Reflexive verbs can be a particularly tricky part of the Spanish language for beginners to master!
Here is a simple and straightforward guide to help you master reflexive Spanish verbs in no time. Adding these types of verbs into your Spanish vocabulary is sure to make you sound a great deal more proficient and get you one step closer to sounding as close to a native speaker as possible!
Keep reading to learn what these verbs are and why we use them, to determine what different forms you can use, to find a list of common reflexive verbs, and to find lots of examples of reflexive sentences and helpful media.
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A reflexive verb is one where the action of the verb is preformed on oneself. AKA when you are talking about reflexive actions!
For example, if you wash a car, the verb is lavar. If you wash yourself, however, the verb (in its infinitive form) is lavarse!
This ‘se’ attached to the end of the verb is the reflexive pronoun – more details on that later! It indicates that the subject of this sentence (you, in this case) is preforming the verb action on themselves (yourself, in this case).
Therefore, in a reflexive sentence, the subject of the sentence and the object of the sentence are the same!
You can also use this the other way around to predict if you should be using a reflexive or non-reflexive verb in a sentence. If the subject and the object are the same in a sentence, you should be using or looking for a reflexive verb!
When an action is being preformed by 2 or more subjects on themselves, it is called a reciprocal verb! So whenever you say we do this to ourselves, you (all) do this to yourselves, or they do that to themselves, the verb is a reciprocal verb.
Reciprocal verbs are just a form of reflexive verbs. The only difference is that ‘reciprocal’ is the technically correct term to describe the verb if its a group of people (2 or more), instead of just one person preforming an action on themselves.
For all intents and purposes, reciprocal verbs are usually just referred to as reflexive verbs and will be for the rest of this guide, as well!
In English we often leave out the subject pronoun. For example, English speakers don’t usually say I am getting myself dressed or I am showering myself. We typically just say I’m getting dressed or I’m showering, etc.
Spanish is it’s own, unique and beautiful language, though, and how you speak in your native language (whether that is English or another language!) will never be a 1 to 1 match for how you should speak in Spanish. To truly immerse yourself in a language and learn it well, we must learn to separate our target language from our native language. We must learn to think and act in our target language and not in our own.
In Spanish, you must always include reflexive pronouns whenever you use a reflexive verb and and you cannot swap a reflexive verb for a non-reflexive one for the same meaning. It is how the language was created. Including reflexive pronouns with reflexive verbs makes sentences clear and straightforward for anyone listening to or reading the language.
In general, a reflexive verb is just a verb where the subject and object of the sentence are one in the same, as mentioned above.
Most verbs can be both reflexive and non-reflexive! As we read up top, ‘lavar’ means to wash. If you wash yourself, the verb becomes reflexive and is now ‘lavarse‘.
It is important to check if a verb you are learning has both a reflexive and a non-reflexive form, as whichever form it takes will lead to a different meaning. Some verbs take very different meanings depending on if they are reflexive or not. For example, ‘volver’ means to return, but ‘volverse‘ means to become!
You can most easily see if a verb is a reflexive or non-reflexive verb (or both!) in any dictionary. If the verb ends in one of the three verb endings (IR, AR, or ER), its a non-reflexive (regular) verb. If it has a se ending (e.g ponerse), it is a reflexive verb!
This bit on the end of the reflexive verb, –se, is called the reflexive pronoun as mentioned above. When you make a sentence, depending on who the subject of your sentence is, you may need to change this to a different pronoun! Below is a chart with all of the Spanish reflexive pronouns.
As you can see, if you are washing yourself, if they are washing themselves, or if I am washing myself, the reflexive pronoun will always be different.
In general, you will place this immediately before the conjugated verb. For example: Me lavo la cara todas las noches. – I wash my face every night.
Even in a negative sentence, you will keep this pronoun in front of the verb and you will place ‘no’ before the pronoun before the verb. Example: No me lavo la cara todas las noches. – I dont wash my face every night.
There are three main exceptions to this rule, though!
You do not place the reflexive pronoun immediately before the conjugated verb if:
- you are using the imperative form (i.e if you are giving a command) -> Lorena, lávate las manos antes de comer. – Lorena, wash your hands before eating.
- you are using the progressive form -> Se está lavando la cara ahora mismo. – He is washing his face right now.
- you use the infinitive form of the verb (for example, in the case of two verbs) -> Olvidé lavarme las manos antes de la cena. – I forgot to wash my hands before dinner.
If you are just starting out in Spanish though, there is no need to memorize these exceptions right now.
If you are a bit more advanced, then you can try to commit these to memory, but as you learn about each exception (the imperative, progressive, and double verb leading to an infinitive) you will naturally understand why they are exceptions and how each sentence should naturally flow.
You would conjugate these verbs just like any other verb!
In order to do this, you need to find the infinitive and then attach the proper verb ending, according to the subject of the sentence and the tense you are using.
Below is a quick recap of the present tense conjugations for AR, IR, and ER verbs!
If you are ever unsure, you can use any dictionary (my personal favorite is SpanishDict) or Google any conjugation chart for any specific verb. Some verbs are irregular, so be sure to double check conjugation, unless you know it is a regular verb!
As you will see, there are a lot of reflexive verbs to be found in our daily routines! Most personal care tasks take the reflexive form in Spanish, because you are often doing an action to or on yourself.
Take a moment to try to think what actions you do daily that you think will be reflexive verbs in Spanish. I am sure you can guess many of these below!!
- Abrigarse (to bundle up [warm])
- Aburrirse (to be bored)
- Acostarse (to go to bed)
- Afeitarse (to shave)
- Asustarse (to be frightened or worried)
- Caerse (to fall down or fall over)
- Cepillarse (to brush ones hair or teeth)
- Conocerse (to know oneself or to know each other)
- Contarse (to tell or share with one another)
- Cuidarse (to take care of oneself)
- Casarse (to get married)
- Desinteresarse (to be disinterested or to lose interest)
- Despertarse (to wake up)
- Divertirse (to enjoy oneself)
- Dormirse (to fall asleep)
- Fijarse (to pay attention)
- Insultarse (to insult one another)
- Irse (to leave)
- Lastimarse (to hurt one another)
- Lavarse (to wash oneself)
- Levantarse (to get up)
- Llamarse (to be named)
- Maquillarse (to put on makeup)
- Negarse (to decline or refuse)
- Olvidarse (to forget)
- Peinarse (to comb or style one’s hair)
- Pelearse (to fight one another)
- Ponerse (to put clothes on or to get/be a certain emotion)
- Quedarse (to stay)
- Quitarse (to take off clothing or move out of the way)
- Reírse (to laugh)
- Saludarse (to greet one another)
- Secarse (to dry off)
- Sentarse (to sit)
- Sentirse (to feel)
- Vestirse (to get dressed)
- Volverse (to become)
I will end this post by offering lots of examples of reflexive verbs that I hope will help you master this aspect of Spanish grammar!
The first example is the most simple and each example sentence from that first sentence increases in difficulty. Going from simple verbs in present tense to more complex sentences with perhaps the past tense or auxiliary verbs or a special type of verb, etc.
– ¿Por qué siempre me siento cansado? – Why do I always feel tired?
– Mateo se peina con el peine de su padre. – Mateo combs his hair with his father’s brush.
– Trabajamos duro, pero también nos divertimos. – We work hard, but we also play hard (literally ‘we also enjoy ourselves’).
– Sí, ¡te olvidaste del resto de nosotros! – Yeah, you forgot about the rest of us!
– El edificio se cayó tras el terremoto. – The building fell down after the earthquake.
– Los artistas se maquillan ellos mismos antes de cada función. – The artists put on their own makeup before each performance.
– De hecho, jamás me sentí mejor en toda mi vida. – Actually, I have never felt better in my whole life.
– No nos conocemos, pero he leído mucho sobre ti. – We have never met, but I have heard a lot about you.
– El programa era tan aburrido que me dormí. – The program was so boring that I fell asleep.
– A veces, los padres se lastiman entre sí o lastiman a sus hijos. – Sometimes, parents hurt each other or hurt their kids. (* Notice the reflexive and non-refelxive verb use here?!)
– Si usted está apurado, hay más posibilidad de caerse. – If you are in a rush, there is more a chance to fall down.
– ¿cómo te volviste tan valiente así de repente? – How did you get so brave all of a sudden?
– El paciente se siente revitalizado y vigoroso después de despertarse. – The patient feels revitalized and strong after waking up.
– Sin embargo, incluso cuando los recursos son escasos, nos negamos a darnos por vencidas. – Nonetheless, even when resources are scarse, we refuse to give up.
– Todos nos distraemos y es mejor reirse y suavemente re-enfocarse. – We all get distracted, its best to laugh at yourself and gently refocus. (Triple whammy here with 3 reflexive verbs!)
Lastly, at the end of this guide here, I want to offer some more help in the form of media and worksheets!
Check out these great videos:
- ‘Reflexive Verbs Made Easy With a Song!‘ by Señor Jordan
- Reflexive Verbs in Spanish by The Language Tutor
And these awesome lessons and exercises:
- Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns at Spanish Dict
- Reflexive Verbs Excercises at Lingolia
- Pronombres reflexivos at Todo Claro
Try to look at different types of reflexive verbs, work on identifying and understanding the subject and object of a sentence, perhaps even hang a small list of reflexive verbs above your desk! Go through worksheets, write your own sentences, and be on the lookout in any text you read and media you watch or listen to for any examples.
All of these small tasks are different ways to ensure you master this topic in no time!
And be sure to check out my master post of Spanish resources here for even more Spanish resources and help:
That page includes tons of links to external sites, as well as every post on Plurilingualism that could help you with Spanish learning!
¡Buena suerte y diviértete aprendiendo español!
And don’t forget to check out my language learning printables on Etsy for some extra, fun resources to help you with learning Spanish! 🙂
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Let’s be friends! 🙂