Pronominal Verbs/Reflexive Pronouns

Pronominal Verbs/Reflexive Pronouns


Based on some of the posts that I have read regarding this subject there seems to be some confusion on the subject of Pronominal Verbs. If you are unfamiliar with pronominals then I suggest looking at the reference article on reflexive verbs. What follows is not meant to be taken as an exhaustive approach to the subject but rather a summary/introduction. I would recommend reading and have provided links to the related reference articles throughout this text. Do not take this as an authoritative work. This is simply my own understanding of the subject set down in a comprehensive way. If anyone finds mistakes with what I have written or asserted, please feel free to make note of any errors that you may find.

Pronominal verbs are verbs that are accompanied by a reflexive pronoun (see link to reflexive verbs above). These verbs will often carry a reflexive meaning. Reflexive means that the subject and the object of the verb are the same person, or that the action is turned back (reflected) onto the subject of the sentence and is somewhat analogous to the English pronouns of myself, yourself, himself etc.

afeitarse - to shave (oneself)

Puedo bañarme solo - I can bathe myself

Tengo que acostarme - I have to go to bed (put myself to bed)

Te pusiste la camiseta - You put on the t-shirt (put the t-shirt on yourself)

Pronominal verbs can often be translated by preceding the meaning of the verb with the English become/became, get/got and grow/grew

Se aburrió - He got bored

Me enfadé/enojé - I became/got angry

Te vestiste - You got dressed

Se cansó - She grew/became/got tired

Tengo que acostarme - I have to get to bed

Most (but not all) reflexive verbs correspond to intransitive verbs - verbs that don't have a direct object. The reflexive pronouns are in the same form as the direct object pronouns except in the third person and the second person formal which uses se for both the singular and plural. In the conjugated form the reflexive pronoun normally precedes the verb, and it can act as either the direct or indirect object:

Se afeitó - He shaved (himself) [D.O.]

Me quité el vestido - I took off my coat [I.O.]

Reflexive pronouns can also have a reciprocal meaning: each other/one another.

Se bañaron can mean either

They bathed (themselves) - [reflexive] or

They bathed (each other) - [reciprocal]

To avoid confusion, it is often necessary to add a phrase such as:

a sí mismos - [reflexive]

el uno al otro or los unos a los otros - [reciprocal]

So the phrases above become:

Se bañaron a sí mismos - They bathed themselves (They took baths)

Se bañaron el uno al otro - They bathed one another (They gave each other baths)

Pronominal Verbs often have non-reflexive and non-reciprocal meanings. Instead they can be used to reinforce the involvement of the subject to the action of the verb. A reflexive pronoun can be added to a transitive verb to

Emphasize the entire action:

Compro los sábados - I shop on Saturdays

Me compro los alimentos los sábados - I buy groceries (for myself) on Saturdays

The reflexive pronoun se can also be used to express the passive voice with things and ideas. In this case se represents the object and the subject of the sentence and requires a corresponding verb tense (i.e. the subject and verb must match in number).

Se venden uvas acá - Grapes are sold (over) here

Se hizo ese carro de Detroit - That car was made in Detroit

It can also be used to form impersonal expressions when followed by a singular verb.

¿Cómo se dice en español? - In Spanish, how is it said (how do you say)?

Se dice así en español - In Spanish, it is said like that (we say)

No se permite fumar cerca del edificio - Smoking is not allowed near the building/No smoking by the building

updated JUN 12, 2017
edited by Izanoni1
posted by Izanoni1
Thank you. I need all the help I can get on this. - quépasa, OCT 2, 2009
great Isan, eres el mejor! - 00494d19, OCT 27, 2009
This is wonderul! - --Mariana--, OCT 27, 2009
Very helpful Izan. :) - galsally, ENE 9, 2011
Thanks Iza :) - Kiwi-Girl, OCT 8, 2011
The "passive voice" is the most helpful. Many thanks. - Tenniswall, DIC 26, 2012
What a wonderful and detailed explanation! Muchas gracias! - joygogo, SEP 28, 2013

6 Answers


I am posting some more example sentences using pronomial verbs. I think that having examples to look at and making examples of our own makes learning a lot easier.

If anyone else would like to practice writing sentences using the topics listed above, please, feel free to add to this. grin

Florecen las flores y endulzan el aire y luego se marchitan. - The flowers bloom and sweeten the air and then fade.

Los niños se tendian tranquilamente a sus pies - The children would lie quietly at her feet.

Se subió al pescante y luego se durmió. - He climbed into the driver's seat and then fell asleep.

updated JUN 12, 2017
edited by Izanoni1
posted by Izanoni1

I noticed that when I originally wrote this, I included as part of the description the term "reflexive verb." I am now of the mind that such a term is a bit of a misnomer as there is nothing inherent in the verb itself that would lead to this conclusion. It seems more accurate to refer instead to reflexive pronouns as it is the pronoun which signals that the action specified by the verb is reflected back onto (coincides with) the subject.

updated FEB 12, 2015
posted by Izanoni1

Izan, can you post this , maybe copy and paste? as a reference article again? It cannnot be just changed, but please post it again with the changes you wish to make, I will include it in the reference articles or learning resources.

Gracias amigosmile

updated ENE 9, 2011
posted by 00494d19

Clearly written and a wonderful simple explanation. I truly appreciate your knowledge of grammar. I have put this post in my reference folder.

updated OCT 27, 2009
posted by Daniel
Thanks Daniel...can you think of any example sentences of your own that you would be willing to post so that we can add to the examples on this thread. - Izanoni1, OCT 27, 2009
Probably later: I have to go on some structural inspections now. - Daniel, OCT 27, 2009
OK, Thanks - Izanoni1, OCT 27, 2009

This is great! Sometimes I need clarification on my reflexives.

updated OCT 27, 2009
posted by yvonneibe7

Sorrie I cant help:-( I just take spanish 1b!!! confused

updated OCT 2, 2009
posted by guitarhero2120
It´s not an attack, I think it would be a nice addition to a reference article. Many many people are stumbling over this. - quépasa, OCT 2, 2009
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