Here comes another post about Italian grammar, aren’t you happy?
Actually, the posts about grammar are some of the most loved ones on the blog, so I thought it might be interesting to write a new one about a very tricky topic: pronominal verbs!
I have noticed that my students find them quite hard and tend to avoid using them – which I completely understand – and I am sure that many more Italian students struggle with pronominal verbs, so I hope I’ll be able to help you understand them better and eventually feel confident enough to use them in conversation.
This is important also because some pronominal verbs are widely used in conversational Italian and you may want to use them sooner or later to make your Italian feel more natural. But, first of all: what are pronominal verbs in Italian? Let’s try to find out and see how they work.
Pronominal Verbs in Italian: What are they?
Pronominal verbs are verbs that combine a verb and one or two pronouns, which are added to the infinitive of the verbs and slightly change the meaning of the verb itself. For example, the verb mettere means to put but if you add ci to it, it becomes metterci, which refers to the time it takes someone to do something.
The pronouns that can be added to a verb and make it pronominal are a few: si, ci, la, le, ne. When those pronouns are combined, si changes into se and ci changes into ce, so there are forms like sela (si + la), cela (ci + la), sene (si + ne), cene (ci + ne). If using a pronominal verb with one pronoun is difficult, one with two is definitely very confusing! But we’ll focus on that later.
Now let’s see what are the most common pronominal verbs in Italian.
Verbs with – si: pentirsi, vergognarsi, accorgersi, imbattersi, ribellarsi
Ho sbagliato, ma ora mi sono pentita (I made a mistake but I feel sorry now)
Mi vergogno di quello che ho fatto (I am ashamed of what I did)
Mi sono accorta di aver sbagliato (I’ve realized I made a mistake)
Stamattina mi sono imbattuta in Franco (I ran into Franco this morning)
È ora di ribellarsi: non puoi andare avanti così! (It’s time to rebel: you can’t go on like this!)
Verbs with – ci: volerci, metterci, arrivarci, entrarci, cascarci
Ci vuole un’ora per andare da Genova a Milano (It takes an hour to go from Genoa to Milan)
Io ci ho messo un’ora per arrivare perché c’era sciopero (It took me an hour to get here because there was a strike)
Non ci arrivi proprio? Non so come sia possibile! (You really don’t understand? I don’t know how it is possible)
Quello non c’entra con cosa ti ho detto (That doesn’t have anything to do with what I said)
Ci sono cascata! Mi ha ingannata! (I fell for it! He fooled me)
Verbs with – la: finirla, piantarla, spuntarla
Finiscila! Smettila di lamentarti! (Stop it! Stop whining)
La pianti? Stai ripetendo la stessa cosa da un’ora (Can you stop it? You have been repeating the same thing for an hour)
È stato difficile, ma alla fine l’ho spuntata: il venditore mi ha fatto lo sconto (It’s been difficult but I won: the seller gave me a discount)
Verbs with – le: prenderle, suonarle
Ho litigato con mio fratello e le ho anche prese (I had a fight with my brother and he beat me up
Era grosso ma gliele ho suonate, hai visto? (He was big but I beat him up, did you see?)
Verbs with – sela: prendersela, cavarsela, cercarsela, sbrigarsela, tirarsela, spassarsela, sentirsela
Non prendertela, andrà meglio il prossimo anno (Don’t be sad, it will be better next year)
L’esame è difficile, ma me la sono cavata (The exam was difficult, but I somehow managed to pass it)
Te la sei proprio cercata eh? La prossima volta impari a non litigare con quelli più grossi di te (You have really asked for it, haven’t you? Next time you’ll learn not to fight with guys who are bigger than you)
Sbrigatela da solo, non posso aiutarti (Sort it out on your own, I can’t help you)
Quella ragazza se la tira tantissimo! (That girl really shows off)
Ieri sera alla festa ce la siamo proprio spassata (We had a lot of fun yesterday night at the party)
Non me la sento di andare a vivere all’estero (I don’t have the courage to go and live abroad)
Verbs with – cela: avercela, farcela
Non avercela con me, non ho fatto nulla (Don’t be mad at me, I haven’t done anything)
Non ce la faccio più, questa situazione è troppo difficile (I am exhausted, I can’t do this anymore. This situation is too difficult for me)
Verbs with – sene: andarsene, fregarsene, intendersene, restarsene, tornarsene
Sono stufo, me ne vado! (I am fed up, I’ll leave!)
Io me ne frego di quello che è successo (I don’t give a damn about what happened)
Dobbiamo chiedere al mio amico, lui se ne intende di vino (We have to ask our friend, he’s a wine expert)
Sono stanca, stasera me ne resto a casa (I am tired, I stay home tonight)
Tornatene a casa, nessuno ti vuole qui! (Go back home, nobody wants you here!)
Pronominal Verbs in Italian: How Do They Work?
As we have just seen, pronominal verbs are a combination of a verb and one or two pronouns. When you conjugate the verb, you need to separate the pronouns from the verb, place them before the verb and conjugate the verb as you normally do with other verbs.
For example: metterci combines mettere with ci. If you want to conjugate the verb, you separate ci from the verb and place it before the verb as in ci metto, ci ho messo, ci mettevo, ci metterò.
If you have a verb with two pronouns, like farcela, for example, which combines the verb fare with ce and la, you separate the pronouns and place them before the verb as in ce la faccio, ce l’ho fatta, ce la facevo, ce la farò and so on.
Keep in mind that ci, ce, la, ne never change, so once you remember to place them before the noun you are done. But if you have a verb with SE, you have to remember to decline the pronoun in the reflexive form. An example could be the verb andarsene, which becomes io me ne vado, tu te ne vai, lui se ne va, noi ce ne andiamo, voi ve ne andate, loro se ne vanno.
I hope this post about pronominal verbs in Italian was clear. If you have doubts or questions, just leave them in the comments below!
As I always do with posts about the Italian language, I have created a downloadable pdf file for you to keep for future reference. You will find it in Your Italian Toolbox, the private page on my site where I upload all language learning materials, under the section Grammar. If can access the page by simply subscribing to my newsletter.
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Kathryn Occhipinti says
Mi dispiace, ma…. I don’t understand why you classify these verbs as pronomial verbs rather than reflexive verbs. “Verbs with – si: pentirsi, vergognarsi, accorgersi, imbattersi, ribellarsi”
A verb is reflexive when you add “si” to an ordinary verb to show that an action is carried out by the subject and received by the subject. “Lavare” (to wash) is an ordinary verb, if you add “si” to it, it becomes “lavarsi” (to wash oneself). The verbs you mentioned do not have an ordinary form, they exist only with “si”, so they are pronominal. I hope this is clear!