Using Reflexive Spanish Verbs - dummies

Using Reflexive Spanish Verbs

Some Spanish verbs are reflexive, meaning they reflect the action back onto the doer. These reflexive verbs require a reflexive pronoun to indicate that the subject is also the direct object. Whenever you look at yourself, drive yourself to the mall, or worry yourself silly, you’re involved in a reflexive action. In English, these reflexive actions become a little fuzzy because so much is considered to be understood. Spanish, however, delineates reflexive action by requiring the use of a reflexive verb and a reflexive pronoun, such as myself, yourself, or herself.

When creating a reflexive verb construction, you need a subject, a reflexive verb, and a reflexive pronoun, but not necessarily in that order. When you conjugate the reflexive verbs in English, you normally place the pronouns on either side of the conjugated verb. In other words, you say, “You bathe yourself.” But in Spanish, the order is, “you yourself bathe.”

The following table shows a reflexive verb given in all of its present tense conjugations.

Reflexive pronoun + bañarse = to bathe (oneself)
Yo me baño
Tú te bañas
él/ella/uno/una se baña
Usted se baña
Nosotros nos bañamos
Vosotrosos os bañáis
ellos/ellas se bañan
Ustedes se bañan

Many reflexive verbs involve the mention of a body part, and because it’s already clear to whom the body part belongs (because of the reflexive verb), you don’t use a possessive pronoun. Instead of saying, “I brush my hair,” for example, you’d say, “I brush the hair,” because the reflexive pronoun already signals that it’s your hair.

Note: Two verbs that are used reflexively but vary slightly from the general definition of a reflexive verb are irse, which when used reflexively means “to go away,” and the verb comerse, which doesn’t mean “to eat oneself” but rather “to gobble up.”

The following table gives a list of some commonly used reflexive verbs:

Common Reflexive Verbs
Spanish Verb (Used with a Reflexive Pronoun) English Translation
Afeitarse to shave oneself
Bañarse to bathe oneself
casarse (con alguien) to get married; to marry (someone)
Cepillarse (el
/los dientes)
to brush oneself (hair/teeth)
Ducharse to take a shower
Enfermarse to get sick
Enojarse to get angry; mad
Irse to go away
Lavarse to wash oneself
Levantarse to stand up; get up
Llamarse to call oneself
Mirarse to look at oneself
Peinarse to comb one’s hair
Ponerse to become
ponerse la ropa to put on (clothing)
preocuparse por to worry (about)
Quitarse to take off, remove (clothing)
Secarse to dry oneself
Verse to see oneself

Here are some examples of reflexive verbs at work:

  • Él se seca después de que se ducha. (He dries himself after he showers [himself].)

  • Nosotros nos cepillamos los dientes todos los días. (We brush our teeth every day.)