https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MABBY

Sedere, Rompere, e Cadere

The common thread linking these three verbs is that they often get used in a "reflexive" sense; that is, if the person or object is performing its/an action on their own, then you need to add a reflexive pronoun to the sentence.

Explaining that is most easily done by using another common verb as an example: Lavare (to wash).

If I wash any object-- the floor, your car, his back, the dishes-- then lavare works the same way as any "first conjugation" (-ARE) verb does; with regular verb endings on the infinitive root.
But if I wash myself-- my face, my hands, my hair-- then that's were the reflexive part happens, and I need to prefix my actions with the pronoun mi:

Io lavo la macchina-- I wash the car
Mi lavo le mani-- I wash my hands

For "he/ she/ it" things work the same way but the pronoun is "si", when used reflexively:

Lei lava la macchina-- She washes the car
Si lava le mani-- She washes her hands

So what does this have to do with the topic that you clicked on?

Sedere means "To sit", and-- like Lavare-- you can either describe another person or object sitting or you can sit/ seat yourself (or she can sit herself, we can sit ourselves, etc.).

Dove siedono gli studenti?-- Where do the students sit?
Il marito non siede mai vicino alla moglie-- The husband never sits near his wife
La penna siede sul tavolo-- The pen sits on the table

Inanimate objects have no free will, so they can't "decide" to sit somewhere. They are placed there, and the verb works as a normal "second conjugation" verb (-ERE) with most objects.
In the majority of cases, though, it is difficult to describe the action of people sitting and not have them be reflexive.

Perché non si siedono con me?-- Why don't they sit with me?
Mi siedo al tavolo-- I sit at the table
Lui si siede sull'erba-- He sits on the grass

When objects are involved with Rompere-- To break, and Cadere-- To fall, it gets trickier to decide when a pronoun (typically "si") should be used.
Going back to the concept that an object "can't decide" to do an action, there are cases when circumstances cause them to act on themselves (especially for Rompere).
You may recognize some of these Duolingo sentences from the various Verbs units:

Il ghiaccio si rompe-- The ice breaks
Questi orologi non si rompono-- These clocks do not break
Si cade da cavallo-- He falls off (from) the horse
La tastiera cade-- The keyboard falls
La pioggia cade a terra-- The rain falls to the ground

If I (physically, not metaphorically) break the ice, then "Io rompo il ghiaccio" but, if the ice cracks (breaks) on its own because of temperature change or pressure, then "Il ghiaccio si rompe".
A similar thing happens when falling. If something is pushed and it falls (la tastiera, in the example) then it just falls. But if another force or shaking occurs first or someone causes themself to fall (or fall off of) then you need that reflexive pronoun.

La tastiera si cade dalla scrivania-- the keyboard falls off the desk

At least that's how I perceive how things work.
Perhaps a native speaker can confirm or clarify anything that I got wrong or partly wrong.

September 3, 2019

26 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Lavare is a verb whose reflexive conjugation (lavarsi) has a real reflexive meaning, i.e. the subject performs the action upon him/herself or, in other words, the action reflects upon whom performs it, making the subject at the same time also the direct object.
This explains why all verbs with a real reflexive meaning (such as vestirsi, stendersi, esprimersi, alzarsi, etc.) are always intransitive, because the action they describe already implies that the direct object is the subject itself, whereas the plain verb they come from (vestire, stendere, esprimere, alzare, and obviously lavare) are transitive and can take a direct object.

However, the same reflexive verb lavarsi can also take a direct object, for instance:
lavarsi le mani = to wash one's hands
lavarsi la camicia = to wash one's (own) shirt

Lavarsi (alone) and lavarsi le mani are two different types of reflexive (i.e. same conjugation, but with a different meaning).
The use of the reflexive conjugation for expressing an action performed upon one's own body parts (lavarsi le mani) or one's own belongings (lavarsi la camicia) is called 'apparent reflexive', because it mimics the real reflexive use of the verb, but still lets the verb take a direct object (what a real reflexive meaning does not allow). Similar verbs are:

asciugare = to dry
asciugarsi = to dry oneself (reflexive)
asciugarsi i capelli = to dry one's hair (apparent reflexive)

pettinare = to comb
pettinarsi = to comb oneself (reflexive)
pettinarsi i capelli = to comb one's hair (apparent reflexive)

coprire = to cover
coprirsi = to cover oneself (reflexive)
coprirsi il viso = to cover one's face (apparent reflexive)

grattare = to scratch
grattarsi = to scratch oneself (reflexive)
grattarsi il naso = to scratch one's nose (apparent reflexive)


Sedere is a verb that it describes the subject's position ("to sit", "to be sitting"); it is similar to other verbs such as "to stand" or "to lie". So it is intransitive due to its meaning.
The reflexive form of the verb (sedersi), which is intransitive as well, describes the action of placing oneself in this position, that is "to sit down", "to take a seat" (literally, "to make oneself seated").


Cadere describes a type of movement concerning oneself ("to fall down"), and is therefore intransitive due to its meaning. But it cannot be turned into its reflexive conjugation (→ cadersi does not exist).
If the fall is caused by someone or something, it is expressed by inflecting the verb fare + infinitive of cadere (this is known as causative construction):
far cadere = to make / let fall (down)
Il vento ha fatto cadere l'albero. = The wind made the tree fall down.

The only other verb that allows a causative construction is lasciare ("to let"):
lasciar cadere = to let fall (down), to drop (something).

The causative construction is similar to the modal construction (first verb inflected + second verb in infinitive form); but in the causative construction, the actions described by the two verbs are performed by two different agents, the subject and the direct object.
For instance, in Il vento ha fatto cadere l'albero, the first verb (fare) is performed by the wind, i.e. the subject, and agrees with it, but it is the tree (direct object) that falls down (cadere, second verb).
Another difference is the position of clitic pronouns, which in a causative construction must stand before the first verb:
Lo fa cadere. = It makes it fall down. (Fa caderlo is wrong!)
whereas with a modal construction the pronoun can alternatively bind to the second verb:
Lo vuole vedere. / Vuole vederlo.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BeaverGuy

Heh I appreciate your comments so much. They are very insightful and I soak up the knowledge of your posts like a sponge soaks up water.

When I read the opening post, I thought "Let's wait for CivisRomanus to show up and explain everything in detail."

At one point I may consider making screenshots of them in order to save them.

Could you elaborate on the verbs "rompere"/"rompersi" and put it into perspective with your comment and verify the information about it in the opening post?

"Il ghiaccio si rompe-- The ice breaks"

My problem in understanding this is, that I think "But the ice does not break itself". The ice does not perform an action on itself, does it?

In English you'd simply say "The ice breaks" and I don't understand why that's not an option in Italian.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Thank you for your appreciation.

the ice does not break itself

Yes, this is a good observation.
Verbs like rompersi, perdersi, ammalarsi, stancarsi, etc. do not have a real reflexive meaning, e.g. one does not 'break oneself', or 'lose oneself', etc., despite in the standard conjugation most of these verbs are transitive and can take a direct object: e.g. "to break" (something), "to lose" (something), etc.

Rompersi, perdersi, ammalarsi, stancarsi, etc. are verbs whose reflexive conjugation (i.e. the additional reflexive pronoun) gives the standard verb, which is transitive, an intransitive meaning. Their classification in the Italian grammar is 'pronominal verbs', that is verbs with a clitic pronoun that becomes part of the verb itself (i.e. it is not simply appended). Pronominal verbs represent a very large and rather generic group, which includes any verb whose meaning changes when taking a clitic pronoun (not only a reflexive one, but any clitic pronoun). So the group has several subsets, among which real reflexive verbs (e.g. vestirsi), verbs whose reflexive conjugation conveys other types of meaning (e.g. an emotional involvement, the so-called ethical dative form: mangiarsi, bersi, etc.), and also verbs to which clitic pronouns give an idiomatic meaning, such as andarsene, provarci, cavarsela, volercene, etc. (the ones in this subset are called procomplementary verbs).

Speaking of how verbs like rompersi, perdersi, ammalarsi, stancarsi, etc. stand to English ones, some of them correspond to verbs such as "to get", "to turn", "to become", "to fall" + an adjective:

  • perdersi = to get lost, to lose one's way
  • ammalarsi = to fall sick, to become ill
  • stancarsi = to get tired, to become tired
  • arrabbiarsi / adirarsi = to get angry
  • ostruirsi = to get obstructed

and so on. They usually describe a transformation (or change of some kind) by the subject.

Others, instead, correspond to the so-called ergative verbs, i.e. verbs whose meaning can be transitive or intransitive according to the sentence:

  • I open the door. ("open" is used with a transitive meaning)
  • The door opens. ("open" is used with an intransitive meaning).

Italian does not have ergative verbs (), but uses the reflexive conjugation for rendering the intransitive meaning (one of the many purposes of the reflexive conjugation):

  • (Io) apro la porta. (aprire conveys the transitive meaning)
  • La porta si apre. (aprirsi conveys the intransitive meaning)

Rompere / rompersi is one of them:

  • (Io) rompo il ghiaccio. (rompere conveys the transitive meaning)
  • Il ghiaccio si rompe. (rompersi conveys the intransitive meaning)

Others are:

chiudere = to close (something, transitive)
chiudersi = to close (intransitive)

fermare = to stop (someone/something transitive)
fermarsi = to stop (intransitive)

muovere = to move (something, transitive)
muoversi = to move (intransitive)

svegliare = to wake up (someone, transitive)
svegliarsi = to wake up (intransitive)

spostare = to move, shift, displace (someone/something, transitive)
spostarsi = to move, change position (intransitive)

() ----- edited -----
The statement is not correct; a few verbs which can take both a transitive and an intransitive meaning exist, e.g. bruciare ("to burn"), fondere ("to melt"), affondare ("to sink"). But they are much fewer than in English, and some of them express the intransitive meaning following both the standard and the reflexive conjugations:

Io fondo il piombo. = I melt lead. (standard, transitive)
Il piombo fonde a 328 gradi Celsius. = Lead melts at 328 degrees Celsius. (standard, intransitive)
Il piombo si fonde. = The lead melts / is melting. (reflexive, intransitive)

Io brucio la carta. = I burn (the) paper.
La carta brucia bene. = Paper burns well.
La carta si brucia. = The paper burns / is burning.

----------------

The most difficult thing for a learner is that the reflexive form of a verb can take more than one meaning among those that this conjugation can convey.
For instance,

  • asciugare = to dry, dry up (something), transitive: e.g. "I dried the dishes".

  • asciugarsi = to dry oneself (real reflexive meaning) intransitive:
    e.g. "I dried myself with the towel".

  • asciugarsi = to dry, dry up (intransitive):
    e.g. "the paper has dried up".

So very often what meaning the reflexive conjugation conveys can be understood only from other parts of the sentence (e.g. whether the verb takes a direct object or not), and from the context.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BeaverGuy

Wow! As always a very insightful, extensive and detailed answer. Grazie mille! (Would give lingots, but I'm out of them :/ )

This lesson will not be so easy for me. It will require some work on my part to get into it, but your post is an excellent reference and starting point.

Also thank you very much for making me aware of "asciugarsi" and verbs like it. I wasn't even aware of that.

But when you look here:

https://www.wordreference.com/iten/asciugarsi

It confirms what you said.

EDIT: Thank you for the generous donation of lingots. Assuming they didn't come from CivisRomanus I'll forward them to him to honor his excellent contributions. If they did come from him however, well then, there's a certain funny irony in it I guess :P

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

I understand how difficult the use of the Italian reflexive conjugation and its many meanings can be for a non-native speaker. I'll soon try to write a tutorial about this topic.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BeaverGuy

That'd be very much appreciated! I'm looking forward to it!

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

And I'm really having a hard time to know when and why which verb can be used like an ergative verb and when to use it with a reflexive conjugation instead.

This can be only learnt out of practice.
In Italian, the number of verbs that can take both a transitive and intransitive meaning is very limited.
The ones that come to my mind are:
aumentare
diminuire
invecchiare
derivare
and the three previously mentioned:
affondare
fondere
bruciare.
I can't think of any others.

What makes more complicated this classification is that some of them (fondere, bruciare, invecchiare) allow also the reflexive conjugation:
io invecchio (now more common) = io mi invecchio.

September 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BeaverGuy

I saw your edit/correction above with the "*".

"Italian does not have ergative verbs (✱), but uses the reflexive conjugation for rendering the intransitive meaning (one of the many purposes of the reflexive conjugation)" "(✱) ----- edited ----- The statement is not correct; a few verbs which can take both a transitive and an intransitive meaning"

And that is my problem. So some verbs are actually ergative verbs that can be used intransitively and transitively.

And then there are verbs that use the reflexive conjugation instead.

And I'm really having a hard time to know when and why which verb can be used like an ergative verb and when to use it with a reflexive conjugation instead.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ddeck22

I often see/hear "spegnersi" and "spegnere" as an ergative verb. The sentences with the "reflexive" are usually:

La candela si e' spenta (o per il mio compleanno, le candelline si sono spente) La lampadina si e' spenta

Whereas it is often used in the non reflexive form:

Spengo il telefono, spegni la TV, ecc

I always sort of knew the grammar behind it (and Civis' contributions are a large part of that), but it really does help to hear it in practice by native speakers. I prefer songs because I can hear the same lyrics over and over, usually by the 4th time I understand it.

September 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RomancePhilology

(e.g. an emotional involvement, the so-called ethical dative form: mangiarsi, bersi, etc.)

Attention: Those are not examples of ethical datives. Mangiarsi and bersi are pronominal verbs that mean “to eat up” and “to drink up,” respectively.

An actual example of an ethical dative would be, “Stammi bene” (“Take care”).

September 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

I agree, technically my examples are not ethical dative, but rather "pleonastic reflexive", whose purpose is to convey an emotional involvement (funzione affettivo-intensiva, according to the Accademia) virtually identical to that conveyed by ethical dative.
Since the conjugation works in the same way, and the purpose is the same, simplifying the classification by merging pleonastic reflexive and ethical dative into a single subset (whatever one may call it) can help the learner to understand this use of the conjugation more easily.

Mangiarsi and bersi are pronominal verbs that mean “to eat up” and “to drink up,” respectively.

"Eat up" or "drink up" do not convey the same semantic nuance as mangiarsi or bersi, which express the subject's pleasure or displeasure in performing the action, whereas "eat up" means "eat everything, all of it".
So in Mi sono mangiato un po' della pizza rimasta this translation would be meaningless ("I ate up some of the pizza left over").

September 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Black_Cherries

Great info! Thanks. Did you used to be an Italian teacher?

September 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RomancePhilology

This explains why all verbs with a real reflexive meaning (such as vestirsi, stendersi, esprimersi, alzarsi, etc.) are always intransitive are always intransitive, because the action they describe already implies that the direct object is the subject itself, whereas the plain verb they come from (vestire, stendere, esprimere, alzare, and obviously lavare) are transitive and can take a direct object.

You are a bit confused here. Verbs don’t become intransitive just because you add a reflexive pronoun. In fact, the reflexive pronoun itself is the direct object here.

However, the same reflexive verb lavarsi can also take a direct object, for instance: lavarsi le mani = to wash one’s hands lavarsi la camicia = to wash one’s (own) shirt

Lavarsi (alone) and lavarsi le mani are two different types of reflexive (i.e. same conjugation, but with a different meaning). The use of the reflexive conjugation for expressing an action performed upon one’s own body parts (lavarsi le mani) or one’s own belongings (lavarsi la camicia) is called ‘apparent reflexive,’ because it mimics the real reflexive use of the verb, but still lets the verb take a direct object (what [sic] a real reflexive meaning does not allow).

Lavarsi le mani and lavarsi la camicia aren’t any less reflexive than lavarsi is. The only difference is that the reflexive pronoun is the indirect object this time. That’s why those phrases can take a different direct object — that argument hasn’t been filled yet.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

You are a bit confused here. Verbs don’t become intransitive just because you add a reflexive pronoun.

I'm afraid you mistook what I wrote.
All verbs that convey a reflexive meaning (not that simply follow the reflexive conjugation!) are intransitive, because "reflexive" means that the action reflects upon the subject.
If I add a reflexive pronoun to prendere, prendersi is perfectly transitive.

Lavarsi le mani and lavarsi la camicia aren’t any less reflexive than lavarsi is.

Not less reflexive, but 'differently' reflexive.
Lavarsi means "to wash oneself" ("to wash up"), therefore it conveys a real reflexive meaning and cannot take a direct object, because it is understood that who receives the action (i.e. the patient) is the same subject (or agent) who washes him/herself.
Instead in lavarsi le mani / la camicia, lavarsi does not have a reflexive meaning, and can take a direct object (i.e. the patient, that receives the action) such as le mani or la camicia.
This is what Treccani calls riflessivo diretto and riflessivo indiretto (paragraphs 2.1 and 2.2, respectively), which is also commonly known as riflessivo apparente, as this other page in Treccani clearly explains:
"Oltre alla forma riflessiva propria, si distinguono una forma riflessiva apparente , cosiddetta perché nell’aspetto esterno è uguale a una forma riflessiva, ma nella sostanza è una forma transitiva con il complemento oggetto e con il complemento di termine espresso da un pronome personale atono."
The riflessivo indiretto or riflessivo apparente takes the same inflections as a real reflexive verb, and follows the same syntax rules (auxiliary essere for compound tenses), but does not have a reflexive meaning, the subject and the direct object (or the agent and the patient) are two different nouns /pronouns, what makes them quite different.

September 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Linda7Italian

Always great posts Mabby. These reflexive always need thought. Mille grazie. Ti do un lingotto o tre;-)

September 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RomancePhilology

“Si cade dal cavallo,” could at most mean, “One (impersonal) falls off the horse.” “*La tastiera si cade dalla scrivania,” is just plain ungrammatical. Cadere is an intransitive verb and thus can’t be used reflexively.

September 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Si cade dal cavallo

Si cade da cavallo is equally legit.
Dal cavallo infers that the horse has already been mentioned (or, having spoken of a horseman, a jockey, etc. it is understood that he/she mounts a horse, so il cavallo is his/her horse).
Da cavallo infers the existence of an unmentioned horse, i.e. "horseback" is dealt with as a generic place; the opposite action would be montare a cavallo, as opposed to montare sul cavallo if the horse was defined by a definite article (→ cadere dal cavallo).

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RomancePhilology

But then it doesn’t mean “the horse” anymore, now does it?

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

No, it does not.
But one would use dal cavallo only if the horse is mentioned (directly or indirectly) in the conversation.
Unless the horse is mentioned, the expression is cadere da cavallo (not dal cavallo).
Speaking of a jockey (the presence of a horse is inferred) one can say il fantino è caduto da cavallo (he fell from the position he was in, i.e. on horseback) or dal cavallo (he fell off the horse he was mounting).

September 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MABBY

Got it. I was sure that I'd seen it somewhere but I'm mistaken.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mmseiple

I'm not sure if the same terminology is used in Italian, but the same concept as you're describing in the second part in Spanish is called the "process se," and in Italian it works the same way. Basically, for a lot of verbs that describe a change in state (physical, emotional, or juridical) you use reflexive pronouns to describe the change when there is not a specific thing acting on the person or object. Examples of this would be:

asciugarsi - to dry

innamorarsi - to fall in love

rompersi - to break

rattristarsi - to get sad

svegliarsi - to wake up

sposarsi - to get married

Many of these verbs can also be used actively (one person or thing acting on another), and in that case they do not use the reflexive pronoun:

Marina si sveglia. (Marina wakes up. A passive change in state.)

Marina sveglia il bambino. (Marina wakes up the child.)

This is how "rompere/rompersi" works. "Cadere" I think does not usually take the reflexive form regardless of the circumstances.

September 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

The generic classification in Italian is 'pronominal verbs', but this large group has many subsets, as I wrote in reply to BeaverGuy. In particular:

  • Asciugarsi can take a real reflexive meaning (Io mi asciugo), or it can be the intransitive equivalent of the English ergative verb "to dry" (La colla si è asciugata), or it can be apparent reflexive if it takes a direct object (Io mi asciugo le mani).

  • Innamorarsi is simply a pronominal verb (innamorare is barely used alone, but it is common in the causative construction far innamorare).

  • Rompersi is the intransitive equivalent of the English ergative verb "to break" (Il vaso si è rotto).

  • Rattristarsi is the intransitive form of rattristare, a meaning that in English is rendered by using verbs such as "to get" or "to become" before "sad".

  • Svegliarsi is the pronominal form (→ intransitive) of svegliare (→ transitive), i.e. the intransitive equivalent of the English ergative verb "to wake up".

  • Sposarsi used with a singular subject (Mario si sposa domani) is the pronominal form of sposare (Mario sposa Anna), which in English is rendered by adding "to get" before "married".
    But when the subject is plural, sposarsi is understood as a reciprocal reflexive (Mario e Anna si sposano → each of them marries the other, a mutual action).
    However, with a plural subject sposarsi can also convey the first meaning when it is clearly understood that the subjects are not a couple (I suoi fratelli si sposano → they get married, they do not marry each other; Tante persone si sposano → they get married, it is not a collective wedding!)

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mmseiple

Yes, I was talking about a specific subset, but I don’t know if there’s a specific name for it in Italian grammar (I’ve only had to teach it in Spanish). Basically, it’s a set of verbs that describe a process being acted on the subject, so it encompasses the various “get/become/fall X” and also verbs like “asciugarsi” (in the intransitive sense), “rompersi,” “addormentarsi,” etc. Verbs that describe a change in the subject caused by some unnamed outside force. I don’t know if they’re taught separately in Italian, but there are enough of them that it may be helpful to recognize the pattern. And many of them (but not all, as you said with “innamorarsi”) can also be used transitively without the reflexive pronoun.

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

No, I have never found a specific name for the subset you mentioned, which describes a change of some kind by the subject.
Pronominal verbs that do not have a more specific classification, which Treccani labels as "verbi intransitivi pronominali" (see paragraph 2.6), are included in three subsets, namely:
- "verbi psicologici" (among pronominal ones are: innamorarsi, intristirsi, ingelosirsi);
- "verbi inaccusativi" (i.e. the share of intransitive verbs that take the auxiliary essere, which include some pronominal ones, such as pentirsi);
- "verbi ergativi di forma riflessiva" (verbs that convey the intransitive meaning by taking the reflexive conjugation, e.g. aprire/aprirsi, rompere/rompersi).

So I guess the verbs that infer a change and cannot take a transitive meaning (e.g. arrabbiarsi, ammalarsi) should be included in the second subset, being neither psychological nor ergative.

Instead, the ones that do have a transitive meaning (e.g. forare/forarsi, ostruire/ostruirsi, macchiare/macchiarsi, etc.) should be included among the ergative reflexive ones, although in English these ones are not ergative (i.e. the same verb does not express both the transitive and the intransitive action, e.g. "to puncture"-"to get punctured", "to stain"-"to get stained").

September 4, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Dorothy799906

Interesting

September 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Algarve11

Mille grazie, molto interessante!

September 3, 2019
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