Not the favorite topic of Spanish students, especially coming from a language without a common equivalent – Reflexive verbs are indeed an important grammatical topic to get your head around pretty early on.
Reflexive verbs are simply when the subject of the verb is also its object. What does this mean? Let’s start off slow and work our way forward with some easy examples.
A reflexive verb requires a reflexive personal pronoun, and these are:
Yo → me
Tú → te
Él / ella → se
Nosotos → nos
Ellos / ellas → se
Ustedes → se
Note that 3 of the examples are “se”, thus will be used ½ of the time.
As noted above, reflexive verbs are the verbs where the action of the verb back to the subject. In simple terms, this means that the person doing the action is also the person who receives the action.
- Yo me lavo. – I wash myself.
- Ellos se visten. – They dress themselves. (They get dressed)
- Yo me baño. – I bathe. (myself)
In Spanish some verbs use the reflexive form, but not in English, but still have the same reflexive idea, the action of the verb back to the subject.
- Yo me acuesto temprano. - I go to bed early.
- Ella se acercó mucho a la baranda. – She came very close to the railing.
- Los niños se cepillaron los dientes antes de dormir. – The children brushed their teeth before bed.
Reflexive pronouns generally precede the verb in the simple tenses. In its original form the verb ends in “se” and change the “se” by the reflexive pronouns that we saw previously.
For example for the verb: Acostarse:
Yo me acuesto – I go to sleep (I put myself to sleep)
Tú te acuestas – You go to sleep (You put yourself to sleep)
Él / ella se acuesta – He/she goes to sleep (He/she puts their self to sleep)
Nosotros nos acostamos – We go to sleep (We put ourselves to sleep)
Ellos / ellas se acuestan – They go to sleep (They put themselves to sleep)
Ustedes se acuestan – You(pl) go to sleep (You put yourselves to sleep)
NOTE: when the statement is negative, “no” comes before the reflexive pronoun.
- Los niños no se acostaron temprano. – The children did not go to sleep early.
- Él no se bañó hoy. – He did not bathe today.
- Nosotros no nos disfrazamos para Halloween. – We do not dress up for Halloween.
When a reflexive verb is used as an infinitive, the reflexive pronoun is attached to the end of the infinitive or placed before the conjugated verb. Both forms are accepted.
- Tú no quieres acostarte temprano. / Tú no te quieres acostar temprano. – You do not want to go to sleep early.
- Voy a bamarme. / Me voy a bañar. – I´m going to take a bath.
- Queremos levantarnos ahora. / Nos queremos levantar ahora. – We want to get up now.
When the reflexive verb is used in a progressive tense, the reflexive pronoun is attached to the end of the present participle (gerund) or placed before the conjugated verb. When it is attached to the gerund, an accent mark is required. Both forms are accepted.
- Estoy lavándome la cara. / Me estoy lavando la cara. – I am washing my face.
- Ella estaba acostándose cuando llegué. / Ella se estaba acostando cuando llegué. – She was going to bed when I arrived.
When the reflexive verb is used in a compound tenses like the present prefect etc. the reflexive pronoun comes before the conjugated form of the helping (auxiliary) verb “haber”.
- En este día ella se ha bañado como tres veces. – On this day she has bathed about three times.
- Ellos ya se habían acercado a mí antes de hacerlo yo. – They already had approached me before I did.
- Tú no te has afeitado como en cien años. – You have not shaved in about a hundred years.
When the reflexive verb is used in affirmative commands, reflexive pronouns follow the verb and are attached to it. In negative commands, reflexive pronouns precede the verb. Affirmative commands with more than two syllables have a written accent over the stressed vowel.
- Báñate temprano por favor. – Bathe early please.
- No te bañes temprano por favor. – Do not bathe early please.
- Lávense las manos. – Wash your hands.
- No se laven las manos. – Do not wash your hands.
Common Spanish reflexive verbs to put in your back pocket:
apresurarse – to hurry up
acercarse – to approach
acordarse de – to remember
acostarse – to go to bed
afeitarse – to shave
avergonzarse de – to be embarrassed
asustarse / espantarse – to be frightened
ahogarse – to drown, to choke
atreverse a – to dare
aburrirse – to bore (someone)
aprovecharse de – to take advantage of (an opportunity)
arrepentirse de – to regret, to be sorry, to repent
asegurarse de – to secure, to assure, to make sure
acostumbrarse a – to be in the habit, to get accustomed
burlarse de – to make fun of
bañarse / ducharse – to take a shower
comportarse / portarse – to behave
callarse – to be silent, to keep quiet
cepillarse – to brush
casarse con – to marry, to get married
cansarse (de) – to wear out, to get tired
concentrarse – to concentrate
chocarse – to crash
cuidarse – to look after oneself, take care of oneself
confundirse – to mistake
disfrazarse – to dress up, to disguise
despertarse – to wake up
divertirse – to enjoy oneself
dormirse – to fall asleep
derretirse – to melt
derretirse por – to fall madly in love
despedirse de – to say goodbye
detenerse – to stop
dedicarse – to devote oneself to
enojarse / enfadarse (con) – to get angry (with)
esforzarse – to exert oneself
encontrarse con – to meet
equivocarse – to be mistaken, be wrong, make a mistake
encargarse de – to be in charge (with/of), to take care
echarse – to pour (spill) on oneself
ejercitarse – to train, to practice
enamorarse de – to be in love with, to fall in love with
ganarse la vida – to make a living
hacerse/convertirse en – to become
irse / marcharse – to leave, to go away
imaginarse – to imagine, to suppose
lavarse – to wash oneself
levantarse – to get up
llamarse – to be name, to called
maquillarse / pintarse - to put on makeup
molestarse – to mad
negarse a – to refuse to
ocuparse de – to attend to, to be concerned with, to busy oneself with
peinarse – to comb one’s hair
preocuparse por – to worry
ponerse – to put on (clothing), to wear
ponerse (triste, feliz…..) – to become
ponerse a + infinitive – to begin to
ponerse en marcha (en camino) – to start out, to set out
quejarse – to moan (pain), to complain
quedarse – to stay, to remain
quitarse – to take off (clothing)
reunirse – to join in / to meet up
reirse de – to laugh at
rendirse – to surrender
recostarse – to recline, to lie down, to lie back, to rest
sentirse – to feel (something inside of you, emotional feelings)