Let’s look at a common Italian construction that doesn’t have a similarly common equivalent in English: the passive voice with si, where the ‘si’, followed by a verb in the third person singular or plural, stands for the generic ‘people, everybody, one, you’ etc. Check out these examples:

Dalla finestra del nostro albergo si vedeva la Fontana di Trevi = you could see the Trevi Fountain from our hotel window; dalla finestra del nostro albergo si vedevano tre chiese = you could see three churches from our hotel window. Have you noticed how the third person changes from the singular to the plural in the two sentences?

More examples:

You don’t eat meat at this restaurant = non si mangia carne in questo ristorante

Si vedrà dopo la sentenza che avevamo ragione noi sulla sua colpevolezza = people will see after the sentencing that we were right about his guilt

Fino a pochi anni fa non si usavano navigatori satellitari per trovare indirizzi, ma guide stradali [di carta] e ogni tanto bisognava fermarsi per controllarle = up to a few years ago people didn’t use GPSs to find addresses but [paper]street directories, and every now and then they had to stop to check them

Una volta, se si mangiava carne il venerdì, si commetteva un peccato grave. Ora si può mangiarla tutto l’anno eccetto durante la quaresima = in the past, if you ate meat on Fridays you committed a grave sin. Now you can eat it throughout the year except during Lent

Be careful when the verb that follows ‘si’, is reflexive as it is peculiar in two ways: 1. You need to add ‘ci’ before ‘si’, and 2. any adjective used in the sentence is expressed in the plural, for ex.:

Quando ci si renderà conto che questi pappagalli sono in via di estinzione, sarà troppo tardi per salvarli perché il loro habitat sarà già stato distrutto dall’avidità dell’uomo = when people will realise that these parrots are in danger of being extinct, it will be too late to save them because their habitat will have already been destroyed by man’s greed. If you skip the ‘ci’ you are actually saying that ‘he/she’ will realise……

Ci si sente più felici quando si aiuta il prossimo nei momenti di bisogno = people feel happier when they help their neighbour at times of need.

Yvette Alberti