What is a reflexive verb?
Reflexive verbs - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish
A reflexive verb is one where the subject and object are the same, and where the action ‘reflects back’ on the subject. It is used with a reflexive pronoun such as myself, yourself and herself in English, for example,I washed myself.; He shaved himself.
1 Using reflexive verbs
- In Spanish, reflexive verbs are much more common than in English, and many are used in everyday language. The infinitive form of a reflexive verb has se attached to the end of it, for example, secarse (meaning to dry oneself). This is the way reflexive verbs are shown in dictionaries. se means himself, herself, itself, yourself, themselves, yourselves and oneself. se is called a reflexive pronoun.
- In Spanish, reflexive verbs are often used to describe things you do to yourself every day or that involve a change of some sort, for example, going to bed, sitting down, getting angry, and so on. Some of the most common reflexive verbs in Spanish are listed here.
|acostarse||to go to bed|
|bañarse||to have a bath, to have a swim|
|dormirse||to go to sleep|
|ducharse||to have a shower|
|enfadarse||to get angry|
|levantarse||to get up|
|llamarse||to be called|
|secarse||to get dried|
|sentarse||to sit down|
|vestirse||to get dressed|
|Me baño a las siete y media.||I have a bath at half past seven.|
|¡Duérmete!||Go to sleep!|
|Mi hermana se ducha.||My sister has a shower.|
|Mi madre se enfada mucho.||My mother often gets angry.|
|Mi hermano no se lava.||My brother doesn’t wash.|
|Me levanto a las siete.||I get up at seven o’clock.|
|¿Cómo te llamas?||What’s your name?|
|¿A qué hora os acostáis?||What time do you go to bed?|
|Nos vestimos.||We’re getting dressed.|
- Note that se, me and so on are very rarely translated as himself, myself and so on in English. Instead of he dresses himself or they bath themselves, in English, we are more likely to say he gets dressed or they have a bath.
- Some Spanish verbs can be used both as reflexive verbs and as ordinary verbs (without the reflexive pronoun). When they are used as ordinary verbs, the person or thing doing the action is not the same as the person or thing receiving the action, so the meaning is different.
|Me lavo.||I wash (myself).|
|Lavo la ropa a mano.||I wash the clothes by hand.|
|Me llamo Antonio.||I’m called Antonio.|
|¡Llama a la policía!||Call the police!|
|Me acuesto a las 11.||I go to bed at 11 o’clock.|
|Acuesta al niño.||He puts the child to bed.|
Grammar Extra!Some verbs mean ALMOST the same in the reflexive as when they are used on their own.
|Me duermo.||I go to sleep.|
|¿Quieres ir al cine?||Do you want to go to the cinema?|
|Acaba de irse.||He has just left.|
2 Forming the present tense of reflexive verbs
- To use a reflexive verb in Spanish, you need to decide which reflexive pronoun to use. See how the reflexive pronouns in the table on the next page correspond to the subject pronouns.
|Subject pronoun||Reflexive pronoun||Meaning|
|(Yo) me levanto temprano.||I get up early.|
|(Él) se acuesta a las once.||He goes to bed at eleven.|
|Ellos no se afeitan.||They don’t shave.|
- The present tense forms of a reflexive verb work in just the same way as an ordinary verb, except that the reflexive pronoun is used as well.
- For more information on the Present tense, see The present tenses.
- The following table shows the reflexive verb lavarse in full.
|Reflexive forms of lavarse||Meaning|
|(yo) me lavo||I wash (myself)|
|(tú) te lavas||you wash (yourself)|
|(él) se lava|
(ella) se lava
(uno) se lava
(usted) se lava
|he washes (himself)|
she washes (herself)
one washes (oneself)
it washes (itself)
you wash (yourself)
|(nosotros/nosotras) nos lavamos||we wash (ourselves)|
|(vosotros/vosotras) os laváis||you wash (yourselves)|
|(ellos) se lavan|
(ellas) se lavan
(ustedes) se lavan
|they wash (themselves)|
they wash (themselves)
you wash (yourselves)
- Some reflexive verbs, such as acostarse, are irregular. Some of these irregular verbs are shown in the Verb tables in the middle section.
3 Position of reflexive pronouns
- In ordinary tenses such as the present simple, the reflexive pronoun goes before the verb.
|Me acuesto temprano.||I go to bed early.|
|¿Cómo se llama usted?||What’s your name?|
- For more information on the Present simple tense, see The present simple tense.
- When telling someone NOT TO DO something, you also put the reflexive pronoun BEFORE the verb.
|No te levantes.||Don’t get up.|
|¡No os vayáis!||Don’t go away!|
- When telling someone TO DO something, you join the reflexive pronoun onto the end of the verb.
- For more information on the Imperative, see The imperative.
TipWhen adding reflexive pronouns to the end of the imperative, you drop the final -s of the nosotros form and the final -d of the vosotros form, before the pronoun.
- You always join the reflexive pronoun onto the end of infinitives and gerunds (the -ando or -iendo forms of the verb) unless the infinitive or gerund follows another verb.
|Hay que relajarse de vez en cuando.||You have to relax from time to time.|
|Acostándose temprano, se descansa mejor.||You feel more rested by going to bed early.|
- Where the infinitive or gerund follows another verb, you can put the reflexive pronoun either at the end of the infinitive or gerund or before the other verb.
|Quiero bañarme or Me quiero bañar.||I want to have a bath.|
|Tienes que vestirte or Te tienes que vestir.||You must get dressed.|
|Está vistiéndose or Se está vistiendo.||She’s getting dressed.|
|¿Estás duchándote? or ¿Te estás duchando?||Are you having a shower?|
- For more information on Gerunds, see The gerund.
- Note that, when adding pronouns to the ends of verb forms, you will often have to add a written accent to preserve the stress.
- For more information on Stress, see Stress.
4 Using reflexive verbs with parts of the body and clothes
- In Spanish, you often talk about actions to do with your body or your clothing using a reflexive verb.
|Se está secando el pelo.||She’s drying her hair.|
|Nos lavamos los dientes.||We clean our teeth.|
|Se está poniendo el abrigo.||He’s putting on his coat.|
- Note that in Spanish you do not use a possessive adjective such as my and her when talking about parts of the body. You use el, la, los and las with a reflexive verb instead.
|Me estoy lavando las manos.||I’m washing my hands.|
- For more information on Articles, see Articles.
5 Other uses of reflexive verbs
- In English we often use a passive construction, for example, goods are transported all over the world, most of our tea is imported from India and China.
In Spanish, this construction is not used so much. Instead, very often a reflexive verb with se is used.
|Aquí se vende café.||Coffee is sold here.|
|Aquí se venden muchos libros.||Lots of books are sold here.|
|Se habla inglés.||English is spoken here.|
|En Suiza se hablan tres idiomas.||Three languages are spoken in Switzerland.|
- Note that the verb has to be singular or plural depending on whether the noun is singular or plural.
- For more information on the Passive, see The passive.
- A reflexive verb with se is also used in some very common expressions.
|¿Cómo se dice “siesta” en inglés?||How do you say “siesta” in English?|
|¿Cómo se escribe “Tarragona”?||How do you spell “Tarragona”?|
- se is also used in impersonal expressions. In this case, it often corresponds to one (or you) in English.
|No se puede entrar.||You can’t go in.|
|No se permite.||You aren’t or It isn’t allowed.|
- For more information on Impersonal verbs, see Impersonal verbs.
- nos, os and se are all also used to mean each other and one another.
|Nos escribimos.||We write to one another.|
|Nos queremos.||We love each other.|
|Rachel y Julie se odian.||Rachel and Julie hate each other.|
|No se conocen.||They don’t know each other.|
- A reflexive verb is made up of a reflexive pronoun and a verb.
- The reflexive pronouns are: me, te, se, nos, os, se.
- The reflexive pronoun goes before the verb, except when you are telling someone to do something and with infinitives and gerunds.