Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Reflexive verbs are one of those aspects of grammar that work a bit differently in Spanish than in English. But don't let that put you off! As you're about to see, learning to use reflexive verbs in Spanish is probably much easier than you expect.

girl looking in mirror girl looking in mirror

What Are Reflexive Verbs?

Let's start with the basics. What does it mean for a verb to be "reflexive"? The answer is quite straightforward: a verb is reflexive when its subject and its object are the same. In other words, when a subject performs an action (or orders an action to be performed) on itself, that action is represented by a reflexive verb. For example, if you are bathing yourself, bathing would be a reflexive verb because it applies to you (the subject) and yourself (the object).

In the same way you used subject pronouns when you first learned to conjugate Spanish verbs, you will need to learn reflexive pronouns to conjugate reflexive verbs. The reflexive pronouns in Spanish (and their corresponding subject pronouns) are:

Singular

Plural

Subject

Reflexive

Subject

Reflexive

1st person

Yo

Me (myself)

Nosotros

Nos (ourselves)

2nd person

Tú/Vos

Te (yourself)

Vosotros/Ustedes

Os/Se (yourselves)

3rd person

Él/Ella

Se (him/her/itself)

Ellos/Ellas

Se (themselves)

Which Verbs Are Reflexive?

Many verbs in Spanish can be reflexive. They are usually the ones that describe routines or personal care. This makes sense, since all that is really needed for a verb to be reflexive is that it allows the subject and the object to be the same.

Some verbs almost always act as reflexive verbs, while others can vary their behavior from reflexive to non-reflexive.

How Can A Non-Reflexive Verb Become Reflexive?

For a verb to be able to become reflexive, it needs to be transitive. A transitive verb is any verb which can take an object.

As explained above, a verb becomes reflexive when its object and its subject refer to the same entity. Once this happens, reflexive pronouns come into place.

Here are some examples of common reflexive verbs used in both their reflexive and their non-reflexive forms:

  • Bañar - To bathe
    • Reflexive: Me baño con agua caliente. - I bathe myself with hot water.
    • Non-reflexive: Baño a mi gato con agua tibia. - I bathe my cat with warm water.
  • Cortar (To cut)
    • Reflexive: Me corté cocinand.o - I cut myself cooking.
    • Non-reflexive: Corté la zanahoria. - I cut the carrot.
  • Sentar (To sit)
    • Reflexive: Ella se sienta en primera fila. - She sits (herself) in the front row.
    • Non-reflexive: Ella sienta a su hija en la silla. -She sits her daughter on the chair.
  • Peinar (To comb)
    • Reflexive: Tú te peinas todos los días. - You comb (yourself) every day.
    • Non-reflexive: Tú peinas a tu perro todos los días. - You comb your dog every day.
  • Despertar (To wake up)
    • Reflexive: Ellos se despiertan a las 9 a.m. - They wake (themselves) up at 9 a.m.
    • Non-reflexive: Ellos despiertan a sus hijos a las 9:30 a.m. - The wake their children up at 9:30 a.m.
  • Inscribir (To enroll)
    • Reflexive: Vosotros os inscribisteis en la Universidad. - You enrolled (yourselves) in college.
    • Non-reflexive: Vosotros inscribisteis a vuestros amigos en el curso. - You enrolled your friends in the course.
  • Vestir (To dress)
    • Reflexive: Él se viste solo. - He dresses himself alone.
    • Non-reflexive: Ella viste a su hijo. - She dresses her son.
  • Preocupar (To worry)
    • Reflexive: Nosotros nos preocupamos por ti. - We worry (ourselves) about you.
    • Non-reflexive: Ella preocupa a sus amigos. - She worries her friends.
  • Preguntar (To ask)
    • Reflexive: Debes preguntarte si eso está bien. - You should ask yourself if that is right.
    • Non-reflexive: Debes preguntar a tu maestra si eso está bien. - You should ask your teacher if that is right.
  • Mirar (To look)
    • Reflexive: Mírate en el espejo. - Look at yourself in the mirror.
    • Non-reflexive: Mira por la ventana. - Look through the window.

Placement Of Reflexive Pronouns

As you can see in the previous examples, the reflexive pronoun is usually placed right before the verb.

But rules, especially grammar rules, tend to have exceptions. You can see this in the last two examples, which use an infinitive and an imperative form:

  • Infinitive: Debes preguntarte si eso está bien. (You should ask yourself if that is right.)
  • Imperative: Mírate en el espejo. (Look at yourself in the mirror.)

While reflexive pronouns are always attached to the end of the verb when an affirmative order is given (in an imperative phrases), this is optional when using infinitives or gerunds with compound verbs:

  • He knows how to dress well:
    • Él sabe vestirse bien.
    • Él se sabe vestir bien.
  • You are waking up early:
    • Estás despertándote temprano.
    • Te estás despertando temprano.

Now that you know this, puedes enseñarte (you can teach yourself) how to use reflexive verbs in Spanish!

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