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Lessons for topic Reflexive Verbs

How to Wear Clothes in Italian

In this week's segment of Sposami, there is talk of modelling wedding gowns. The verb used at one point is indossare. If we look closely, we might recognize the root word dosso, which in Dante's time, was a variant of the noun dorso, meaning "spine," or "back."

 

We can make the clothing connection with the English hyperbolic idiom "giving someone the shirt off one's back," referring to generosity. The noun dosso is no longer used to mean "back," exactly, but it means "bump," such as a bump in the road or a speed bump.

 

In a previous lesson we talked about the adverb addosso or di dosso (which bring images of someone on your back). So even though we don't use dosso to mean "back" anymore, it has been incorporated into other words and phrases that have become crystalised as standard.

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In this lesson, we will look at the verb indossare and other verbs that have to do with putting clothes on. We talked about taking clothes off in this lesson!

 

Practice: At the end of some video examples, there's a little grammar question, giving you the chance to expand on the example itself. You'll find the answers at the bottom of the page. Don't worry if they give you trouble, as they are aimed at more advanced learners. It may be an opportunity to find out what you don't know and to ask us questions! We'll be glad to give you some answers. Make sure to read the full lesson before answering the questions, as they might refer to examples further down the page.

Modeling an outfit

If we have to model an outfit, we have to wear it, but in this case, it's wearing something with the specific purpose of displaying it. Indossare is the best choice if we are looking for a verb. 

E poi, se proprio servisse di indossare un abito, posso farlo io. -No, tu no.

And besides, if it were really necessary to model a dress, I can do it. -No, you can't.

Captions 32-33, Sposami EP 2 - Part 3

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1) Nora starts her sentence in the subjunctive but finishes it in the indicative rather than the conditional (not really correct). What if she were to finish it in the conditional? What would she have said?

 

Regarding the video clip, the translation of indossare could also have been "to put on," or "to wear," but we thought it was important to make the distinction regarding the purpose: not putting something on to go and buy milk, but to put it on display. And let's remember that "to model" in this context can't be translated into Italian with modellare. That doesn't quite work (false friend). 

 

A bit of cultural background relative to indossare

When we talk about modeling a dress or outfit, it's sometimes done by a professional model. Although the term modella (usually in the feminine version) is used to mean "fashion model," the more "Italian" term is indossatrice. During the period of Italian fascism, foreign words were rooted out, including the commonly used French noun mannequin. By law, it had to be replaced by indossatrice.

 

If you haven't seen the documentary about the Italian Language and Italian Fascism (on Yabla), check it out. Ne vale la pena (it's worth the effort). There is mention of removing words like modella or the French "mannequin" from the language and using a more Italian word.

Parole straniere e borghesia sono mali da estirpare. [Mannequin - Indossatrice]

Foreign words and the bourgeoisie are evils to be rooted out. [Mannequin – indossatrice] (fashion model)

Captions 6-7, Me Ne Frego Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5

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That said, the verb indossare is used all the time by Italians. It's transitive, so we can use the question word "what."

Al momento della scomparsa, indossava un paio di jeans chiari, delle scarpe da ginnastica anonime...

When she went missing, she was wearing a pair of light colored jeans, unbranded sneakers...

Captions 37-38, Chi m'ha visto film - Part 7

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2) How would you say this using the adjective vestito?

 

Getting dressed

The basic verb for getting dressed is vestire (to dress), used in the reflexive, vestirsi

Eh, scusate, commissario, ma come ci dobbiamo vestire? -Eh, infatti. Il tema della festa è anni ottanta, quindi regolatevi.

Uh, sorry Commissioner, but how should we dress? -Yeah, exactly. The theme of the party is the eighties, so act accordingly.

Captions 39-40, Il Commissario Manara S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11

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The question word in our example is come (how), which we commonly answer with an adverb or adverbial phrase. We can't follow it with a noun, as with indossare.  Sometimes we choose one word over the other depending on how we want to construct the phrase, or what we want to include or exclude.

3). But what if he had used the question word "what?" How could he have posed the question?

 

A related adjective

The verb vestire is often transformed into the adjective vestito. In this case, the person is already dressed.

Mamma è morta sei mesi fa e papà aveva organizzato una messa in suffragio. Ecco perché era vestito così elegante.

Mom died six months ago and Dad had organized an intercession mass. That's why he was dressed so elegantly.

Captions 20-22, Il Commissario Manara S2EP2 - L'addio di Lara - Part 2

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4) Maybe we could modify the second sentence in the example above — to say something similar — using the verb indossare. You will have to come up with a direct object noun to make it work. 

 

Let's keep in mind that vestito is also a noun meaning "dress" or, for a man, "suit."  

 

Putting clothes on

Just as in English, Italian uses the verb mettere (to put). But whereas in English, we say "to put on," Italian uses the reflexive form mettersi (to put on).

Tu che cosa ti metti? Io avevo pensato di mettermi il vestito rosso.

What are you going to wear? I thought of wearing my red dress.

Caption 34, Anna e Marika Il verbo pensare

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In this last example, the question is che cosa (what [thing]?). So we will need a noun as an answer. The formula is reflexive verb mettersi + noun.

5) We can do 2 exercises with this example. 

a) Use the transitive verb indossare in the question and in the answer. In this case it is a learning exercise, but an unlikely real-life option!

b) Ask the question with come. You can still use mettersi or indossare in the answer, or you can come up with something using the same verb as in the question. In this case you'll need to be creative.

 

We'll often hear someone giving this order to someone else. 

Dai, forza, vestiti.

Come on, get dressed.

Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara S2EP12 - La donna senza volto - Part 10

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6) If you were giving this command to a bunch of kids, what would you say? Tip: Don't worry that dai is singular. it's an expression that stays in the singular.

 

But attenzione. As you can hear in the example, in the previous example in the imperative, the stress is on the first syllable. It looks exactly like the plural of the noun vestito, (dress, suit) as in the following example, but sounds different. When used in the plural, i vestiti means "clothes."

Eh, andate a cercare i vestiti per la festa. Forza, via, via.

Yeah, go find some clothes for the party. Go on, get going, get going.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11

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Once you're dressed

Once you have dressed, you are wearing something. We can use indossare, of course, but we can also use the verb portare (to carry).

 

7) Let's say you are asking this question, not to a friend, but to your boss, or to your Italian mother in law, with whom you are on formal terms. What would you say?

 

Secondo me dovresti portare la gonna più spesso perché ti sta molto bene.

In my opinion, you should wear a skirt more often. It looks very good on you.

Caption 25, Il Commissario Manara S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 6

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8) What's another way to say the same thing? There's more than one!

 

We've talked about different verbs we can use to talk about getting dressed and wearing clothes: vestire (used reflexively) indossare (transitive), mettersi un vestito (reflexive with a direct object), portare (transitive). Find out more about clothing in this video from Marika. Adriano also talks about clothes to wear in the different seasons.

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Now to some solutions for the quiz questions scattered throughout the lesson:

 

1) E poi, se proprio servisse di indossare un abito, potrei farlo io. -No, tu no.

2) Al momento della scomparsa, era vestita con un paio di jeans chiari, delle scarpe da ginnastica anonime...

3) Eh, scusate, commissario, ma cosa ci dobbiamo mettere?

4) Ecco perché indossava un vestito così elegante.

5a) Tu che cosa indossi/indosserai? Io avevo pensato di indossare il vestito rosso.

5b) Come ti vesti? Io avevo pensato di vestirmi di rosso. 

Io avevo pensato di vestirmi con il vestito rosso.  

Io avevo pensato di mettermi il vestito rosso.

6) Dai, forza, vestitevi!

7) Secondo me dovrebbe portare la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

8) Secondo me dovrebbe indossare la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

Secondo me dovrebbe mettersi la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

 

Afterword: When we use the reflexive verb vestirsi, it's tricky because we can't use a direct object after it as we can with mettersi. We need the conjuction con (with) after it, or an adverbial phrase, which answers the question come (how).

One such phrase that comes to mind is: Vestirsi a cipolla (to dress in layers).

Quando vado in montagna, mi vesto sempre a cipolla (I always dress in layers [literally, "onion-style") when I go mountain climbing).

 

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Noticing things (or not) in Italian with accorgersi

 

Some words are easy in Italian and some others are a little complicated. Here's a verb we use a lot but that is kind of tricky to use: accorgersi (to notice, to realize).

 

Accorgersi: Let's take it apart.

Let's take it apart to make some sense of it. Hint: It is reflexive, and while some verbs can be both normal and reflexive, this one is always reflexive.

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In a recent episode of La Ladra, a guy wants his car taroccata (rigged) (we talked about the verb taroccare in this lesson). The mechanic tells the guy that he won't even notice he's going 300 kilometers per hour. Usually, we notice something, so very often, since accorgersi is reflexive, we have both a direct and an indirect object pronoun in the sentence. When that occurs, we have to deal with those pesky particles that can attach themselves to the verb in different ways. For more on this, have a look at these lessons.

 

In the following example, we can see that the verb is conjugated in the second person singular (the mechanic is talking to his customer).

 

Co' [romanesco: con] questa c'arivi [ci arrivi] a trecento che manco te n'accorgi.

With this one, you don't even notice it when you get to three hundred.

Caption 35, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 13

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The infinitive form has the impersonal si connected to the verb — accorgersi, but when conjugated, the reflexive verb accorgersi gets separated into two parts — the root of the verb (accorgere) and the person onto whom it reflects, in this case, te (to you). Then there is an n which is a contraction of ne (of it, to it). In order to understand better how accorgersi works, we might translate it as "to become aware of." Here, there is the preposition "of." 

By the time to get to three hundred [kilometers an hour], you will not even be aware of it.

 

"Of it" is represented by ne (in this case contracted into n').

 

Accorgersi in the past tense with the particle ne

In the following example, however, we have the past tense. In Italian, it's the passato prossimno formed with the auxiliary verb essere (to be) and the past participle, accorto. When you conjugate reflexive verbs in the past tense, you must use essere as your auxiliary verb.

 

Gira e gira, ai vertici dell'Olivetti, non c'è spazio che per uno di famiglia. Lo so, me ne sono accorto. -Ecco.

At the end of the day, in the upper echelons of Olivetti, there's no room for anyone but a family member. I know, I noticed that. -That's it.

Captions 44-46, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 8

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Me is the indirect pronoun (to me)

Ne is another indirect pronoun (of it, about it)

Accorto is the past participle of accorgere

 

Accorgersi in the past tense without the particle ne

Let's look at an example without this particle ne. Here, it's not necessary because we have nulla (nothing) as an indirect object preceded by the preposition di. We have the auxiliary verb essere. The reflexive particle si is contracted and refers to the third person singular reflexive pronoun.

Guardi, non s'era accorto di nulla.

Look, he hadn't noticed a thing.

Caption 73, Il Commissario Manara S2EP2 - L'addio di Lara - Part 5

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You made it this far, good for you! If the verb accorgersi is too difficult for you at this stage of the game, you can also use the verb notare, a nice, simple, transitive verb. 

 

Durante il viaggio avete notato qualcosa di strano? Pensateci bene, ah.

During the trip, did you notice anything strange? Think about it carefully, huh.

Captions 30-31, Il Commissario Manara S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata - Part 6

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To say the same thing with accorgersi, it would take a few more words:

 

Vi siete accorti di qualcosa di strano? 

Qualcuno si è accorto di qualcosa di strano? 

Did you notice anything strange? 

Did anyone notice anything strange?

 

Further learning

For even more about reflexive verbs, with charts. Here's a great resource.

 

If you do a search on Yabla with accorgere, you won't find much, nor will you find much with accorgersi. But if you search the past participle accorto (masculine), accorta (feminine), or accorti (plural), you will find numerous examples. Now that we have taken the verb and its particles apart, you can start getting a feel for this useful, but complex verb. Hopefully, picking out the verb and its accessories and then repeating them will be helpful to you.

 

Attenzione: There will also be some constructions we haven't covered here, such as in the following example. Suffice it to say that it involves the third person impersonal pronoun si with a reflexive verb in the passato prossimo (present perfect) tense. It's pretty advanced and a lot to absorb, and so we'll confront this in a future lesson.

 

Quando si è sistemata la piazza nel millenovecentonovantuno, ci si è accorti che il palombaro, cioè questa grande cisterna, era colmo fino all'orlo.

 

When the piazza was renovated in nineteen ninety-one, they noticed that the "palombaro", that is, this large cistern, was full to the brim.

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Working Things Out with Sistemare

In a recent segment of Meraviglie, Alberto Angela uses a verb that looks familiar: sistemare. It must have something to do with "system," right?

 

The noun il sistema certainly exists, and is a true cognate of "the system" in English.

 

E allora con un ingegnoso sistema di raccolta delle acque, riuscì a riempire ben sette cisterne che sono sparsi [sparse] per tutto il territorio.

And so with an ingenious system for collecting water, he managed to fill a good seven cisterns that are scattered around the whole area.

Captions 36-37, In giro per l'Italia - Asciano - S. Giuliano Terme: Villa Bosniascki - Part 1

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A detail to remember is that although it has a typically feminine ending, sistema is a masculine noun. In English, too, “system” has any number of connotations.

 

So the noun sistema is fairly straightforward, but English doesn't really have a corresponding verb to go with sistemare. Sistemare might even fall into the category of untranslatable Italian verbs, although it's an easy-to-figure-out untranslatable verb. Sistemare is a general, catch-all type of verb that can mean any number of things, depending on the context. 

 

When Alberto Angela tells us the fascinating story of a huge underground cistern in the city of Matera, what does he mean by sistemare? Good question.

 

Quando si è sistemata la piazza nel millenovecentonovantuno…

When the piazza was renovated in nineteen twenty-one…

Caption 12, Alberto Angela - Meraviglie - Ep. 1 - Part 15

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We see from the translation that the piazza was renovated, and we get this from the context of the documentary itself. But sistemare could also have referred to it being  "neatened up," "cleaned up," "put in order," "put to rights."

 

When you want to fix something up, make improvements, put things right, make minor repairs, put things in a certain place, make preparations, or even get your pet ready for the night, sistemare is a good verb.

 

In the following examples from Yabla videos, sistemare is used to mean "to work out," "to set up," and "to fix up."

 

Note that in the first example, the reflexive form sistemarsi is used. 

Mi dispiace molto, Marika, e spero che tutto si sistemerà al più presto.

I'm really sorry, Marika. And I hope everything will work out as soon as possible.

Caption 41, Italiano commerciale - Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 1

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Valter arrivava sempre prima per sistemare l'attrezzatura per gli allievi.

Valter always came early to set up the equipment for the students.

Caption 52, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso - Part 1

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Adesso hai quest'impressione perché lo vedi così tutto in disordine, quando sarà sistemato vedrai...

Now you have that impression because you're seeing it all messy, when it's fixed up, you'll see...

Captions 35-36, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 3

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One general way of thinking about the verb sistemare is with "to take care of". 

You took care of an unpaid bill? L'hai sistemato. You took care of it.
Your plumber fixed that leaky faucet? L'ha sistemato. He took care of it. He fixed it.
You wrote a draft of an article? Lo devi ancora sistemare. You still have to fine-tune it.

 

We can also turn sistemare into a noun: una sistemata. In English, we might use a gerund for this, as in the first example below. 
 

You don't really want to give your kitchen a thorough cleaning at the moment, but you want it to look nice. Ci dai una sistemata (you give it a neatening up).
You ask your hairdresser, Mi dai una sistemata ai capelli (Will you give me a little trim)?

 

 

With the noun sistemata, we often use the verb dare (to give), which can also be used reflexively.

Dopo il viaggio, mi sono data una sistemata prima di presentarmi agli suoceri (after the trip I freshened up before meeting my inlaws/I gave myself a freshening up).

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Practice:

As you go through your day, as you take care of one problem after another, try using sistemare when you have succeeded, or when you haven't yet. Maybe you will even have fun taking care of these problems!

L'ho sistemato! Menomale. (I took care of that. Whew!)

Questo lo devo sistemare (I have to take care of this).

 

Ask someone else to help you take care of something — something that needs fixing, or a situation that needs resolving.

Me lo puoi sistemare (can you take care of this for me)?

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Roll up your Sleeves with Rimboccarsi le Maniche

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work learning a new expression.

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In a recent video, Marika and Anna show us how to make fricos, a local dish from northern Italy. They are made with humble ingredients, but take a bit of slicing and dicing. So Marika rolls up her sleeves. Italians use this expression both literally and figuratively, as we do in English.

 

In this first example, Marika is speaking literally, and uses the verb tirare (to pull). That's one way to describe the action of rolling up one's sleeves, and perhaps the easiest to pronounce.

Mi sono già tirata su le maniche, come vedi.

I've already rolled up my sleeves, as you can see.

Caption 4, L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano

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In the next example, however, the rolling up of the sleeves is figurative, and the classic expression is used:

 

Be', Claudio è un bravissimo ragazzo, prima di tutto, un vero amico e uno che sa rimboccarsi sempre le maniche.

Well, Claudio's a great guy, first of all, a true friend, and... and he's one who always knows how to roll up his sleeves [to pitch in and work hard].

Captions 14-15, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 1 - Part 5

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Rimboccare (to tuck in, to turn) refers to the edge of something, like a sleeve, a hem, or a sheet, but it's very commonly used in the above-mentioned expression, especially when acknowledging a long job ahead.

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Rimbocchiamoci le maniche e cominciamo a studiare (let's roll up our sleeves and start studying)!

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Finding Yourself with Trovarsi

When we look at a video about a place, the speaker often uses the verb trovare in its reflexive form trovarsi. Using trovarsi in this fashion might be hard to wrap our minds around, so let’s back up to the normal verb for a moment. Trovare means “to find” and is transitive, meaning it can take a direct object.

Per suo marito ha trovato una cintura marrone.

For her husband she found a brown belt.

Caption 39, Corso di italiano con Daniela - I colori - Part 3

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We can use the verb with ourself as an object much as we do in English:

Io non sono affatto sicuro di me, e non mi sono mai trovato in una situazione come questa, va bene?

I'm not sure of myself at all, and I've never found myself in a situation like this, all right?

Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 4

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If Luca Manara spoke English, he’d probably say “I’ve never been in a situation like this before, OK?” He would have simply used the verb “to be.” But Italians often use trovarsi, so it’s a good verb to understand. Of course, if you do use the verb essere, people will understand you anyway menomale (luckily)!

 

But then it gets a bit more peculiar. Here is Arianna telling us where she is: where she finds herself. She wasn’t lost; she’s just giving us her location.

Eccomi. Qui mi trovo vicino alla stazione Santa Maria Novella, in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Here I am. Here I am near the Santa Maria Novella Train Station in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Captions 25-26, In giro per l'Italia - Firenze - Part 3

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Instead of just saying: sono vicino alla stazione (I am near the station), she is referring to her geographical or physical position in that moment with trovarsi. It’s a little more specific than simply using the verb essere (to be).

 

In the previous example, trovarsi refers to a person, but trovarsi can also refer to an object, a place. English gets specific in a similar way by using “to be located,” “to be situated.”

 

When Marika plays the professoressa (teacher), she uses trovarsi to interrogate poor Anna. She just wants to know where Sardinia is.

Dove si trova questa regione?

Where is this region situated?

Caption 21, L'Italia a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna

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Il porto di Maratea è un porto turistico. Si trova vicino alle isole Eolie, alla Sicilia, a Capri, all'i... a Sorrento.

The port of Maratea is a tourist seaport. It's situated near the Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Capri, the... Sorrento.

Captions 23-24, Antonio - Maratea, il porto

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It’s also very common to use trovarsi to describe feelings or conditions. This is a bit tricky.

Abito in campagna, e senza macchina, mi trovo in difficoltà.
I live in the country, and without a car, it's hard. I have trouble. 

 

Non mi trovo bene con questo telefonino.
I don’t like this phone. I don’t feel comfortable with this phone.

 

Ma per ora mi trovo bene qua, vediamo.

Well, for now, I'm happy here, we'll see.

Caption 97, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 2

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Ah, a proposito, come ti trovi da Ada?

Ah, by the way, how do you like it over at Ada's?

Caption 90, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 4

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Trovarsi can also be used reciprocally.

Ci troviamo da Letizia alle otto.
Let’s meet up [with each other] at Letizia’s place at eight.

 

For more on reflexive and reciprocal verbs, see Marika's lesson about reflexive and reciprocal verbs, and the written lesson Understanding the Reciprocal Reflexive Form.

 

The more you watch and listen to Italian, either on Yabla or in real life, the more you will notice trovarsi in all of its shadings. It’s a very popular verb!

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