Reflexive vs. Reciprocal | SpanishDict Answers
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6 Vote

So, I've been reviewing how to construct reflexive and reciprocal verbs/phrases, when I noticed that there is no apparent grammatical distinction between a reflexive or a reciprocal phrase (none that I could notice, anyway). While I would assume that context has a lot to do with this, it seems a bit more ambiguous for stand-alone sentences. Here's one example:

"Los estudiantes se ayudan." This is an example from the Reciprocal Verb article from the Reference section, which was translated into "The students help each other." But, could this not also be translated into "The students help themselves?"

So basically, my question is whether or not there is any grammatical difference between a reflexive or reciprocal verb, like in the example. Thanks!

  • Posted Aug 9, 2011
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  • Very good question. Thank you, I learnt from this :-) - billygoat Aug 9, 2011 flag

5 Answers

5 Vote

You're right that they look the same and usually the context shows whether they are being used reciprocally or reflexively - to each other or to yourself/themselves etc.

But here are two useful phrases that can be used to eliminate any ambiguity

A sí mismos shows that the subjects are acting themselves rather than each other.

Se aman a sí mismos. They love themselves.

El uno (or la una) al otro/a means "one to the other" or "each other":

No debemos hacernos eso el uno al otro. We shouldn't do that to each other.

I hope that helps smile

4 Vote

But, could this not also be translated into "The students help themselves?"

I guess, but how unlikely is that? Spanish doesn't have expressions like "help yourself"; a sentence like that would sound like "assist yourself" or "aid yourself". If you check the dictionary, "ayudar" means to cooperate or to bring aid to someone, and you can't not cooperate with yourself, and bring aid to yourself sounds kind of odd. The reflexive interpretation is completely out of the question. I mean, when you say "What's up?", couldn't that be a question about what object is above us? It could, but it is not the most likely interpretation.

So basically, my question is whether or not there is any grammatical difference between a reflexive or reciprocal verb, like in the example. Thanks!

As mentioned before, if the reflexive interpretation is actually plausible, then for reciprocal constructions you can add "el uno al otro", "el uno con el otro", "mutuamente"... and for reflexive ones "a sí mismos".

3 Vote

One might mention when discussing reflexive and reciprocal in general, that reflexive use of verbs can be singular or plural. Reciprocal use of verbs requires a plural verb.

Article disussing the ambiguous nature of the reflexive/reciprocal sentences

2 Vote

Thanks GoldenHawk and Kiwi.

Yet another question I have been struggling with answered right here on SpanishDict.

Kiwi, not a day goes by that I don't see you selflessly giving help to numerous inquisitive minds.

Please accept my heartfelt appreciation.

  • aw thanx, that's lovely of you :) - Kiwi-Girl Aug 9, 2011 flag
  • You are most welcome! - territurtle Aug 9, 2011 flag
  • Hey Terri ru going to join in on our audio thread? http://www.spanishdict.com/answers/200552/interactive-audio-thread-no-6-hilo-de-audio-interactivo-6-social-networking-el-usar-una-red-social#a490821 - Kiwi-Girl Aug 9, 2011 flag
0 Vote

"What's up?", couldn't that be a question about what object is above us? It could, but it is not the most likely interpretation.

Lazarus, I never tire of people answering my question of "What's up?" with "The sky." or "The ceiling." Really. LOL < /end sarcasm>

  • I guess I could have easily come up with thousands of examples, but for some reason, that's the first one that comes to mind. - lazarus1907 Aug 9, 2011 flag
  • Jejeje! - --Mariana-- Aug 9, 2011 flag
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