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Reflexive verbs in Spanish: a quick guide

Reflexive verbs (verbos reflexivos) in Spanish might be tricky for you as it is one of those aspects of grammar that work a little differently in Spanish. But don’t worry, this post will show you how to identify and use reflexive verbs and you will see they are not that tricky after all.

 

Reflexive verbs in Spanish, in their normal form, are quite easy to spot. You only have to look for the “se” added at the end of a verb’s infinitive form. This “se” means that the subject and the object of the verb are… well… the same. To put it simply: it is something we do to ourselves.

 

How do I know if a verb should be reflexive or not?

 

The answer is quite simple, you can’t. The behavior of reflexive verbs in Spanish varies. Many Spanish verbs can be found in both normal and reflexive forms. Then you have some verbs that are almost always reflexive, some that are rarely reflexive, and those in between. Most reflexive verbs describe routines or personal care. This makes sense because these are things that we usually do by ourselves and for ourselves.

 

There are many verbs in this category. You might recognize some of them as they are very common. Below you will find a list of 20 of the most commonly used reflexive verbs in Spanish:

 

English

Español

To leave

Irse

To remember

Acordarse

To feel

Sentirse

To give

Darse

To find

Encontrarse

To stay

Quedarse

To put on

Ponerse

To imagine

Imaginarse

To bathe

Bañarse

To worry

Preocuparse

To dare

Atreverse

To get married

Casarse

To sit down

Sentarse

To wonder

Preguntarse

To get up

Levantarse

To find out

Enterarse

To dedicate

Dedicarse

To get into

Meterse

To believe

Creerse

To get closer

Acercarse

 

 

 

 

How do I use reflexive verbs in Spanish?

 

To use a reflexive verb in Spanish you need a reflexive pronoun. We already know that if the subject and the object are the same then we have a reflexive verb. The reflexive pronoun will help us to link the subject and the object.

 

These are the reflexive pronouns endings depending on the subject:

 

Singular

 

 

 

Subject

Reflexive

subject

Reflexive

1st person

Yo

Me (myself)

Nosotros

Nos (ourselves)

2nd person

Tú/Vos

Te (yourself)

Ustedes/ Vosotros

Se/os (yourselves)

3rd person

Él/Ella

Se (him/her/itself)

Ellos/ Ellas

Se (themselves)

 

Where do I place the reflexive pronoun?

 

Reflexive pronouns are usually placed right before the verb. Here you have some examples:

 

To Worry (preocuparse)

 

Español: No te preocupes por él.

English: Don’t worry about him.

 

Español: Nos preocupa la hora.

English: we are worried about the time.

 

To feel (sentirse)

Context: When we talk about emotions and feelings, not about physical feelings-

 

Español: Me siento muy feliz.

English: I feel very happy.

 

Español: Se sienten tistes por lo que pasó.

English: They feel sad because of what happened.

 

To refer (referirse)

Context: When we speak about something.

 

Español: eso no es a lo que ella se refiere.

English: That’s not what she is referring to.

 

On one hand, it’s important to notice that reflexive pronouns are rarely translated in English. It is common for us to use pressions such as “he gets dressed” (instead of “he dresses himself”) or “they have a bath” (instead of “they are bathing themselves”).

On the other hand, there’s something very important to take into account while using reflexive verbs in Spanish, the meaning. For example, the verb “To leave” can change meaning from its normal form when you use it in its reflexive form. Luckily the difference between “ir” and “irse” is not extreme, but knowing the difference can make the difference.

 

To leave (Irse)

Español: Me voy a casa.

English: I’m going home/ I’m leaving for home.

 

Español: Nos vamos de vacaciones al Caribe.

English: We are going on vacation to the Caribbean.

 

To leave (ir)

 

Español: Voy a yoga todos los días.

English: I go to yoga every day.

 

There are very few verbs than can drastically change meaning while you use them on their reflexive form. This often happens because the verb in question is polysemic, this means that the verb has different meanings. In their normal form the verb is associated with one of its meanings and in their reflexive form is associated with other of its meaning.

 

The verb “quedar” is a good example. “Quedar”, means “to meet” in most cases:

 

Español: Quedamos para almorzar mañana.

English: We are meeting tomorrow for lunch.

 

When we use the same verb in its reflexive form “quedarse” changes to another meaning of the same verb “to stay”:

 

Español: me quede en casa ayer.

English: I stayed home yesterday.

 

 

Back to the placement of the reflexive pronouns. Although placing it before the verb is the most common way there are exceptions to this rule. The reflexive pronoun can go at the end of the verb in these two cases.

 

Infinitive:

Español: Debes cepillarte los dientes todas las noches.

English: You should brush your teeth every night)

 

Español:  No debemos acercarnos, puede ser peligroso.

English: We shouldn’t approach, it might be dangerous.

 

-Imperative:

 

Español: Dime qué sucedió.

English: tell me what happened.

 

Español: Quítense los zapatos antes de entrar.

English: Take off your shoes before you come in. (plural)

 

As you can see if the reflexive pronoun goes at the end of the verb there’s no separation.

 

In some infinitives or gerunds with compound verbs the placement of the reflexive pronoun is optional:

 

She knows how to dress well:

-Ella sabe vestirse bien.

-Ella se sabe vestir bien.

 

They are not staying with us:

-Ellos no se están quedando con nosotros.

-Ellos no están quedándose con nosotros.

 

It is important to point out that it may be confusing to include the use of reflexive particles (me, te, se, nos, les, le) for sentences where they can be combined with direct/indirect objects. The strategy we have found to be more effective is to study first the reflexive case alone, when actions are both done and received by the noun in the sentence, and then move forward to more complex topics. We have guides on Spanish Direct Object and Spanish Indirect Object in our materials section.

 

Spanish reflexive verbs are a very important part of this language. Knowing how to use them and recognize them will improve your communication skills. We advise you to take some verbs from the list above and make some sentences to see if you understood this post.