7.5 Il si passivante

As we already said we strive for a concrete goal. We want to discuss the position of the pronouns in the sentence. But before we can do that, we must know all the pronouns which exist. Everything we mentioned here, we are going to rediscuss later again. I might seem strange at first glance, but when discussing pronouns, we must discuss the passive voice. Let's start from the beginning. You will see at the end that in Italian you need a special form of pronoun to form the passive voice.

We need the passive voice, (1) if we don't want to name the agent of an action already realised, (2) if it is irrelevant who is the agent of an action and the action is only eventually realised or (3) if we definitely don't know who is the author of an action.

1) To much wine is produced in Europe.
2) If this book is going to be red, the author will be dead.
3) My burse has been stolen.

In passive voice the subject of the sentence is the goal of the action described by the verb, but not the agent.

The dog was washed.

The dog didn't wash anybody, he was washed himself. (Don't confuse it with a situation described with a reflexive pronoun. In this case, the executor and the goal of the action are the same person.) You already ask yourself what that has to do with pronouns. Wait a moment.

In romance language the passive voice is rarely used and in Spanish and Italian very rarely, because they have an alternative to the passive voice, il si passivante and il si impersonale. Let's have a look at these sentences.

Examples
  The houses are sold.
Si vendono le case.
  Fruit is cultivated.
Si coltiva frutta.

If we translate the sentences literally, they may seem strange to you.

Si vendono le case. <=> The houses sell themselves.
Si cultiva frutta. <=> The fruit cultivates itself.

Yes. Indeed. That's what these sentences mean. There is no need in Italian to cultivate fruit, because it does that itself. Perhaps you find that more logical in this sentence.

Examples
  How to make money without working?
  Come si guadagnano soldi senza fare nulla?

The grammar structure of the question is the answer to the question. Money earns itself, there is no need to do anything. But what you can see in this question is that money (soldi) is the subject of the sentence and the verb must be so in plural because soldi is plural in Italian. Compare:

Si vende la casa. => The house is sold.
Si vendono le case. => The houses are sold.

This kind of construction is called si passivante. If you speak Spanish you know it already, in Spanish it is called pasiva refleja. It is crucial for the further discussion to understand that at least from a grammatical point of view the si is a really reflexive pronoun, literally the houses sell themselves. To see that is crucial because there is another construction, which looks very similar, but is completely different from a grammatical point of view, the si impersonale. In the case of the si pasivante (Si vende la casa) the direct object of the sentence in active voice becomes the subject of the sentence and executes the action on itself. Let's explain it with an example.

active voice: Qualcuno vende la casa. => Someone sells the house.
si pasivante: Si vende la casa. => ~ The house is selling itself.

In active voice la casa is the direct object of the sentence and in our example we use an indefinite pronoun to tell who is actually selling it. In the si passivante the direct object becomes the subject of the sentence and executes the action on itself. Therefore, the verb is to be put in plural, if there are several houses.

active voice: Qualcuno vende le case. => Someone sells the houses.
si pasivante: Si vendono le case. => ~ The houses are selling themselves.

As you can see the si passivante can only be built if there is a direct object in the active voice. But sometimes there is a need to avoid speaking about the subject and the possibility to convert the direct object into the subject is impossible because there is no direct object. Have a look at this sentence.

On sunday people go to church.

The translation of this sentence would be.

La domenica si va a chiesa.

This construction, si impersonale, looks similar to the construction we have seen before, the si passivante, but is completely different from a grammatical point of view. It is crucial to understand that in this case the si is not a reflexive pronoun, it is just an indefinite pronoun, something like everybody, the people and so on.

si passivante: Si is a real reflexive pronoun, at least from a grammatical point of view.
si impersonale: Si is an indefinite pronoun, means simply everybody.

The si passivante can be translated with a wrong, but didactically useful tranlation with a reflexive pronoun. The si impersonale can't be translated with a reflexive pronoun.

Si vendono le case: The houses sell themselves.
La domenica si va a chiesa: On sunday everybody goes to church. (impossible: On sunday everybody goes to church himelf.)

It is crucial for the further discussion to understand that the si impersonale and the si passivante are two completely different things from a grammatical point of view.

Let' se another example.

Examples
  a) At school peolple learn read and write.
      Nella scuola si impara a leggere e scrivere.
  b) People spend a lot of money for unnecessary things.  
      Si spendono molti soldi per cose inutili.

In both sentences we have the word si and the constructions seem to be the same, but they are completely different. The sentence a) is a si personale, the sentence b) a si passivante. In the sentence a) si is an indefinite pronoun, the meaning is everybody, the people, one, etc.. It is quite obvious that nothing but si can be the subject of the sentence because there is no noun, but school and school is part of an adverbial qualification. In frase b) si is a reflexive pronoun, the subject of the sentence is molti soldi. From a grammar point of view these molti soldi executes the action on themselves.

Another way to see the difference is by trying to translate it literally. A literal translation of sentence b) is wrong, but possible. A literal translation of a) is not even possible.

Si spendono molti solid per cose inutili. => A lot of money spend itself for unnessary things.
Nella scuola si impara a leggere e scrivere => ??

It is crucial for further discussion to understand the difference between the si impersonale and the si passivante.







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