Introduction to Pronominal Verbs
Pronominal means related to pronouns, therefore, a pronominal verb is always accompanied by a pronoun. These pronouns are called reflexive pronouns.
Let's start off with these important points:
1- The term reflexive does NOT ALWAYS mean that the subject acts on himself (the subject and the object are the same).
2- It rather means that the pronoun reflects on or more accurately matches the subject. In other words, the pronoun changes to agree with its respective subject.
3- Based on the above and as we will discuss below, it's absolutely imperative to keep in mind that NOT every pronominal verb is a reflexive verb.
4- The fact is that, reflexive verbs are only on subtype of pronominal verbs.
The infinitives of pronominal verbs are characterized by having a 'se' at the end. e.g. sentarse, volverse, hacerse, limpiarse, ducharse....etc.
The part of the verb WITHOUT the 'se' is conjugated to match the tense, mood, and the subject, while the 'se' takes the form of the reflexive pronoun that agrees with the subject.
- Subject .............Reflexive Pronoun
- Ella, Él, usted..............Se
- Ellas, Ellos, Ustedes....Se
- Nosotros............... ..Nos
Note that reflexive pronouns are the same as direct object pronouns except for the change of (lo, los, la, las) to se.
- Ducharse: to shower
- I shower : (Yo) me ducho.
- Matching reflexive pronoun: me.
Duchar conjugation for 'Yo' in simple present indicative is: ducho
They shower: (Ellos) se duchan
- Subject: Ellos.
- Matching reflexive pronouns: se
Duchar conjugation for 'ellos' in simple present indicative: duchan
We shower: (Nosotros) nos duchamos.
- He/ she/ you (formal) shower: (él/ella/usted) se ducha.
- They/ you all (formal) shower: (ellos/ellas/ustedes) se duchan.
- You all (informal) shower: (vosotros) os ducháis.
- You (informal) shower: (tú) te duchas.
Important Uses of Pronominal Verbs
1- Intrinsically pronominal verbs: These verbs are originally pronominal and cannot function otherwise. e.g.
Arrepentirse and suicidarse. Suicidar alone without the 'se' is not a Spanish verb, it doesn't exist.
2- Pronominal use imparting a whole new meaning to the original verb:
Some verbs when used pronominally give a totally different meaning, e.g,
- Acordar: to agree. Acordarse: to remember.
- Saltar: to jump. Saltarse: to skip
- Volver: to turn, to come back. Volverse: to become.
- Empeñar: to give. Empeñarse: to insist.
- Other examples are: dejar(se), disponer(se), despedir(se)... etc.
3- Pronominal construction for emphasis. To emphasize the action. e.g,
- Comer: to eat. Comerse: to eat up. Beberse, fumarse.
4- Pronominal reflexive verbs.
The subject and the object are the same person. As you can see by now, reflexive verbs are only one type of pronominal verbs.
Lavarse, bañarse, quitarse, atarse, afeitarse...etc.
Me lavo el pelo. I wash my hair (I wash myself the hair). Se lava las manos (he washes his hands). Os laváis la cara (you all wash your faces)
5- Pronominal reciprocal verb. Reciprocity of the action, i.e, two or more subjects act on each other/ one another.
Se besan: they kiss each other/ one another.
Nos amamos: we love each other.
1- This is not an exhaustive description of pronominal verbs, it's only an introduction.
2- Please don't confuse pronominal verbs with passive se (e.g. se venden coches usados), impersonal se (e.g. se habla español aquí), and accidental se (se me rompió el vaso)
3- There are other uses of pronominal verbs which are better be left for advanced levels.