Verbi attivi, passivi e riflessivi

Voice describes the relationship of the verb action with its subject and object. The different voices or relationships are:

  • Active voice

Normally the grammatical subject of the verb is the doer of the action or the main theme of the event, in which case the verb is active:

Andrea guarda Maria.

Andrew watches Mary.

Il tecnico ripara il computer.

The technician repairs the computer.

  • Passive voice

But sometimes the person or object on the receiving end of the action is the grammatical subject, and in this case the verb is passive:

Maria è guardata da Andrea.

Mary is watched by Andrew.

Il computer  è riparato dal tecnico.

The computer is repaired by the technician.

In the second example, the agent of the action is clearly the technician (the one who repairs the computer), but the grammatical subject of the passive verb is the computer.

  • Reflexive and pronominal voice

A verb form is reflexive when its subject and object are the same:

Andrea si guarda allo specchio.

Andrew looks at himself in the mirror.

There are other verb forms that are not strictly speaking reflexive but are similar in form.

The passive of Italian verbs is formed by the use of the past participle and the auxiliary essere, using the same tense as the corresponding active form.

The passive can also be formed using venire or andare as auxiliary instead of essere or by using the pronoun si and the third person of the verb.

Only transitive verbs can have a passive form.

Passive sentences (sentences based on a passive verb) are used when we want to focus on the action itself or the object of an action, rather than on the agent of an action.

Reflexive verbs are active verb forms accompanied by a reflexive pronoun:

Andrea sta lavando la macchina.

Andrew is washing the car.

Andrea si sta lavando.

Andrew is washing himself.

In the first example above, the direct object of the action of washing is the car. It is separate from the person who is doing it (the subject of the action). In the second example, the subject and the object of the action are the same person (Andrea). This is the reflexive form, in which the reflexive pronoun refers to the person carrying out the action, but at the same time is also the object of it.

There are a few Italian verbs that are always (or almost always) used with a reflexive pronoun, because of the ‘psychological’ and subjective meaning they convey, for example:

accorgersi: to realise, to be aware

arrabbiarsi: to get angry

divertirsi: to have fun

innamorarsi: to fall in love

pentirsi: to regret, repent

vergognarsi: to be ashamed

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