If you’d like to speak generally about something in English you may use ‘one’, ‘you, ‘they’, ‘we’ or ‘people’. For example, ‘you need to study to learn a language’ or ‘In Italy they speak Italian’. The pronouns in these sentences aren’t referring to a specific person, but people in general. The best way to make these types of sentences in Italian is to use the si impersonale – impersonal si.
For example, if you were trying to say in Italian ‘when it’s hot people go the beach every weekend’, or ‘in Italy people eat a lot of cheese’, you could use a noun, that is a word which describes a person, object, or thing. In these sentence examples, that would be ‘la gente’ or ‘le persone’ (people). But what about when we can’t specify exactly who the person is in the sentence, such as ‘they say that it will be hot this week’ or ‘it is thought that Verona is the city of love’?
For all of these examples you would use the impersonal, which can be translated as ‘one’ ‘people’, ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. This lesson is about how we form these impersonal sentences, using the ‘si impersonale’ in Italian.
The rule is to use si + third person part of the verb. Let’s try this with the sentences we have already looked at in English:
Quando fa caldo, si va al mare ogni fine settimana – When it’s hot, people go to the beach every weekend / When it’s hot, they go to the beach every weekend
In Italia si mangia molto formaggio – In Italy people eat a lot of cheese / In Italy they eat a lot of cheese
The si impersonale can translate as both ‘people’ and ‘they’ in these sentences. Let’s look at some more:
In Inghilterra si beve il tè – In England people drink tea
In Italia si beve il caffè – In Italy people drink coffee
In these examples, you can translate ‘si beve’ as ‘they drink’ but also as ‘you drink’ or ‘we drink’ depending on the context. In the following sentences, ‘you’ or ‘one’ is a better translation of the si impersonale:
Si vede che sei triste. Cosa c’è? – You can see that you’re sad. What’s up?
Come si dice ‘grazie’ in inglese? – How do you say ‘thanks’ in English? / How does one say thanks in English?
Next, we’ll look at some examples where ‘it is’ is the right way to translate the si impersonale:
Si dice che farà caldo questa settimana – It is said that it will be hot this week / They say it will be hot this week
Si crede che Verona sia la città d’amore – It is thought that Verona is the city of love
Up until now we have used verbs in the third person singular (that’s the lui / lei form of the verb). However, if the si impersonale is followed by a plural noun, then we need to use a third person plural verb (that’s the loro form).
Si mettono gli spaghetti nella pentola – You put the spaghetti in the pan
In Puglia si producono molti prodotti locali – In Puglia they produce many local products
In Italia si vedono molti turisti – In Italy you see many tourists