Spanish Reflexive Verbs & Pronouns Explained In Simple Terms

  • Jada Lòpez
    Written byJada Lòpez
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Spanish Reflexive Verbs & Pronouns Explained In Simple Terms

If you’re just beginning to learn Spanish, you might have come across ‘reflexive verbs’ in your studies. These pesky verbs might confuse you because, unlike some of the other ‘ordinary’ verbs, many reflexive verbs don’t have the same form.

Take a look:

Me afeito todos los mañanas.

Me ducho todos los días.

Me baño cada noche.

When you looked at some of these Spanish language examples of daily routines, did you notice any pattern?

If you picked up on the fact that each of these sentences contain the word me (pronounced ‘meh’), that’s your first step towards understanding reflexive verbs.

We say ‘first step’ because, unlike in English, there are many more reflexive verbs in Spanish and they’re used more frequently.

Don’t worry though.

With our many examples you will thoroughly understand Spanish reflexive verbs by the end of this guide.

Let’s start at the very beginning.

What are reflexive verbs in Spanish?

Reflexive verbs in the Spanish language are verbs that always contain or feature a reflexive pronoun. They are typically used when the subject of the sentence does an action to themselves.

In other words, if the subject and the object of the sentence are the same, a reflexive verb and a reflexive pronoun is required.

Let’s compare an English reflexive sentence and a non-reflexive sentence to clarify this.

I cut the paper with scissors.

I accidentally cut myself.

You’ll notice that in the first sentence, the action ‘to cut’ is being done to the paper. To put it another way, the subject and the object are different. In this case, you don’t need a reflexive pronoun to express this.

In the second sentence, the action ‘to cut’ is being done to the speaker. Here, the subject of the sentence ‘I’ and the object of the sentence ‘myself’ are the same. So, in this case, you need the reflexive pronoun ‘myself’ to indicate that the sentence is reflexive.

With me so far?

What are the reflexive pronouns in Spanish?

There are 5 reflexive pronouns in Spanish which, as I’ve mentioned, are used alongside reflexive verbs. So, before I get started, here are the 5 reflexive pronouns to help you avoid getting confused:

Spanish reflexive pronounEnglish translation
MeMyself
TeYourself (informal context)
SeHimself, herself, itself, yourself (formal context), themselves
NosOurselves
OsYourselves (formal context)

Your mission, if you want to become fluent in Spanish and talk like a native is to know when a reflexive verb is required. But, to add to the difficulty, you’ll also need to know which of these reflexive pronouns is needed and where it comes in a sentence.

Although in some cases it’s clear when a reflexive verb is required it’s not always obvious from the context alone. This is why memorising the common Spanish reflexive verbs is important.

How are reflexive verbs conjugated?

Conjugating a reflexive verb requires knowledge of where the reflexive pronoun is placed in the sentence and how the verb itself is conjugated. You’ll need to bear these two factors in mind to get the right meaning when speaking, writing or trying to understand native Spanish speakers.

Let’s consider the reflexive pronoun placement first.

Reflexive pronoun placement

When you conjugate a reflexive verb, the reflexive pronoun can either be placed before the verb or after a verb in the infinitive form. This sounds complicated, but take a quick look at these two examples to clarify.

Yo me ducho cada día.

I shower everyday.

Tengo que ducharme.

I have to take a shower.

Notice that in the first example, the reflexive pronoun me comes before the reflexive verb ducharse. However, in the second example, the reflexive pronoun is placed differently — the me is still around, but here it can be found at the end of the word ducharse (at the end of the reflexive verb).

Other examples of where the reflexive pronoun follows the verb

There are many other examples of where the reflexive pronoun comes after the reflexive verb. For instance, you’ll notice this when the imperative is used:

Quítate los zapatos.

Take off your shoes.

…When the gerund is used…

Estoy bañandome.

I'm taking a bath.

…And when the future tense is used…

Voy a levantarme.

I'm going to get up.

How to conjugate reflexive verbs to agree with the reflexive pronoun

Verb conjugation can be tricky in Spanish. In the case of reflexive verbs, this is mainly because the reflexive pronoun should always complement the verb form.

Let’s use the verb bañarse as an example. Here’s how to conjugate it in the present tense:

'Bañarse' conjugation (present tense)English translation
Yo me bañoI bathe myself
Tu te bañasYou bathe yourself
Él se bañaHe/she bathes himself/herself
Nosotros nos bañamosWe bathe ourselves
Vosotros os bañaísYou (all) bathe yourselves
Ellos se bañanThey bathe themselves

Notice the endings of the verb bañarse in the Spanish conjugation column. Just like any conjugated Spanish verb, the verb endings change for reflexive verbs too (except for when you are choosing to add the reflexive pronoun to the end of an infinitive verb).

The trick is to remember which verb conjugation matches the reflexive pronoun, which might take a bit of practice.

As indicated by the table, if you’re using yo, (and you’re referring to yourself), use me when conjugating the reflexive verb. If it’s tu, use te… and so on.

What are the most common Spanish reflexive verbs?

We touched on a few reflexive verbs in the opening, but here I’ll go into a bit more detail when it comes to the common types of reflexive verbs used in different contexts.

Some of the most common reflexive verbs are used to describe ‘daily routine’ actions. For example, if you wanted to say ‘I wake up at 8:30 am’ in Spanish, you would need to use the reflexive verb levantarse.

Yo me levanto a las ocho y media de la mañana

Other examples of reflexive verbs used for daily routines, as I’ve briefly mentioned, include bañarse and ducharse.

But there are many more examples that you should be aware of…

Common reflexive verbs: an in-depth list

…So, to that end, here’s our comprehensive list of the most commonly used Spanish reflexive verbs. We’ve included usage examples to help you understand the context in which they are used.

Acostarse — (to go to bed)

We use the reflexive verb acostarse when we’re just about to go to sleep. It means ‘to go to bed’ in English and always uses the reflexive form.

Usage example:

Estoy muy cansada. Voy a acostarme.

I'm really tired. I'm going to bed.

Abrigarse — (to wrap up warm)

In winter, you’ll typically hear parents telling their children to abrigarse. It is derived from the Spanish word abrigo, meaning ‘coat’ which is an easy way to remember its meaning.

Usage example:

Que no tengas frío. Tienes que abrigarte.

I hope you're not cold. You have to wrap up warm.

Cuidarse — (to take care of oneself)

The reflexive verb cuidarse is typically used by loved ones when you’re just about to leave. Cuidarse means ‘to take care of oneself’.

Usage example:

Este virus es muy peligroso. Cuídate mucho.

This virus is very dangerous. Really look after yourself.

Casarse — (to marry)

Casarse means ‘to get married’. You can use the reflexive pronoun nos to refer to yourself and another person, and it can also be used as a non-reflexive verb when referring to the action of officiating a wedding.

Usage example:

Nos casamos el año pasado. Estamos muy felices juntos.

We got married last year. We're very happy together.

El curo casó a la pareja el mes pasado en la iglesia.

The priest married the couple last month in church.

Despertarse — (to wake up)

You might use this Spanish reflexive verb when talking about your daily routine. It means ‘to wake up’. So, if you woke up several times in the night, you might say…

Usage example:

No he dormido muy bien. Me desperté muchas veces durante la noche.

I haven't slept very well. I woke up many times during the night.

Fijarse — (to take notice)

From time to time, you’ll hear the Spanish reflexive verb fijarse used on its own as a sort of imperative. Other times, it might be used in a different context and refer to a certain individual who has noticed something interesting.

Usage example:

Los politicos han decidido que las vacunas son importantes. Fíjate. Vamos a superar el virus.

Politicians have decided that vaccines are important. Take notice. We will overcome this virus.

Se fijó que su madre era muy triste. No sabía por qué.

He noticed that his mother was very sad. He didn't know why.

Llamarse — (to call oneself)

The Spanish reflexive verb llamarse is typically used when greeting someone and introducing yourself. You’ll hear it when you’re meeting someone new. Alternatively, if you’re unsure of the name of a place and want to identify what it’s called, you’ll also need the verb llamarse.

Usage example:

Hola. Me llamo Adrían. ¿Cómo estás?

Hi, my name's Adrian. How are you?

Este cuidad es muy grande. ¿Cómo se llama?

This city is really big. What is it called?

Maquillarse — (to put on one’s makeup)

If you’re about to go out for the night, before you go, you’ll need to maquillarte. Either that, or if you’re going to a carnival!

Usage example:

Voy a salir esta noche. Tengo que maquillarme.

I'm going to go out tonight. I've got to put on my makeup.

Olvidarse — (to forget)

Say your friend has accidentally forgotten to buy a present for your birthday. You’ll probably hear them use the reflexive verb olvidarse. Take a look at our example.

Usage example:

No sé como me he olvidado de tu cumple. Lo siento mucho, no tengo un regalo para ti.

I don't know how I have forgotten your birthday. I'm so sorry, I don't have a present for you.

Peinarse — (to comb one’s hair)

Here’s another Spanish reflexive verb that’s used to refer to part of your daily routine. Peinarse translates to English as ‘to comb one’s hair’.

Usage example:

¿Me peinas el pelo? ¡Tengo que apurarme! ¡Rápido!

Will you comb my hair? I have to hurry! Quickly!

Ponerse — (to put onto oneself)

This reflexive verb can be used when referring to putting on items of clothing. And in other contexts, it can mean ‘to become’.

Usage example:

Ponte los zapatos. Estamos apunto de salir.

Put your shoes on. We are about to leave.

No te pongas enferma. Estás trabajando demasiado.

Don't become ill. You're working too much.

Sentarse — (to sit down)

If you’re offering your seat to an elderly person on the bus, but they refuse, you can insist with the imperative form of the verb sentarse. This Spanish reflexive verb means ‘to sit oneself down’.

Usage example:

¿Estás cansado? ¿Quieres sentarte?

Are you tired? Do you want to sit down?

Sentirse — (to feel)

Reflexive verbs are also commonly used to describe emotions or feelings in general as well. One example is sentirse, which means ‘to feel’.

Usage example:

Pero ¿te sientes enojado? ¿Por qué? ¿He hecho algo?

But you feel angry? Why? Have I done something?

Keep studying to become a master of Spanish reflexive verbs

Spanish reflexive verbs can be difficult, but with the right practice you’ll start to understand what they mean and when they’re used.

The key to becoming confident when using them is to read and listen to as many examples as possible. Back this up with regular study of reflexive pronouns and verb conjugations and you’re all set.

As I mentioned, it’s not always clear from context alone whether a sentence will need a reflexive or non-reflexive verb to make sense. That’s why memorising the common Spanish reflexive verbs is a great way to begin.

I recommend flashcards, Spanish learning resources like apps, podcasts, Youtube channels, online Spanish courses and so on to augment your learning alongside your regular Spanish practise (use italki for this). Tick off the ones you’re familiar with and start conjugating the ones you need more practice with.

Keep studying. You’ll get the hang of it.


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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic
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