When conjugating reciprocal verbs like baciarsi and abbracciarsi when the subject is a collective singular noun. Do you use a reflexive pronoun or leave it out?

Reciprocal verbs have a sense that you are doing something to each other and in English they are best translated as such. They kissed each other, they hugged each other, etc. In addition logically, they must also be plural.

What do you do with collective nouns like la famiglia or la coppia? When you conjugate these, they are singular and can't be translated the family hugged each other.

Would it be best to render the following example of the couple hugged each other as la coppia si è abbracciata (with a reflexive sense) or la coppia ha abbracciato?

  • 5
    "La coppia si è abbracciata" makes perfect sense to me; "la coppia ha abbracciato" implies that they hugged someone else or something … who/what did they hug? In these cases you use the reflexive verb as you would use for plural subjects.
    – user193
    Apr 23, 2014 at 19:29

3 Answers 3


Si tratta di un riflessivo reciproco, in cui il soggetto è spesso plurale («Tizio e Caia si abbracciano/amano/salutano») ma può essere dato anche da un nome collettivo, come “coppia” nel caso della domanda. (Si chiama “reciproco” proprio per sottolineare che, tra varie persone, l'azione è compiuta da ognuno verso gli altri e non da ognuno verso sé stesso: si noti la differenza tra il riflessivo reciproco “i bambini si salutano” e il riflessivo diretto “i bambini si lavano”, dove si intende che ognuno lava sé stesso).

Per esemplificare il fatto che non c'è alcun problema a usare il riflessivo reciproco con un nome collettivo, ecco un verso di Dante: «Vieni a veder la gente quanto s'ama!» (Purg., VI, 115).

In English, now:
In Italian there are two main forms of reflexive verbs: riflessivi diretti (the ones in which each of one or more people acts on himself or herself: “i bambini si lavano”, meaning that a number of children wash themselves) and riflessivi reciproci (when each of a number of people acts on all the others: “i bambini si salutano”, meaning that each child greets the others). The two constructions are formally identically, and the difference is only in the meaning.
Most of the times, the grammatical subject of a reciprocal reflexive verb is plural, but it may well be a singular, collective noun, such as coppia in the correct version of your sentence (la coppia si è abbracciata) or gente in Dante's line «Vieni a veder la gente quanto s'ama!» (Purg., VI, 115; which Dorothy L. Sayers translates as «Come, see how all thy people [...] love one another»).

  • Please add a traslation into English, since the question is in English.
    – I.M.
    Apr 27, 2014 at 19:41
  • You are right: done.
    – DaG
    Apr 27, 2014 at 21:03
  • Probably: “a number of children wash themselves” would be more idiomatic.
    – egreg
    May 7, 2015 at 22:28
  • Thanks, @egreg, but are you sure? I wanted to stress that (in that case), out of several children, each one washes himself. Should I rephrase it like I have done here, perhaps?
    – DaG
    May 8, 2015 at 0:30
  • @DaG If a number of children wash themselves there's no ambiguity: it would be a number of children wash each other otherwise.
    – egreg
    May 8, 2015 at 9:24

In Italian language we conjugate these verbs with reflexive ones. "The two girls hugged together" is translated with "le due ragazze si sono abbracciate" and not with "le due ragazze hanno abbriacciato" because the last one implies that the two girls hugged someone else! "the family hugged each other" --> "la famiglia si è abbracciata".


Like all collective nouns, "la coppia" represents a single object, so singular verbs have to be used. eg. "la coppia cammina sulla spiaggia" rather than "la coppia camminano sulla spiaggia")

The verb itself doesn't change, if it's reflexive will stay reflexive. So you say "La coppia si e' abbracciata" (= the couple hugged itself).

  • This is not what the op is asking though. Apr 28, 2014 at 7:04

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