HELP WITH SI IMPERSONALE
if I use "Si può" in a sentence, would that be considered a sentence using the si impersonale?
Si può can lead to two different constructions, called "si impersonale" and "si passivante".
In Italian they are very similar, but their English rendering is rather different. Several months ago I had posted a description of them in this page: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/22549672
In the "si impersonale" construction, the verb lacks a subject:
si può leggere = one can read
si poteva scegliere = one could choose
si può dire così = one can say so
In the English rendering, the dummy subject 'one' must be added for syntax reasons (the verb cannot stand without a subject, as in Italian).
Always the 3rd person singular of the verb is used.
Instead, the "si passivante" includes a subject. This is the only difference with the previous construction.
Although the verb is used in its active voice, the 'si' pronoun causes the subject to receive the action, as it does when the passive voice of the verb is used (this is why the costruction is called 'passivating si').
So the English rendering of this construction is the standard passive voice of the verb:
il colore si può scegliere = the colour can be chosen
i colori si possono scegliere = the colours can be chosen
un libro si può leggere = a book can be read
i libri si possono leggere = the books can be read
The verb is used in 3rd person singular or plural, according to the subject..
When the modal potere is used, as in the aforementioned examples, if the subject of the "si passivante" is placed after the verb, this shift turns the construction into the "si impersonale":
- i colori si possono scegliere ("si passivante") = the colours can be chosen
- si possono scegliere i colori ("si impersonale") = one can choose the colours
This is due to the fact that in the first sentence ("si passivante") i colori is the subject of a verb that takes a passive meaning because of the pronoun 'si' (→ the subject receives the action).
Instead, in the second sentence ("si impersonale"), by effect of the shifted position, i colori turns into the direct object; there is no subject left (→ impersonal construction), so in the English sentence the dummy subject 'one' must be added:
- un libro si può leggere = a book can be read
- si può leggere un libro = one can read a book
When the verb dovere is used (another modal verb), if the noun is shifted both interpretations are possible:
- sull'autobus il biglietto si deve timbrare = on the bus the ticket must be stamped
- sull'autobus si deve timbrare il biglietto = on the bus the ticket must be stamped (or) one should stamp the ticket
Instead, when an ordinary single verb is used, shifting the subject usually does not cause any effect:
un libro si tiene sullo scaffale = a book is (usually) kept / should be kept on the shelf
si tiene sullo scaffale un libro = a book is (usually) kept / should be kept on the shelf.