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Published on: Grammar

How to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Reflexive verbs, along with reflexive pronouns, are constantly used by Spanish native speakers. They are more common in Spanish language than English itself. In this article, we will provide you with a complete guide to master Spanish reflexive verbs.

Reflexive verbs are verbs in which the subject and the object are the same. In other words, the action of the verb is reflected back on to the subject who started it, not passed on to another object.

The reflexive verbs in Spanish always go together with reflexive pronouns. A reflexive pronoun is used as part of a reflexive verb to indicate that someone is performing an action on himself/herself.

As we already mentioned, reflexive verbs and reflexive pronouns are more commonly used in Spanish grammar than in English. Many are constantly expressed in everyday conversations, but it is really important to keep in mind that a Spanish reflexive verb may not always be translated reflexively in English.

If you are already thinking about the mess you got yourself into by studying this language, worry no more! Fortunately we are here with a practical and simple guide of everything you need to know about reflexive verbs.

Understanding the Spanish Reflexive Verb and Reflexive Pronoun

The reflexive verbs in Spanish are used to describe an action the subject does to itself, or to put it plain and simple, the one who executes and receives the action is the same person.

A verb can be easily identified as reflexive when in its infinitive form has the ending –se attached to it, for example, despertarse (to wake oneself up), and they generally are used to describe the daily routines of the subject.

The following are some of the most common reflexive verbs people use:

●     despertarse (to wake up) ●     lavarse (to wash up)
●     levantarse (to get up) ●     secarse (to dry)
●     sentarse (to sit up) ●     ponerse (to put)
●     afeitarse (to shave) ●     quitarse (to take out)
●     acostarse (to go to bed) ●     sentirse (to feel)
●     vestirse (to get dressed) ●     llamarse (to be called)

The reflexive pronouns and reflexive verbs always go together in a sentence, both in Spanish and English.

Conjugation of the Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

We conjugate the reflexive verbs by keeping the verbs in their infinitive forms and use the reflexive pronoun according to the subject. In the following table the reflexive pronouns are shown in relation to the subject.

Subject pronouns Spanish Reflexive Pronouns English Reflexive Pronouns
Yo Me myself / oneself
Te yourself
Él / Ella / Usted Se himself/herself/itself
Nosotros/as Nos ourselves
Vosotros/as Os yourselves
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes Se themselves

Example:

  • Yo me lavo las manos: I wash my hands.
  • Tú te lavas las manos: You wash your hands.
  • Él/Ella se lava la cara: He/She washes his/her face.
  • Nosotros nos lavamos los pies: We wash our feet.
  • Vosotros os laváis los brazos: You wash your arms. (Used only in Spain)
  • Ustedes se lavan las manos: You wash your hands. (Used mostly in Latin America)
  • Ellos/Ellas se lavan las manos: They wash their hands.

 

Having a distinction between formality and informality is a very common characteristic in a language. Learn all you need to know about Tú vs Usted.

Reflexive Pronoun placement in a sentence

Even though a reflexive pronoun is usually placed before the reflexive verb as was shown in the examples above, there are certain exceptions to the rule:

1.    With imperatives (commands):

  • Hazte de cenar antes de salir con tus amigos: make yourself dinner before going out with your friends.

For imperatives in the negative form, the reflexive pronoun have to be placed between the “no” and the conjugated verb, for example:

  • ¡No te acuestes tarde!: Don’t stay up late!
Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

2.    With progressive verbs (present or past)

  • Me estaba bañando cuando tocaron el timbre: I was having a bath when the doorbell rang.
  • Estoy preparándome para la boda: I am getting ready for the wedding.

3.    With the verb in infinitive:

  • Para vestirse con clase es necesario tener buen gusto: To get dressed with class it is necessary to have good taste.

4.    With object pronouns (direct / indirect)

In this case the reflexive pronoun is used in the same way as a direct or indirect object pronoun in the sentence. When reflexive pronouns are used with direct or indirect object pronouns, the reflexive pronoun is always placed first. For example:

  • Voy a aprender a tocar la guitarra. Ya me lo propuse para este año: I am going to learn to play the guitar. I’ve already planned it for this year.
  • Me la vi toda anoche (la serie de TV): I watched it all (the TV series)

Examples of how to form Spanish reflexive verbs

Here are some examples of the use of a reflexive verb. You will notice that they are part of your daily conversations and often go unnoticed.

To identify reflexive verbs you would need to distinguish the reflexive pronoun that goes before the verb.

In this case, we are going to exemplify the reflexive verb lavarse (to wash oneself). Different from lavar (to wash).

Personal Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun SPANISH ENGLISH
I yo Me baño I take a bath
You (Tú) te Te bañas You bathe
He / She se Se baña Bathing
You (Usted/es) se Se baña Bathing
We se Nos bañamos We bathe
You (Vosotros) os Os bañáis You bathe
They se Se bañan They bathe
Image by Robson Hatsukami Morgan via Unsplash
  • Me baño todas las mañanas: I take a bath every morning.
  • Tú te bañas en la tarde: You take a bath in the afternoon.
  • Él se baña en el trabajo: He takes a bath at work.
  • Ella se baña todos las noches en su habitación: She takes a bath every night in her room.
  • Usted se baña frecuentemente: You bathe frequently.
  • Nosotros nos bañamos con agua fría: We bathe in cold water.
  • Ellas se bañan en el río: They bathe in the river.

In another case, it is also common for reflexive pronouns to be placed at the end of the verb, as we can see in the following sentences:

  • Voy a bañarme rápido: I’m going to take a quick bath.
  • Ella está bañándose: She is taking a bath.
  • Ellos están bañándose juntos: They are bathing together.
  • Vamos a bañarnos en el río: Let’s go to bathe in the river.

For the cases above, pronoun placement is not that important as long as they are added correctly to the conjugated verb. Nonetheless, this pronoun change could be done only if using compound verbs.

Actions that refer to personal care or all actions that are performed routinely are reflexive since the subject performs the action on itself. The subject and object of the verb represent the same entity and the action of the verb involves both.

  • Él se lava las manos cada mañana: He washes his hands every morning.
  • Te maquillas antes de salir: You put on make-up before you go out.
  • Se habla de política: We talk about politics
  • Yo me veo la cara en el espejo: I see my face in the mirror.
  • Ellas se acuestan a dormir temprano: They go to bed early.
  • Ustedes se visten para salir: You get dressed to go out.

A sentence must have a reflexive verb which is indicated with the “se” particle attached to the end of it. Hence, acostarse is a reflexive verb. The “se” particle will be replaced by the appropriate reflexive pronoun.

Still having trouble understanding these two important Spanish verbs? Discover the differences between “Ser” and “Estar” in Spanish and how to use them correctly.

However, “acostar” is not a reflexive verb given its lack of “se” particle. The subject is performing the action on someone else. In this case, we never use a reflexive pronoun.

The verb is reflexive:

  • Yo me acuesto temprano: I go to bed early.

“Yo” is both subject and object.

The verb is non-reflexive:

  • Yo acuesto al bebé temprano: I put the baby to bed early.

“Yo” is the subject and “bebé” is the object

As mentioned before, reflexive verbs require the use of reflexive pronouns at the end of the infinitive form to indicate that the subject and the object are the same. See some examples with verbs that are commonly reflexive.

A reflexive pronoun can be added at the end of a non-reflexive verb to make it reflexive

Here are some examples:

Verb in infinitive Reflexive verb
Hablar (to talk) Hablarse (to talk to oneself)
Ir (to go) Irse (to leave/to go away)
Dormir (to sleep) Dormirse (to fall asleep)

Uses of the Reflexive verbs

Now that we have explained what are the reflexive verbs and how to form them, let us show you in what kind of real-life scenarios are mostly used:

1. Reflexive verbs for actions that someone performs on him/herself

Activities related to personal care or daily routines, for example:

  • Cada mañana me cepillo los dientes: I brush my teeth every morning.

2. Reflexive verbs that denote an emotional response

  • Me enamoré de María: I fell in love with Maria.
  • Ella se enojó: She got angry.

3. Using reflexive verbs to add emphasis on an action

  • ¡Me comería una tarta entera por el hambre que tengo!: I would eat a whole cake because I’m starving!

            We can also use the word “mismo” in a sentence to highlight the reflective aspect of an action:

  • Debes tratarte a ti mismo con mucho cuidado después de la cirugía: You must treat yourself with great care after surgery.

4. Reflexive verbs that show reciprocal actions

Those are used to indicate an action carried out by two or more subjects at the same time to each other. For example:

  • Mi hermano y yo nos peleamos por el último pedazo de torta en la nevera: My brother and I fought each other over the last piece of cake in the fridge.
Image by Allen Taylor via Unsplash

Keep in mind that since the actions performed are reciprocal, the sentences always include the reflexive pronouns nos and se.

Other reciprocal reflexive verbs like the following are some of the most commonly used:

●     Lastimarse (to hurt each other) ●     Conocerse (to know each other)
●     Golpearse (to hit each other) ●     Contarse (to say/tell each other)
●     Saludarse (to say hello to each other) ●     Insultarse (to insult each other)

It is also worth noting that in Spanish there is no need to add reciprocal phrases such as: entre sí, el uno al otro (with each other), etc. at the end of the sentence, since reciprocal reflexives tell us already that two subjects are performing the action on each other.

  • Karla y yo nos vimos esta tarde: Karla and I met this evening.

The only reason those terms may be used is used to emphasize who receives the action.

  • José y Pablo se conocen muy bien el uno al otro: Jose and Pablo know each other very well.

In Conclusion

Using reflexive verbs is a task that requires a lot of dedication, and although at first, some concepts may be confusing, with a little practice and the guidance of native Spanish-speaking teachers you will see how your comprehension skills improve considerably.

Spanish is a fascinating language, mastering it will give you another perspective; you will have a better competitive position and the opportunity to get to know new places, people, and cultures.

If you’re ready to take your practice to the next level, our team can support you. Try a free private class or 7-day trial of our group classes to see why thousands of students trust SpanishVIP.

 

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