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Nothing Personal! - L'impersonale - Part 1

L'impersonale - Where's the Subject? - Part 2

L'impersonale - Si, Si, and Ci - Part 3

In a recent video lesson Marika gave us some important information about using the "impersonal" form of verbs. The form is called impersonale because, in effect, there is no mention of any person, nor is there a real subject.

The primary ingredients for cooking up the impersonale are:

si + the third person singular conjugation of a verb.


This si does not represent a person or subject, as Marika explains, but does, for the most part, behave like one, grammatically, and uses the third person.

Since English doesn’t have a true equivalent for this form, it can be tricky to grasp, because there are different ways to interpret or translate it. 

The most immediate approach might be with “one,” a gender-neutral pronoun. It can be handy because like si, it operates in the third person singular. “One does this, one does that.”


Da questo semplice esempio, si capisce intuitivamente

From this simple example, one understands, intuitively,

come procedere nella lettura delle note.

how to proceed with reading the notes.

Captions 1-2, A scuola di musica - con Alessio

 Play Caption


This could have been translated using the second person singular:

From this simple example, you understand, intuitively, how to proceed with reading the notes.


As a matter of fact, the second person singular is another way to think of the impersonale, especially in an informal context. Note that in this case "you" is generic.


Ma è tutto buio!

But, it's all dark!

Non si vede nulla!

You can't see anything!

Captions 37-38, Acqua in bocca - Che caldo che fa!

 Play Caption


In some situations the impersonale corresponds to the third person plural (they) used generically, to mean “people” or “everyone”: 


Si dice sempre che il cane

They always say that a dog

è il migliore amico dell'uomo ed è veramente così.

is man's best friend, and that's really the way it is.

Caption 34, Animali domestici - Oscar

 Play Caption


The passive voice corresponds well to the impersonale in many cases, especially in a formal context, in that it's already impersonal:

It is said that a dog is man's best friend, and that's really the way it is.


Here's another case where the passive voice helps make sense of the impersonale:

Si parla inglese in tanti paesi.
English is spoken in many countries.


Lastly, sometimes the impersonale corresponds best to the imperative, or command form, where the pronoun is absent:

Si prega di non fumare.
Please refrain from smoking.


This is not the whole story! We'll be back with more about verbs in the impersonal + plural objects, and verbs in the impersonal + reflexive verbs.



Complete these sentences using the impersonal form of the verbs provided. Then try your hand at finding the English translation that sounds best to you (there may be more than one). 

cominciare (to begin) ___________ alle undici.
guidare (to drive) A Londra ____________ a sinistra.
fumare (to smoke) Non ______________ a scuola.
scrivere (to write) Come ______________ il tuo nome?
andare (to go) Non ____________ a scuola la domenica.
fare (to do, to make) Come ____________ il risotto?
(to speak) In Francia _____________ il francese.
dovere (to have to, should) Non ____________ sprecare l'acqua.
finire (to finish) Non ___________ mai di imparare.

Here's an example to get you started:

cantare (to sing) In un coro  ___________ .
In un coro si canta. (In a choir you sing/In a choir one sings).


Answers will be provided in next week's lesson. (There will be a link when next lesson is online.) 

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