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¡Hola, amigas y amigos de SpanishCompadres.com! In this post, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about Spanish reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs can be one of the most complex aspects of Spanish learning, but don’t worry. After reading this post, you’ll feel confident enough to start using them in real life interaction with Spanish speakers.

According to the Real Academia Española (RAE), Spanish reflexive verbs do not exist as a verb category on their own. Reflexive sentences and reflexive pronouns do exist though. Reflexive sentences are defined as those that express an action that has an effect on the same entity designated by the subject. Examples: Ayer me lavé el pelo (Yesterday, I washed my hair) / El culpable se ahorcó (The offender hanged himself). Reflexive pronouns are personal pronouns that, functioning as complements of the verb, are preceded by the subject of the sentence. Examples: Se lavó las manos antes de comer (He/She washed his/her hands before eating) / Me he bañado en el río (I have bathed in the river) / Piensas demasiado en ti mismo (You think too much about yourself).

Let’s find out more about Spanish reflexive sentences and pronouns.

 

Table of contents

 

Spanish so called reflexive verbs: a word of caution

According to Real Academia Española’s (Spanish Royal Academy’s) “Nueva gramática de la lengua española”, published in 2009, reflexive verbs do not exist as a category on their own. Instead verbs are classified, according to their syntactic function, into three categories:

  1. Transitive verbs: they require an object in order to convey meaning. Example: Tú recibiste la carta (You received the letter). In this example, the transitive verb is “recibiste” and the object is “la carta”. 
  2. Intransitive verbs: they are not compatible with a direct object. Example: Juan llora (Juan cries). In this sentence, the intransitive verb is “llora”. This verb isn’t compatible with a direct object. Therefore, it’s intransitive.
  3. Copulative verbs: they don’t have a meaning of their own and act only as a link between the subject and the predicate. These verbs are “ser” (to be), “estar” (to be), and “parecer” (to seem). Example: Elizabeth es bonita (Elizabeth is pretty). In this example, the copulative verb is “es”, a conjugation of “ser”.

So called Spanish “reflexive” verbs are simply transitive verbs whose object has the same referent as the subject. Example: Enrique se duchó (Enrique took a shower). In this example, the transitive verb is “duchó” and the object is the same as the subject, i.e. “Enrique”. The reflexive pronoun “se” indicates that the sentence is reflexive. “Se” is equivalent to “himself”, “herself”, “itself” or “themselves”. In this case, a literal translation would be: Enrique showered himself.  

 

Spanish reflexive sentences

Spanish reflexive sentences are sentences in which the action falls on the same subject that performs the action. Examples:

  • Nos tomamos fotos en el viaje. (We took pictures of ourselves on the trip.)
  • Se sintió ofendida por los comentarios. (She felt offended by the comments.)
  • Te ha ido bien. (You’ve done well.) 

In the examples, the personal pronouns “nos”, “se”, and “te” act as reflexive pronouns. They complement the verb by indicating that the action falls on the same subject that performs it. Spanish reflexive pronouns indicate that a sentence is reflexive.

 

Spanish reflexive pronouns

A reflexive pronoun is a personal pronoun which is generally preceded by the explicit or implicit subject of the sentence or clause in which it occurs. Spanish reflexive pronouns can be both unstressed or stressed:

  • Examples of unstressed Spanish reflexive pronouns:
    • María se peinaba (María combed her hair or, literally, María combed herself)
    • Tú te afeitas todos los días (You shave everyday or, literally, You shave yourself everyday)  
    • Nosotros nos vamos de viaje todos los verano (We go on a trip every summer)
  • Examples of stressed Spanish reflexive pronouns:
    • La atraje hacia con suavidad (I gently pulled her towards me)
    • Tu hermana solo piensa en sí misma (Your sister only thinks of herself)

 

List of Spanish reflexive pronouns

#1 me

  • Reflexive pronoun: me
  • Subject pronoun: yo (I)
  • English equivalent: myself
  • Example: Yo me ducho a las seis (I take a shower at six)

#2 te

  • Reflexive pronoun: te
  • Subject pronoun: Tú (you, singular)
  • English equivalent: yourself
  • Example: Te comiste una empanada (You eat an empanada)

#3 se

  • Reflexive pronoun: se
  • Subject pronoun: usted, él, ella, ello, ellos, ellas, ustedes [you (singular, formal), he, she, it, they, you (plural, both formal and informal)]
  • English equivalent: yourself, himself, herself, itself, themselves, yourselves
  • Examples: 
    • Usted se acuesta temprano (You go to bed early)
    • Él se afeita en el baño (He shaves in the bathroom)
    • Ella se baña en la noche (She bathes at night)
    • Ellas se duermen en el trabajo a veces (They fall asleep at work sometimes)
    • Ustedes se deben cuidar (You must take care of yourselves)

#4 nos

  • Reflexive pronoun: nos
  • Subject pronoun: nosotros (we)
  • English equivalent: ourselves
  • Example: Nos tomamos un refresco en el restaurant (We had a soft drink in the restaurant)

 

#5 os (formal, used only in Spain)

  • Reflexive pronoun: os
  • Subject pronoun: vosotros (you, plural, very formal used in Spain only) 
  • English equivalent: yourselves
  • Example: Os enfadas con facilidad (You get angry easily)

 

List of frequent so called Spanish reflexive verbs (verbos pronominales)

#1 acostarse

  • English equivalent: to go to bed
  • Example: Los niños se acuestan temprano (Children go to bed early)

#2 acordarse 

  • English equivalent: to remember
  • Example: Me acordé de tu cumpleaños (I remembered your birthday)

#3 afeitarse

  • English equivalent: to shave
  • Example: Me afeito día por medio (I shave every other day)

#4 bañarse

  • English equivalent: to bath
  • Example: Me baño en el río (I bathe in the river)

#5 dormirse, quedarse dormido

  • English equivalent: to fall asleep, to go to sleep
  • Example: Ellos se quedan dormidos en el trabajo (They fall asleep at work)

#6 ducharse

  • English equivalent: to take a shower
  • Example: ¿Te duchas todos los días? (Do you take a shower everyday?)

#7 enfadarse, enojarse

  • English equivalent: to get angry, to get upset
  • Example: Ella se enojó conmigo (She got angry with me)

#8 gustarse

  • English equivalent: to like
  • Example: ¿Te gustan los helados? (Do you like ice cream?)

#9 lavarse

  • English equivalent: to wash oneself
  • Example: ¿A qué hora van a lavarse? (What time are you going to wash?)

#10 hacerse

  • English equivalent: to make
  • Example: Me haces reír (You make me laugh)

#11 levantarse

  • English equivalent: to get up
  • Example: Ellos se levantan muy temprano (They get up really early)

#12 llamarse

  • English equivalent: to be called
  • Example: Yo me llamo Ruperto (My name is Ruperto or I am called Ruperto)

#13 secarse

  • English equivalent: to dry oneself
  • Example: Debes secarte el pelo (You must dry your hair)

#14 sentarse

  • English equivalent: to sit down
  • Example: ¿Quieres sentarte? (Would you like to sit down?)

#15 sentirse

  • English equivalent: to feel
  • Example: No te sientas mal por eso (Don’t feel bad about that)

#16 vestirse

  • English equivalent: to get dressed
  • Example: ¡Vístete! (Get dressed!)

 

Position of Spanish reflexive pronouns

 

  • Affirmative sentences: before the verb. Example: Ella se sienta en el sillón. (She sits on the armchair).
  • Negative sentences: before the verb. Example: Ella no se sienta en el sillón. (She doesn’t sit on the armchair).
  • Commands: after the verb. Example: Siéntese en el sillón. Sit on the armchair.

 

    • Requests: before or after the verb. Examples: ¿Me puedo sentar en el sillón? or ¿Puedo sentarme en el sillón? (May I sit on the armchair?) 

 

  • Questions: before the verb. Example: ¿Se quiere sentar en el sillón? (Would you like to sit on the armchair?)
  • After verb + preposition: after the verb. Example: ¿Vas a sentarte en el sillón? (Are you going to bathe?)

 

  • Before verb + preposition: before the verb. Example: ¿Te vas a sentar en el sillón? (Are you going to sit on the armchair?)

 

Frequent mistakes with Spanish reflexive pronouns

A frequent mistake (even made by non-totally-proficient native speakers) is using two reflexive pronouns instead of one. Example:

  • ¿Me puedo sentarme aquí? (INCORRECT)
  • ¿Puedo sentarme aquí? or ¿Me puedo sentar aquí? (CORRECT)

You can use two “te” reflexive pronouns with the past tense of verbs. Examples:

  • Te sentaste en mi sillón (You sat on my armchair) 
  • Te ganaste un premio (You earned a prize)
  • ¿Te quedaste hasta el final? (Did you stay until the end?)

 

Let’s practice Spanish reflexive sentences and pronouns

Instructions: read the following sentences and choose the correct alternative (answer key below questions).

#1 ¿Puedo sentar__ aquí? (Can I sit here?)

  1. se
  2. me
  3. te

#2 __ ducho todos los días. (I take a shower everyday)

  1. te
  2. se
  3. me

#3 ¡Láva__ las manos antes de comer! (Wash your hands before eating!)

  1. te
  2. me
  3. nos

#4 ¿A qué hora __ levantas? (What time do you get up?)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#5 ¡Apúra__! (Hurry up!)

  1. me
  2. se
  3. te

#6 ¿A qué hora __ levantas? (What time do you get up?)

  1. te
  2. me
  3. nos

#7 __ llamo Juan. (My name’s Juan)

  1. Se
  2. Me
  3. Te

#8 Nosotros __ tomamos fotos en vacaciones. (We take pictures of ourselves on vacation)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#9 Mi esposa __ compra ropa en el mall. (My wife buys clothes for herself in the mall)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#10 ¿Ustedes __ van a casar?) (Are you getting married?)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#11 __ ganaste un premio (You earned a prize)

  1. Nos
  2. Me
  3. Te

#12 Ellos __ divierten mucho (They have a lot of fun)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#13 Quéda__, por favor (Stay, pease)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#14 ¡Vámo__! (Let’s go)

  1. se
  2. te
  3. nos

#15 Debes afeitar__ para verte mejor. (You must shave to look better)

  1. te
  2. se
  3. nos

Answer key

1b 2c 3a 4b 5c 6a 7b 8c 9a 10b 11c 12a 13b 14c 15a 

 

Conclusion

Learning how to use reflexive sentences and reflexive pronouns will greatly improve your Spanish, since this is considered an advanced topic in Spanish language learning. Reflexive sentences express an action that has an effect on the same person, animal or thing that performs it. Reflexive pronouns are personal pronouns that are preceded by the subject of the sentence. Examples: Se lavó la cara en la mañana (He/She washed his/her face in the morning) / Me he bañado en playa (I have bathed at the beach) / Debes hacerlo por ti mismo (You must do it on your own). Some verbs, like “acostarse”, “ducharse”, “vestirse” often occur with reflexive verbs. We have selected the most frequent ones for this post, but there are many others. Spanish reflexive pronouns may occur before or after a verb, but keep in mind that you must use them just once and not repeat them in the sentence (Example: “Me voy a levantar” and notMe voy a levantarme”).

 

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