I always thought that dimenticare follows the same past forming rule as other mind verbs like pensare (ho pensato), ragionare (ho ragionato), credere (ho creduto).

In Italy I encountered the form mi sono dimenticato and I was puzzled. Why is this form used? Why is it reflexive? Which one is the correct form and why?


There are other similar forms:

  • mangiare: ho mangiato una mela as opposed to mi sono mangiato una mela

  • perdere: che cosa ho perso? as opposed to che cosa mi sono perso?

Note that perdersi has also a reflexive meaning, like in mi sono perso nel bosco (I got lost in the wood). A translation of che mi sono perso? would be “What did I miss?”, there's no difference in English; it would be used, for instance, by someone that arrives lately to a meeting and asks what has happened before his/her arrival. Note that che cosa ho perso? would sound rather strange in this context.

The form mi sono mangiato una mela used to be frowned upon in schools, but it's legitimate Italian and conveys a different idea about why I ate an apple.

  • ho mangiato una mela just states the fact,

  • mi sono mangiato una mela can mean that I wanted to eat an apple or that I was quite satisfied by eating it.

A similar difference is between ho dimenticato and mi sono dimenticato: the former is ‘objective’, while the latter is ‘subjective’. For dimenticare/dimenticarsi the difference is not so great as for mangiare/mangiarsi. In any case, the medial form (not to be confused with the reflexive, although they share the conjugation) puts greater emphasis on the subject than on the object.

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    Notice that Cosa ho perso? can be translated as "What did I lose?" while Cosa mi sono perso? could be translated with "What did I miss?" For example, if I am together my friends, I step away, and when I return I find them laughing for some reasons, I could ask Cosa mi sono perso? – kiamlaluno Dec 21 '13 at 7:22

"Mi sono dimenticato" is not a special form of past, it's the regular past of the pronominal verb "dimenticarsi"; "dimenticare" (transitive) and "dimenticarsi" (intransitive, with "di" preposition) have usually similar meaning, but with some differences of usage.

Accanto alla forma attiva, è frequente la coniug. pronominale dimenticarsi, che si costruisce sia transitivamente (per es.: mi son dimenticato il libro, mi son dimenticata la lezione), con sign. non dissimile dalla forma attiva (ho dimenticato il libro, ho dimenticato la lezione), sia intransitivamente con la prep. di, e in questo caso ha spesso sign. diverso: mi son dimenticato del libro (non mi sono ricordato di comperare, di portare, di mandare il libro); mi son dimenticato della lezione (m’è passato di mente che dovevo andare alla lezione, che era l’ora della lezione e sim.). Seguito da di e l’infinito può avere la coniug. attiva o pronominale senza diversità di sign.: ho dimenticato (o mi son dimenticato) di scrivergli; dimenticavo (o mi dimenticavo) di dirti un altro particolare.


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    Like ho mangiato una mela and mi sono mangiato una mela; the former is more neutral, it conveys only the fact, the latter suggests that I wanted to eat an apple or that I was satisfied in eating it. – egreg Dec 20 '13 at 10:33
  • @egreg thanks for the clarification of the difference between the 2 forms. I think I understand now. – symbiotech Dec 20 '13 at 12:09

They are both correct, and they are both used in common speaking. The main difference between these two forms is that with ho dimenticato you emphasize the object (what I forgot), instead mi sono dimenticato puts the emphasis on the subject (me).

So, for example, you will say "Scusa mi sono dimenticato dell'appuntamento" because you want to highlight that you forgot the meeting. In the other hand, you will say "Ho dimenticato l'appuntamento e ora devo chiedere scusa", in this case you emphasize the cause, why you will have to apologize.

Event thought, they are both used, and also in my examples both forms can fit.

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