Reflexive Verbs and Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive Verbs and Their Pronouns

Reflexive verbs use reflexive pronouns to indicate that someone or something is performing an action on or for itself. These types of verbs are not very common in English, but are used frequently in Spanish. Many actions related to personal care or daily routines are reflexive, but other verbs can be reflexive as well.

SpanishEnglish
Me ducho cada mañana.
 
I shower every morning.
Te peinas antes de salir.
 
You brush your hair before going out.
Se hablaba.
 
He was talking to himself.
Yo me veo en el espejo.
 
I see myself in the mirror.

In these sentences, the subject performs the action on itself, and the subject and object of the verb refer to the same entity. Compare two sentences in which one is reflexive and one is not.

SpanishEnglish
Reflexive
Yo me lavo.
 
I wash myself.Yo (I) is the subject of of the verb lavar (wash) and me (myself) is the object.
Not Reflexive
Yo lavo el perro.
 
I wash the dog.Yo (I) is the subject of of the verb lavar (wash) and el perro (the dog) is the object.

Match your Pronouns

When the object of the verb is the same entity as the subject, you will need to use a reflexive pronoun that matches the subject of the verb in both number (singular or plural) and person (1st, 2nd, 3rd).

Number and PersonSpanishEnglish
Singular, First
Me lavo.
 
I wash myself.
Singular, Second (Informal)
Te lavas.
 
You wash yourself.
Singular, Third OR Singular, Second (Formal)
Se lava.
 
He washes himself./She washes herself./It washes itself./You wash yourself.
Plural, First
Nos lavamos.
 
We wash ourselves.
Plural, Second (Informal)
Os laváis.
 
You wash yourselves.
Plural, Third OR Plural, Second
Se lavan.
 
They wash themselves./You wash yourselves.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns have the same forms as indirect object pronouns, with the exception of se, which is used instead of le and les for the third person. The reflexive pronoun will always be the same number (singular or plural) and person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) as the subject of the sentence.

Reflexive Pronoun Forms

PersonSingular PronounsPlural Pronouns
1st Personme  (matches with yo)nos  (matches with nosotros)
2nd Personte  (matches with ) OR se  (matches with usted)os  (matches with vosotros) OR se  (matches with ustedes)
3rd Personse  (matches with él or ella)se  (matches with ellos or ellas)

Reflexive Pronoun Uses

Reflexive verbs require the use of reflexive pronouns to indicate that the direct object of the verb is also the subject (in other words, the subject is performing the action on himself or herself). The reflexive pronoun has to be the same grammatical person as the verb ending.

VerbExample
lavarse  (to wash one’s self)Me lavo las manos.  (I wash my hands.)
sacarse  (to take something off one’s self)Nos sacamos los guantes.  (We take our gloves off)
despertarse  (to wake up)Se despiertan a las seis cada mañana.  (They wake up at six o’clock every morning.)

As mentioned before, you can also add reflexive pronouns to verbs not regularly reflexive in order to make them reflexive.

verse
to see one’s self
 
hablarse
to talk to one’s self
 
escribirse
to write to one’s self
 
comprarse
to buy (something) for one’s self
 

Reflexive verbs can also be used to indicate an emotional response to something. When a person becomes angry, sad, happy, etc., you can express this by using reflexive verbs.

Me enojé rápidamente.
I got angry quickly.
 
Te alegras de hablar español.
It makes you happy to speak Spanish.
 
Se aburre en la clase de matemáticas.
He gets bored in math class.
 

Reflexive pronouns can also be used to add emphasis to a seemingly regular situation. The pronouns are not normally translated directly into English, but the sense of something extra is there in Spanish.

Comí el pastel.
I ate the cake.
 
Me comí el pastel.
I ate up the cake/I ate the whole cake.
 
Estúdialo.
Study it.
 
Estúdiatelo.
Really study it./Study it thoroughly.
 

Reflexive Pronoun Placement

Reflexive pronouns are placed immediately before simple conjugated verbs and negative commands.

Yo me quito los guantes.
I take off my gloves.
 
te afeitas la cara.
You shave your face.
 
No te pegues.
Don't hit yourself.
 
No se preocupe.
Don’t worry yourself.
 

Reflexive pronouns are attached to the end of affirmative commands and, in the case of compound verbs like the present progressive, the pronoun can either be attached to the end of the infinitive or present participle or go before the conjugated verb.

SpanishEnglish
Quítate el sombrero.
 
Take off your hat.
Estoy duchándome.  OR Me estoy duchando. I am showering.
Voy a sentarme.  OR Me voy a sentar. I am going to sit (myself) down.

Reflexive Verb Examples

Below is a list of common reflexive verbs. This is not a complete list, but rather a reference give you an idea of the kinds of verbs that are reflexive.

aburrirse de
to get bored with
 
despertarse
to wake up
 
enojarse con
to get mad at
 
quitarse@
to take off
 
acordarse de
to remember
 
destaparse
to uncover
 
irse
to leave
 
reponerse
to get better
 
acostarse
to go to bed
 
desvestirse
to get undressed
 
limarse
to file
 
secarse
to dry off
 
afeitarse
to shave
 
disgustarse de
to become upset about
 
maquillarse
to put on makeup
 
sentarse
to sit down
 
alegrarse de
to be glad about
 
distraerse
to distract oneself
 
mirarse
to look at oneself
 
sostenerse
to support
 
bañarse
to bathe
 
divertirse
to enjoy oneself
 
olvidarse de
to forget about
 
subirse
to get up
 
cepillarse
to brush
 
dormirse
to go to sleep
 
peinarse
to comb one's hair
 
taparse
to cover up oneself
 
convertirse en
to become
 
ducharse
to shower
 
torcerse
to twist
 
enfermarse
to become ill
 
probarse
to try on
 
vestirse
to get dressed
 
despedirse
to say good-bye
 
enloquecerse
to go crazy
 
ponerse
to put on
 
volverse
to become
 

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