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Understanding the Reciprocal Reflexive Form

To understand the reciprocal reflexive, it’s good to have a grasp of the reflexive itself. To review, see this Yabla lesson.


A reflexive verb is used when an action is performed upon the same person who’s performing it. We recognize these verbs because they will be in the presence of an indirect object pronoun, or pronominal particle like mi, ti, ci, vi, si to indicate where the action is reflected.


In her video lesson Marika talks about the close relationship between the reflexive and the reciprocal.


La forma di questi verbi è uguale a quella dei verbi riflessivi.

The form of these verbs is the same as that of the reflexive verbs.

Caption 26, Marika spiega - I verbi riflessivi e reciproci

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Quasi tutti i verbi italiani possono avere una forma riflessiva o reciproga.

Almost all Italian verbs can have a reflexive or reciprocal form.

Caption 32, Marika spiega - I verbi riflessivi e reciproci

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The reciprocal involves two or more people or things, so we’ll need one of the plural pronominal particles: ci (to us, ourselves, each other), vi (to you, yourselves, each other), or si (to them, themselves, each other). As you can see, these particles have more than one function. To learn more, see these lessons about ci.


In two recent Yabla videos, the non reflexive transitive verb capire (to understand) is used a number of times, and there’s one instance where it’s used with ci, so it’s a good opportunity to look at how the reciprocal reflexive works. The reciprocal form is in the category of what’s called a forma riflessiva impropria (improper reflexive form). What makes it “improper” is that, though it works just like a reflexive verb, it isn’t truly reflexive because it doesn’t fill the requirements mentioned above.


In English we use one form for the reflexive (myself, yourself, himself, herself, yourselves, themselves, oneself) and another for the reciprocal (each other, one another), but Italian makes use of the same pronominal particles used in the true reflexive, which can cause some confusion.


Let’s use the verb capire (to understand) to illustrate how it works. We’ll stick with the first and second persons to keep it simple.

Capisco (I understand).
Capisci (you understand).
Ti capisco (I understand you).
Mi capisci (you understand me).
Ci capiamo (we understand each other). Note that this is reciprocal, not reflexive.
Vi capite (you understand each other). This is also reciprocal, not reflexive.


Now, let’s put the above sentences into the passato prossimo (which uses a past participle like the present perfect in English, but translates in different ways). Keep in mind that Italian commonly uses the passato prossimo with capire, when in English, we would more likely use the present tense.

Ho capito (“I have understood,” “I understood,” or more commonly, “I get it”).
Hai capito (“you have understood,” “you understood,” or more commonly, “you get it”).
Ti ho capito or t’ho capito (I understood you).
Mi hai capito or m’hai capito (you understood me).


Thus far, it’s pretty straightforward. But now, as we get into compound tenses, the ones that need auxiliaries or helping verbs, it gets a little more complicated, because as Marika mentioned above, in Italian, “reciprocals” look just like reflexives. Capirci (to understand each another) is “improperly reflexive” but works like a true reflexive and so the rule for reflexive reigns, meaning that we need to use the auxiliary essere (to be) rather than avere (to have). Marika explains this rule in Marika spiega - I verbi riflessivi e reciproci.

Ci siamo capiti (“we have understood each other,” or, “we’re clear”).
Ci siamo capite (“we [two women] have understood each other,” or, “we [two women] are clear”).
Vi siete capiti (you have understood each other).
Vi siete capite (you [two women] have understood each other).


Let’s look at some practical examples from recent videos.


Ho capito. -Vuoi la mia casa a Milano?

I get it. -Do you want my house in Milan?

Captions 11-12, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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Non ti capisco.

I don't understand you.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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Ce simm capit' [Ci siamo capiti]?

Do we understand each other?

Caption 53, L'oro di Scampia - film

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In the following example, just the past participle is used, and the person is implied. We often omit the person in English, too.


Capit' [capito]? Ma poi torno.

Got it? But I'll be back later.

Captions 60-61, L'oro di Scampia - film

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Further practice:
Se hai capito tutto (if you’ve understood everything), try using the above model with other verbs like vedere (to see), sentire (to hear, to feel), baciare (to kiss), abbracciare (to hug, to embrace), incontrare (to meet). Se ce la fai (if you are able), use the other persons as well (he, she, they).


Here’s the verb aiutare (to help) to help you get started.

Aiuto (I help).
Aiuti (you help).
Ti aiuto (I help you).
Mi aiuti (you help me).
Ci aiutiamo (we help each other).
Ho aiutato (I helped).
Tu hai aiutato (you helped).
T’ho aiutato (I helped you).
Mi hai aiutato (you helped me).
Ci siamo aiutati (we helped each other).


You may notice below that there are some tricky cases of verb-complement agreement that haven't yet been covered. We will get to these prickly matters in a future lesson.

Aiuta (he/she/it helps).
Aiutano (they help).
L’aiuta (he/she/it helps him/her/it).
Si aiutano (they help each other).
Ha aiutato (he/she/it helped).
Li ha aiutati (he/she/it helped them). 
Hanno aiutato (they helped).
L’hanno aiutato (they helped him). 
L’hanno aiutata (they helped her)
Li hanno aiutati
 (they helped them). 
Le hanno aiutate (they helped them [fem]). 
Si sono aiutati (they helped each other).
Si sono aiutate (they helped each other [fem]).


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