Teaching reflexive verbs can be a difficult Italian lesson. First, the additional ending on the infinitive confuses some students. Second, the reflexive pronoun's location may also trip up students. But breaking the reflexive verbs up — explaining the pronouns, and then the verbs — can help students better comprehend how to conjugate and use these verbs.
When starting to teach the reflexive verbs, start with the reflexive pronouns. Explain that what makes reflexive verbs different from other verbs is the addition of the pronoun: the pronoun makes the action about the person. Write out these examples:
Mi lavo le mani (I wash my hands)
Lavo l'auto (I wash the car)
Point out to students that if the second sentence had a reflexive verb (mi lavo l'auto), it would not make sense, since the car is not a part of the person. Explain that reflexive pronouns are the English equivalent of “myself," “yourself," “herself," etc. Making a chart will help students remember which reflexive pronoun goes with each person. It should look like this:
io = mi
tu = ti
lui/lei = si
noi = ci
voi = vi
loro = si
Once students understand the different reflexive pronouns, move on to reflexive verbs. Explain to students that reflexive verbs are really the transitive infinitive, minus the final “e" and “si" added to the end. Point out that the “si" indicates that the verb is a reflexive verb. At this point, do an exercise that shows how the infinitive of the reflexive verb is formed. Write a list of reflexive verbs on the blackboard; examples are addormentarsi, alzarsi, ammalarsi, arrabbiarsi, bagnarsi, chiamarsi, fermarsi, fidarsi, incontrarsi, lavarsi, pettinarsi, riporsarsi, rompersi and sedersi. Draw an arrow next to the reflexive verb. Ask students to come up to the blackboard, underline the reflexive ending, and write the transitive infinitive next to the arrow. It should look like this:
lavarsi → lavare
Make sure that each student understands this concept. Next, start practicing the conjugation of the reflexive verbs. Explain that the verb is conjugated in the present indicative, with the appropriate reflexive pronoun. Break students up into groups of three and four, and give them a verb to conjugate. Ask each group to write the conjugation on the blackboard, then review and correct. Note that the reflexive pronoun can be attached to the infinitive if a preceding verb is conjugated (example: voglio lavarmi = mi voglio lavare). Point out that if the verb starts with a vowel or a “h", the “i" in mi, ti, si and vi can be dropped; the “i" in ci can only be dropped if the following verb starts with an “e" or “i."
Practicing the Past Tense
Explain to students that the auxiliary verb essere is always used when reflexive verbs are written in the passato prossimo. Point out to students that the conjugation is similar to the present tense: the reflexive pronoun goes first, followed by essere, with the infinitive conjugated as it would be as a transitive verb. In the same groups as before, have the students conjugate the verbs in the passato prossimo, then write the answers on the blackboard. Review and correct.
- Mezzadri, Marco. Essential Italian. Guerra Edizioni, 2004