In this article, you will learn Reflexive Verbs in Spanish with practice examples. Words that express action are verbs. In Spanish, these words end in –ar, –ir, or –er before being conjugated. In a sentence, the subject is the person, place, or thing doing the action. In Spanish, it is especially important to identify the subject because the verb conjugation changes based on the subject.

A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun in a sentence. As an example, Ella replaces “Soniya” in the second sentence:

Soniya tiene que ir a la escuela hoy. Ella se olvidó sus libros en el aula.

All you need to know about reflexive verbs are those three parts of speech.

Reflexive Verbs Spanish
Reflexive Verbs Spanish

When it comes to Spanish reflexive verbs, they are a specific type of verb that refers back to the subject of the sentence.

There is an explanation in the name: reflexive verbs and pronouns reflect back to the subject doing the action. It is therefore always conjugated according to the subject of the sentence:

Nos fuimos del concerto temprano. (We left the concert early)

There are five reflexive pronouns in Spanish:

  • me
  • te
  • se
  • nos
  • and os

The pronoun can be used as a plural or singular pronoun (usted/ustedes or ellos/ellas) as well as a second- or third-person pronoun (el/ella).

The verb conjugation (fuimos) and the reflexive pronoun (nos) match the subject (we). Any given sentence must have a specific subject, which is why it’s so important to know what it is.

What is a reflexive verb?

“Reflexive” sentences involve the subject doing something to himself or herself. This sentence refers to the same person as the subject and the object. A reflexive sentence reflects the action of the verb back onto the subject. In comparison:

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{I\ read\ the\ book.}}$$

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{I\ wash\ myself.}}$$

The verb reading is passed onto the object, the book, in the first sentence. There is no reflexive element in the sentence. In contrast, in the second sentence, the person doing the washing and the person being washed are the same. Reflexivity is evident in the second sentence.

We deal with reflexives in English by adding “himself” or “yourself” to the sentence. The Spanish language uses a special class of verbs called reflexive verbs, which have their own rules.

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Spanish Reflexive Verbs

If you look up “to shave” in a Spanish/English dictionary, you will findrazarse and its “-se” ending indicates it is a reflexive verb. Here are some more reflexive verbs. Take note of the “-se” endings:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{despertarse:-}}\) to wake up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{levantarse:-}}\) to get up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{sentarse:-}}\) to sit down

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{acostarse:-}}\) to go to bed

In conjugating verbs, we must pay special attention to the “-se” at the end of each verb, which is known as a reflexive pronoun.

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Conjugating Reflexive Verbs

When conjugating a reflexive verb, we place the “-se” ending before the verb. After that, we conjugate as we normally would. The process for saying “I shave” is as follows:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ afeitarse.}}\)

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ se\ afeitar.}}\)

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ se\ afeito.}}\)

When someone says “I shave,” it’s understood that they’re talking about shaving themselves. Generally, people don’t say “I shave myself,” but in Spanish, we’re more explicit.

It’s a good start, but we’re not quite there yet. As with the verb ending “-o,” our reflexive pronoun, se, must agree with the subject. The se needs to become me in this case:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ se\ afeito.}}\) I shave.

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ me\ afeito.}}\) I shave myself.

When the subject is yo, the reflexive pronoun becomes me. How about other subjects?

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Spanish Reflexive Pronouns

To compare reflexive pronouns with subject pronouns, here is a list of Spanish reflexive pronouns:

Subject pronouns:

  • yo
  • él, ella, Utd.
  • nosotros,-as
  • vosotros,-as
  • ellos, ellas, Utds.

Reflexive pronouns:

  • me
  • te
  • se
  • nos
  • os
  • se

The following is a complete set of sentences using to shave as the verb:

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ me\ afeito.}}$$

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Tú\ te\ afeitas.}}$$

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Róger\ se\ afeita.}}$$

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Nosotros\ nos\ afeitamos.}}$$

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Vosotros\ os\ afeitáis.}}$$

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Mis amigos\ se\ afeitan.}}$$

The subject, the reflexive object, and the verb ending are all in agreement with reflexive verbs (since the subjects are doing the action to themselves). Here are a few more examples:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Tú\ te\ despiertas.:-}}\) You wake up.

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Ella\ se\ levanta.:-}}\) She gets up.

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Nosotros\ nos\ sentamos.:-}}\) We sit down.

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Ustedes\ se\ acuestan.:-}}\) You go to bed.

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Two things to be aware of before we get any further:

1. Reflexive pronouns are not optional.

Students who are already overwhelmed by remembering verb endings can find this “extra” reflexive pronoun frustrating, so it is often ignored, but we can’t ignore difficulties.

2. Reflexive pronouns do not replace the subject.

There is a difference between Nos and Nosotros. Neither is it an abbreviation.

In which case should you use a reflexive verb or not? The idea that reflexive verbs are used when the subject performs the action on himself/herself is a good starting point, but the truth is that you need to memorize which verbs are reflexive and which ones are not.

If you need to add a reflexive pronoun, you won’t know from the context. Some reflexive verbs are obvious why they are reflexive, while others may make no sense to you at all.

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Common Reflexive Verbs

Here’s a list of commonly used reflexive verbs:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{acostarse:-}}\)  to go to bed

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{afeitarse:-}}\) to shave

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{apurarse:-}}\) to hurry up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{bañarse:-}}\) to take a bath

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{despertarse:-}}\) to wake up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{ducharse:-}}\) to take a shower

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{lavarse:-}}\) to wash up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{levantarse:-}}\) to get up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{peinarse:-}}\) to comb one’s hair

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{ponerse:-}}\) to put on

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{quitarse:-}}\) to take off

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{reirse:-}}\) to laugh

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{secarse:-}}\) to dry off

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{sentarse:-}}\) to sit down

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{sentirse:-}}\) to feel

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{vestirse:-}}\) to get dressed

From the list above, note the following:

  • Many reflexive verbs relate to daily routines, such as washing, combing, drying, etc., and to emotions.
  • There is no obvious reason why some of these verbs are reflexive; they are just that way. You will be better off if you accept that sooner rather than later.
  • The verbs listed below are inherently reflexive and cannot be conjugated in any other way. Additionally, some have non-reflexive forms that convey different meanings. In that regard,

The word ponerse means “to put on,” but it can also mean “to become.”

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Reflexive Verbs As Intensifiers

Sometimes we can “intensify” a verb by adding a reflexive pronoun that isn’t normally reflexive. In addition, reflexive pronouns can convey a sense of “getting” or “becoming”:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{comer:-}}\) to eat

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{comerse:-}}\) to eat up

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{dormir:-}}\) to sleep

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{dormirse:-}}\) to fall asleep

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{enojar:-}}\) to anger

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{enojarse:-}}\) to get angry

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{entristecer:-}}\) to sadden

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{entristecerse:-}}\) to become sad

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{ir:-}}\) to go

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{irse:-}}\) to go away, to leave

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{llevar:-}}\) to carry

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{llevarse:-}}\) to carry away

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{tomar:-}}\) to drink

With -se \(\mathbf{\color{red}{tomarse:-}}\) to drink up, quickly

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Possessive Adjective Replacement

In reflexive verbs, we frequently omit possessive adjectives and use definite articles instead (most often with body parts and clothing). Possessive adjectives are replaced by reflexive pronouns:

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Yo\ me\ seco\ el\ pelo.}}\) – I dry my hair.

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Juana\ se\ lavó\ las\ manos.}}\) – Juana washed her hands.

\(\mathbf{\color{red}{Tú\ te\ pones\ el\ abrigo.}}\) – You put on your jacket.

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Reflexive Pronoun Placement

Reflexive pronouns are also placed before “normal” conjugated verbs. If they are available, they can be attached to present participles and infinitives. The reflexive pronoun must be attached to affirmative commands. Here are some examples:

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{“normal”\ verb}}$$

Example: Él se viste.

Translation: He gets dressed.

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Infinitive}}$$

Example: Él quiere vestirse. or Él se quiere vestir.

Translation: He wants to get dressed.

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Present\ participle}}$$

Example: Él está vistiéndose. or Él se está vistiendo.

Translation: He is getting dressed.

$$\mathbf{\color{red}{Command}}$$

Example: ¡Vístete!

Translation: Get dressed!

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FAQs

What is a reflexive verb example?

It is a reflexive verb when both the subject and object of the sentence are the same. A person is essentially performing the action on themselves. Getting tired, showering, waking up, and dressing are examples of reflexive verbs.

How do reflexive verbs work in Spanish?

When a person performs an action to or for themselves, they use reflexive verbs in Spanish. I get up (myself), he gets dressed (himself), she showered (herself), etc. The reflexive verb has the same direct object as its subject.

What is the difference between reflexive and nonreflexive verbs in Spanish?

A reflexive verb describes how a subject (person) performs an action on itself. Additionally, reflexive verbs end with ‘se’ in their natural (infinitive) form. A non-reflexive verb expresses that an action is performed by a subject and received by a different object. The endings are ‘-ar’, ‘-er’, and ‘-ir’.

Is yo siento a reflexive verb?

“Te siento”, “le siento”, “nos siento”, “os siento” and “les siento” are not reflexive, no matter how you look at them. In order for a reflex to be reflexive, the subject and the object must be the same.