which end in -are, -ere, or -ire. For instance, compare lavare (to wash) with lavarsi (to wash oneself) or mettere (to put) with mettersi (to put on).

How to conjugate reflexive verbs in Italian

Conjugating reflexive verbs in Italian is quite similar to conjugating regular verbs. The main difference lies in adding a reflexive pronoun before the verb, which is the element emphasizing that the subject and the object of the verb are the same.

These pronouns are:

  • mi – myself
  • ti – yourself
  • si – himself/herself
  • ci – ourselves
  • vi – yourselves
  • si – themselves

Here’s a simple way to do it:

  1. Start with the subject
  2. Add the reflexive pronoun
  3. Then take the reflexive verb in its infinitive form and drop the last four letters, for example lavarsi (to wash oneself) > lav
  4. Next, add the appropriate endings for verbs ending in -are (lavarsi – to wash oneself is the reflexive for of lavare – to wash)

This is how it looks:

Italian reflexive verbs conjugation
Lavare (to wash) – regular verb Lavarsi (to wash oneself) – reflexive verb
Io lavo Io mi lavo
Tu lavi Tu ti lavi
Lui/lei lava Lui/lei si lava
Noi laviamo Noi ci laviamo
Voi lavate Voi vi lavate
Loro/Essi/esse lavano Loro/Essi/esse si lavano

As you can see, in reflexive verbs, the endings remain identical to those of non-reflexive verbs. The only distinction is the reflexive pronoun positioned before the verb.

Italian Reflexive Verbs - How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs

List of the most common Italian reflexive verbs

Italian features a plethora of reflexive verbs compared to English, which makes listing them all a bit tricky. Nonetheless, here are some of the most commonly used ones that you’re likely to encounter in everyday conversations:

Italian reflexive verbs
Italian  English translation
Addormentarsi To fall asleep
Allenarsi To work out
Alzarsi To get up
Ammalarsi To get sick
Annoiarsi To get bored
Asciugarsi To dry oneself
Bagnarsi To get soaked
Bruciarsi To get burned
Chiamarsi To call oneself
Chiedersi To ask oneself
Divertirsi To enjoy oneself
Farsi* To prepare, to cause, to become, to have, to take, to make, to take drugs, to have sex
Farsi la barba** To shave
Farsi la doccia** To take a shower
Farsi male To hurt oneself
Fermarsi To stop
Incavolarsi To get mad
Incazzarsi To get mad
Innamorarsi To fall in love
Innervosirsi To get nervous
Lamentarsi To complain
Laurearsi To graduate
Lavarsi To wash oneself
Mettersi To put on
Muoversi To move 
Nascondersi To hide oneself
Pentirsi To regret
Perdersi To become lost
Pettinarsi To comb one’s hair
Prepararsi To get ready
Pulirsi To clean oneself
Radersi To shave
Rilassarsi To relax
Riposarsi To rest
Sedersi To sit down
Sentirsi To feel
Spogliarsi To get undressed
Stupirsi To be amazed
Svegliarsi To wake up
Tagliarsi To cut oneself
Trasferirsi To move
Truccarsi To put on makeup
Ubriacarsi To get drunk
Vergognarsi To feel ashamed
Vestirsi To get dressed
Voltarsi To turn oneself around

* In Italian, the verb fare (to do, to make) is frequently used reflexively in everyday conversation, typically encompassing four main meanings:

  • Preparing something for yourself, as in Mi sto facendo un panino (I’m fixing myself a sandwich)
  • Causing something to yourself, as in Mi sono fatta un brutto livido (I got a bad bruise)
  • Becoming, as in Paolo si è fatto altissimo (Paolo has become really tall)
  • Having or taking something, as in Si sono fatti una bella mangiata (They had a really hearty meal)

Additionally, farsi can mean “taking drugs” and, in a very vulgar way, “having sex” (Si è fatta Andrea – She had sex with Andrea)

** You might also see the non-reflexive forms fare la doccia (to take a shower) or fare la barba (to shave), but using the reflexive form is much more common in everyday Italian. This preference stems from the personal nature of activities like showering or shaving, which involve our own body. Another good example is fare il bagno / farsi il bagno (both meaning “to take a bath”).

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Reflexive verbs in Italian with passato prossimo (past tense)

While regular verbs can use either the auxiliary essere (to be) or avere (to have) in the past tense form, reflexive verbs exclusively use the auxiliary essere (to be).

Here’s how it works: 

  1. Start with the subject
  2. Add the reflexive pronoun
  3. Conjugate the verb essere (to be) 
  4. Lastly, add the past participle of the verb 

Let’s see an example:

Italian reflexive verbs conjugation
Lavare (to wash) – regular verb Lavarsi (to wash oneself) – reflexive verb
Io ho lavato Io mi sono lavato/a
Tu hai lavato Tu ti sei lavato/a
Lui/lei ha lavato Lui/lei si è lavato/a
Noi abbiamo lavato Noi ci siamo lavati/e
Voi avete lavato Voi vi siete lavati/e
Loro/Essi/esse hanno lavato Loro/Essi/esse si sono lavati/e

It’s important to note that the past participle of Italian reflexive pronouns must agree with the subject in gender and number, for example:

  • Marco si è addormentato – Marco fell asleep
  • Maria si è pettinata – Maria combed her hair
  • Elisa e Anna si sono sedute – Elisa and Anna sat down

Italian Reflexive Verbs - Reflexive verbs with the past tense

When are reflexive pronouns added to the infinitive?

The reflexive pronoun should be attached to the end of the infinitive rather than placed between the subject pronoun and the verb in the following cases:

When the reflexive verb is introduced by a verb that’s followed by a preposition, such as smettere di (to stop doing something) or finire di (to finish doing something)

  • Smetti di lamentarti per ogni cosa e datti da fare! – Stop complaining about everything and do something!
  • Finisco di vestirmi e arrivo -Let me finish getting dressed and I’ll be there

When the reflexive verb is introduced by a modal verb, like potere (can), volere (want), dovere (have to): 

  • Voglio rilassarmi tutto il giorno – I want to relax all day
  • Marco e Dario devono svegliarsi presto per la gara – Marco and Dario have to wake up early for the competition

Attenzione! It’s not uncommon to see the reflexive pronoun placed before the modal verb instead of at the end of the infinitive form of the reflexive verb. The meaning remains exactly the same; it’s just another way Italians construct these types of sentences. For example:

  • Devo ancora pettinarmi – I still have to comb my hair
  • Mi devo ancora pettinare – I still have to comb my hair

Reflexive verbs and negative sentences 

Creating negative sentences with reflexive verbs in Italian is super easy! You simply need to add the word non (not) right before the reflexive pronoun. The structure to follow is: subject + non + reflexive pronoun + verb

Let’s see some examples:

  • Non mi alzo mai prima delle 8 – I never get up before 8
  • Stefania non si trucca mai – Stefania never wears makeup
  • Marco e Luca non si sono divertiti per niente alla festa – Marco and Luca didn’t have any fun at the party

Other conjugations of reflexive verbs

Below is a quick overview of how to conjugate reflexive verbs in Italian across all other tenses

Italian reflexive verbs – other conjugations
Imperfect Future simple Present conditional Present subjunctive Gerund Infinitive
Io mi lavavo Io mi laverò Io mi laverei Io mi lavi Lavandomi Lavarmi
Tu ti lavavi Tu ti laverai Tu ti laveresti Tu mi lavi Lavandoti Lavarti
Lui/lei si lavava Lui/lei si laverà Lui/lei si laverebbe Lui/lei si lavi Lavandosi Lavarsi
Noi ci lavavamo Noi ci laveremo Noi ci laveremmo Noi ci laviamo Lavandoci Lavarci
Voi vi lavavate Voi vi laverete Voi vi lavereste Voi vi laviate Lavandovi Lavarvi
Essi/esse si lavavano Essi/esse si laveranno Essi/esse si laverebbero Essi/esse si lavino Lavandosi Lavarsi

Italian reflexive verbs in formal and informal imperative tense

When using reflexive verbs in the imperative tense in Italian, it’s crucial to distinguish between formal and informal contexts, as this affects how you tell someone to do something.

The informal imperative is used in casual conversations with friends, family, and generally with kids. The verb is in the present indicative form, and the reflexive pronoun is attached to the end of it:

  • Svegliati! – Wake up!
  • Svegliamoci! – Let’s wake up!
  • Svegliatevi! – Wake up!

The formal imperative is used when addressing elderly people or someone you don’t know well. The verb is in the present subjunctive form, and the reflexive pronoun goes before it:

  • Si svegli! – Wake up!
  • Si fermi! – Stop!
  • Si sieda qui! – Sit down here!

Reflexive verbs and parts of the body

When talking about actions performed on body parts, Italians still use reflexive verbs although technically the subject and the object of the sentence are different. Here’s an example: 

  • Anna si è lavata – Anna washed herself → In this sentence, the verb is a standard reflexive because the subject (Anna) and the object (Anna) are the same.
  • Anna si è lavata la faccia – Anna washed her face → In this sentence, the object (la faccia – the face) is different from the subject (Anna), but since it is still part of Anna, the verb is used reflexively.

This might seem confusing, but there’s a simple explanation: instead of saying si è lavata la sua faccia (she washed her face) using a possessive adjective as we do in English, Italians use a reflexive verb to refer to the person and add the body part with a definite article (illaI – all meaning “the” in English). The logic is that they don’t need to specify whose body part it is; it’s clear from context that they are talking about their own.

Italian Reflexive Verbs - Reflexive verbs and body parts

Some more examples:

  • Mi lavo i denti e sono pronta! – I brush my teeth and I’m ready 
  • Si lava i capelli tutti i giorni – She washes her hair every day
  • Devo depilarmi le gambe – I have to shave my legs
  • Lavati le mani prima di sederti a tavola! – Wash your hands before sitting at the table!

Interestingly, the same rule apply when using reflexive verbs with pieces of clothing – no possessive adjective, only a definite article:

  • Devi metterti il cappotto – You have to put on your coat
  • Pensavo di mettermi il vestito rosso – I was thinking about wearing the red dress
  • Togliti le scarpe prima di entrare! – Take off your shoes before entering!

Italian Reflexive Verbs - Reflexive verbs and pieces of clothing

Are there any reflexive verbs in English? Yes, there are! Though not as many as in Italian. 

Most reflexive verbs in English have counterparts in Italian, for instance:

English reflexive verbs with direct equivalent in Italian
English Italian
To enjoy oneself Divertirsi
To wash oneself Lavarsi
To hurt oneself Farsi male
To cut oneself Tagliarsi
To immerse oneself Immergersi

However, in English, we often use phrases with “to get” or “to become” followed by an adjective instead of using reflexive verbs like Italian does. For example:

English expressions translated with direct reflexives in Italian
English Italian
To get angry Arrabbiarsi
To get bored Annoiarsi
To get dressed Vestirsi
To get drunk Ubriacarsi
To get married Sposarsi
To get ready Prepararsi
To get rich Arricchirsi
To get tired Stancarsi
To get used to Abituarsi
To get worried Preoccuparsi

How well do you know reflexive verbs in Italian? TAKE THIS QUIZ!

Tutto chiaro? (All clear?) Great! But before you go, let’s put your knowledge to the test with a little quiz. Take a look at these sentences and fill in the blanks by conjugating the reflexive verb in brackets. Don’t forget to share your score in the comments!

Keep practising!
How to use Italian Reflexive Verbs Cheat-Sheet (Free PDF Download)

Don't let the learning stop here. Download your free PDF guide and master how and when to use Italian reflexive verbs. Includes key grammar and examples sentences.Impariamo insieme!(Let's learn together!)

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