3 Vote

When telling someone to brush their teeth before bed, my guess is that you would say, "Cepíllate los dientes." But if you say, "Cepilla los dientes," aren't you basically saying they can brush any set of teeth they can find? So I'm guessing the first one is the right way to say it. Can anyone tell me which is correct?

  • Posted Apr 7, 2011
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8 Answers

3 Vote

Is there a link here for reflexive verbs? There was another category that I heard you use one time, but I can't remember what you called it. May I ask why it doesn't make sense to call cepillarse a reflexive verb?? Is it because you can also perform that verb on someone else?

The question is "what is a reflexive verb"? If you check English grammars, you'll find many definitions, but the most common ones include "a verb in which the one who does the action is also affected by it", or "a verb that has a direct object that refers to the subject", or "a verb with a reflexive pronoun as an object". I have a few problems with this.

First, there is nothing reflexive about the verb. The only reflexive part is the reflexive pronoun; the verb remains the same. These three sentences are the same, except for in the first one, he sees me, in the second one he sees you, in the third one, he sees him, and in the fourth one he sees himself. The verb is always the same and always has the same meaning. What is the difference between these sentences? The object pronoun used, not the verb.

[Él] me mira.

[Él] te mira.

[Él] la mira.

[Él] se mira.

But for some funny reason, instead of saying that we are using a reflexive pronoun or a reflexive object -which is what we are really using-, we call the verb reflexive. Well... the verb is exactly the same. Only the object has changed from non-reflexive to reflexive. In the following three sentences, again I am changing only the pronoun, but the third one looks like a non-reflexive one (recall "[Él] me mira"), because there is only one first person singular: me.

[Yo] la veo.

[Yo] te veo.

[Yo] me veo.

So, summing up: if you reflect the action towards the subject with a reflexive pronoun (or a pronoun that happens to be used reflexively, like "me"), instead of saying precise that, we say that what is reflexive is the verb, even though it is exactly the same as when you don't use pronouns. This definition probably suits verbs like "I pride myself on...", where the construction does not have a non-reflexive counterpart (you don't pride others on something), but it is pointless in all other cases.

Part of the problem with this is that many people end up believing that there is something special about these verbs, and they have to be learnt separately from the non-reflexive verbs, so they work twice as hard trying to learn the same verbs, believing that they belong to two categories, instead of simply saying "If you want to do things on yourself, use the same verb as usual, but use a reflexive pronoun", which is a lot easier.

But this is not so bad. It get worse when you apply this term with verbs that are not even reflexive. The so-called reflexive pronoun in Spanish has many functions, and being reflexive is just one of them. When you say "Me caso", it doesn't mean that you are marrying yourself, and "El vaso se cayó" does not mean "The glass fell itself". Those translations make absolutely no sense, and no native of Spanish would even consider interpreting those sentences like that. We don't see any "reflexivity" in these cases. But people continue calling them reflexive, because they happen to have the pronoun, and they get extremely confused when they try to make sense out of them.

These verbs are called pronominal and not reflexive for a good reason. The name simply suggests that they go with a pronoun, which is true, but the pronoun is not there to be reflexive. This time, the pronoun keeps the action with the subject, instead of acting on other people. You can marry your daughter, but if you say "Me caso", you are not marrying other people; the action of marrying stays with you, i.e. you are getting married. This may sound unnecessary in English, but that's the way it works in Spanish. In the case of "caerse", a simple "caer" indicates downward motion as it happens, but this is an intransitive verb, and since you don't "fall" other things, you don't have to specify that the falling stays with the subject, because it always does. For intransitive verbs, the pronoun generally focuses on the transitional point where the action becomes relevant, rather than the action in progress. Thus, "caerse" makes you consider the point where the object went from being in equilibrium to losing it. Similarly, "dormir" is the action in progress, and "dormirse" is changing from being awake to begin asleep, i.e. "to fall asleep". In English you do this transition by falling from one state into another; in Spanish, "se" indicates this transition.

My suggestion. "Normal" verbs (i.e. non-pronominal ones) can sometimes take direct objects, and then we should be talking about verbs used in transitive constructions, and if there is no direct object, verbs used in intransitive constructions. Pronominal verbs are a type of intransitive verbs, where the "se" has functions that have little to do with reflexivity. In these cases, it is customary to regard the pronoun as part of the verb, rather than an attached pronoun. This is particularly advisable in pairs like "acordar" (to agree) and "acordarse" (to remember), where not even their meanings seem to be related (actually they were, but that's another story).

2 Vote

Yes, that's it. If you're brushing your own teeth or your own hair you use cepillarse. If you're brushing someone else's teeth or hair it's just cepillar.

2 Vote

Cepíllate (with the accent mark on the i)

2 Vote

Cepillarese is a reflexive verb, so the tú command is ¡Cepíllate los dientes!. So you are correct SiempreApren.

2 Vote

"Cepíllate los dientes" = Brush your teeth

"Cepilla los dientes" = Brush the teeth (you'll have to figure out which ones first)

By the way "cepillarse" is not a reflexive verb, but a normal verb with a reflexive direct object pronoun attached at the end. This pronoun can be used in many ways:

Tienen que cepillarse los dientes el uno al otro = They have to brush each others' teeth

Hay que cepillarse los dientes a diario = One has to brush his/her teeth every day

The first "cepillarse" is used in a reciprocal construction, and the second one in an impersonal one. It doesn't make sense to call "cepillarse" a reflexive verb.

1 Vote

Here is a link to the reference section on reflexive verbslink text

1 Vote

Cepillar is a transitive verb, but it can be used too as a pronominal verb.

In your example it is used as a pronominal verb (cepillarse), and that is why the correct form would be:

Cepíllate los dientes.

  • PRONOMIAL!! That's the word I was looking for in my above response to lazarus1907. Thanks, LuisCacheux! I think I need a lesson on this, because this site says that "cepillarse" IS reflexive. - SiempreApren Apr 7, 2011 flag
  • They are somehow similar . But of course there are some differences between them. - LuisCache Apr 7, 2011 flag
0 Vote

Isn't that funny, Lazarus1907 - I was taught that it was a reflexive verb way back in the day when we wrote on stone tablets with rocks. I'm brushing up on my creaky vocab and grammar while cleaning the cobwebs out of the corners of my brain.

Is there a link here for reflexive verbs? There was another category that I heard you use one time, but I can't remember what you called it. May I ask why it doesn't make sense to call cepillarse a reflexive verb?? Is it because you can also perform that verb on someone else?

Thanks, Rachel

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