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In an analogous French construction, the past participle would remain in its base form (Elle s'est lavé les mains), since the subject (elle) is the indirect object of the action, and since the direct object of the action (les mains) is placed after the verb.

I was under the impression that Italian and French had corresponding rules regarding the agreement of the past participle in compound verb tenses. Nevertheless, in Italian, the past participle of this construction agrees with the subject.

Could anyone please explain why?

  • Because the verb “lavare” must agree with the feminine usage. – Hachi Jun 3 at 17:27
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    Welcome to Italian.SE! The rule you mention applies to French, but not to Italian. – Charo Jun 3 at 17:38
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    With verbs accompanied by a reflexive pronoun we always use "essere" as auxiliary verb and past participle must agree either with subject or with direct object (but this option is less used), even if this reflexive pronoun acts as an indirect object. – Charo Jun 3 at 17:55
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    Beware of deducing facts about Italian from French (or vice versa)! There are many many cases in which similar words have different genders, similar verbs use different auxiliaries, similar constructions work differently (as here). – DaG Jun 3 at 18:13
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    See this article of Treccani Encyclopedia: you can either choose between "lei si è lavata le mani" (past participle agrees with subject) and "lei si è lavate le mani" (past participle agrees with direct object), but the latter is less used. – Charo Jun 3 at 18:15
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You impression is wrong, sorry. In (modern) Italian, the participle in a verbal form constructed with the auxiliary essere agrees with the subject.

Renzo si è lavato le mani e si è messo la mascherina, poi è entrato nel negozio.

Lucia si è lavata le mani e si è messa la mascherina, poi è entrata nel negozio.

You could find in old books agreement with the direct object for reflexive verbs, something like

Renzo si è lavate le mani e si è messa la mascherina, poi è entrato nel negozio.

but this is not the current majority usage. Some people might use it, in order to use parlare ricercato (refined speech); I believe it's still an alive form in Tuscany. See Concordanza in the Enciclopedia Treccani. The case of the composite forms of the verb essere itself is a bit different, but it's not this case.

In French the participle agrees neither with the subject (elle) nor with the direct object (les mains): otherwise it would be lavée (which is not wrong, as far as I know) or lavées. Different rules.


Note that when the verb is constructed with the auxiliary avere (for example in the active passato prossimo) the participle usually doesn't agree with the subject. Actually the rule of agreement in this case is quite complex, see Past participle and changing endings with auxiliary verb "avere"

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    According to my French grammar book: « Le participe passé reste invariable si le verbe pronominal est suivi d'un complement d'objet direct. Comparez: - Elle s'est lavée en dix minutes (= elle a lavé elle-même). - Elle s'est lavé les cheveux (= elle a lavé ses cheveux) ». This is the rule to which the OP refers to in the question. – Charo Jun 3 at 21:27
  • The past participle is just lavato and it doesn't require be as auxiliary verb. The passato prossimo for lavare is ho lavato. – kiamlaluno Jun 17 at 14:20
  • @kiamlaluno Here the verb is reflexive/medial and wants the auxiliary essere. – egreg Jun 17 at 14:23
  • Indeed, but it should be more clear there is a difference between that and the passato prossimo or trapassato prossimo. Since the OP is not Italian, the user could think that Maria ha lavata il pavimento. is correct. – kiamlaluno Jun 17 at 14:29
  • @kiamlaluno OK, I added a note with a reference. – egreg Jun 17 at 14:45

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