12.4.11 exercise11: The "si impersonale" with a prefixed direct object in compound tenses

If there is a direct object (in form of a personal pronoun) in front of the verb complex and the sentence is in a simple tense there are no problems. The only thing one must see is that in this case the personal pronoun must stand BEFORE the si of the si impersonale.

La si vede. <=> She is seen.

The situation becomes more weired if the sentence is in a compound tense. In this case, the subject has to match in gender and number with the past participle.

La si è vista. She has been seen.
  Li si è comprati. They have been seen.

The big question now is this one: Is La si è vista a si passivante or a si impersonale. The answer is not as simple as one could believe. We have already seen that in case of a si passivante the direct object of a sentence in active voice becomes the subject if we transform the sentence into a sentence in si passivante. A sentence like One eats an apple becomes:

An apple is eated <=> Si mangia una mela.

Traduced literally Si mangia una mela would be An apple eats itself. The apple is the subject of the sentence, performes the action described by the verb on itself, at least from a grammar point of view. But if we substitute the mela by an personal pronoun which serves as a direct object, we get something strange from a grammatical point of view.

La si mangia. <=> It is eaten.

Something strange has happened. Mela was without any doubt the subject of the sentence before. But the personal pronoun with which the mela has been substituted, La, is a direct object. In other words, and this is strange, the si passivante has become a si impersonale. La is the direct object and si has become un indefinite pronoun. Si is considered  singular and that's why the verb stands in singular (mangiare => mangia ).

It doesn't matter if this direct object is in plural or in singular because the verb doesn't depend on the direct object.

Li si mangia. <=> They are eaten. (masculine plural)
  Le si mangia. <=> They are eaten. (feminine plural)

You should see it like that. Si is the subject of the sentence in the si impersonale. If the subject of a si passivante is substituted by personal pronoun the si passivante becomes a si impersonale. Very often people, even Italians, don' t understand that and so you can find sentences like this, but they are wrong.

~Li si mangiano.~ <=> They are eaten.
  ~Le si mangiano.~ <=> They are eaten.


The si in constructions of this type is the subject of the sentence and a indefinite pronoun. This indefinite pronoun is looked at as a singular and so always the third person singular of the verb essere is used, è. At the other side the si of the si impersonale, illogical from a grammatical point of view, is looked at as a reflexive pronoun, in other words even in case of a transitive verb, these verbs are conjugated normally with avere, essere is used. At the other side the past participle doesn't match in gender and number with the subject of the sentence, as in the case of an intransitive verb, but with the direct object. Therefore we get.

apple in singular: The apple has been eaten.

La si è mangiata.

apple in plural : The apples have been eaten.

Le si è mangiate.

Therefore, there are two strange things:

1) The si of the si impersonale is not a reflexive pronoun, so there is no reason to conjugate with essere, but that actually happens.

2) In the case of verbs which are normally conjugated with avere the past participle matches in gender and number with the direct object in front of the verb complex. In the case of verbs which are normally conjugated with essere the predicative noun matches in gender and number with a supposed indefinite pronoun in plural / masculine or, if it is obvious that the indefinite pronoun si refers to a group of women only, with a supposed indefinite pronoun in plural feminine.

transitive: Le si è viste => They (feminine) have been seen (the past participle matches  with the direct object)

intransitive: Si è contenti => People are happy (si is supposed to be plural masculine and so the past participle is plural masculine)

Exercise 11: Translate the following sentences with the si impersonale and a direct object
  He has been seen.
  She has been seen.
  They (masc.plural) have been seen.
  It (masc.plural) has been bought.
  It (fem.singular) has been bought.
  They (masc. plural) have been bought.
  They (fem.plural) have been seen.
  He has never been seen.






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