spanish reflexive verbs and pronouns

Spanish reflexive verbs and reflexive pronouns are two intrinsically related grammatical concepts. In this article, you will learn all about their relationship, uses, forms, and some examples.

Reflexive Spanish

Ready to start? Let’s dive into verbos and pronombres reflexivos!

According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (Real Academia de la Lengua Española), the Castilian term ‘reflexivo’ comes from the Latin «reflectĕre», which means “to go back” (volver hacia atrás).

Therefore, as the name indicates, reflexive pronouns can be identified because they indicate that the expressed action looks backs to the subject.

These would be the equivalent of the English reflexive pronouns such as ‘myself’, ‘herself’, ‘itself’, ‘oneself’, ‘themselves’, and ‘yourselves’. These can be recognized by the endings –self and –selves!

ENGLISH
PERSON REFLEXIVE PRONOUN
I Myself
You Yourself
He Himself
She Herself
It Itself
We Ourselves
You (plural) Yourselves
They Themselves

Example:

  • She wanted to impress her boyfriend, so she cooked dinner for their date night herself.
  • The boy is a genius. Instead of going to music school, he taught himself.

Reflexive Pronouns Spanish

reflexive pronouns spanish

Spanish reflexive pronouns are types of words that are used in conjunction with verbs to show that a person or something is performing an action for herself or itself in the same clause.

In this list, the Spanish reflexive pronouns are marked in BOLD. Remember that every time you use a reflexive pronoun it must match the number and gender of the person!

SINGULAR
First person I Yo Me
Second person  You Te
Vos Te
Usted (formal) Se
Third person  She/he Ella/él Se
PLURAL
First person We Nosotros Nos
Second person  You Vosotros Os
Ustedes Se
Third person  They Ellos/ellas Se

Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns Relationship

Reflexive pronouns are used with reflexive verbs to point out that the direct object is also the subject. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, this means that the person is performing the action expressed by the verb on herself.

A simple affirmative statement sentence structure would look like this:

NOUN + REFLEXIVE PRONOUN + REFLEXIVE VERB

Example:

  • María se lava los dientes. -> María brushes her teeth.
  • La abuela se peina el cabello con un cepillo de marfil. ->Grandma combs her hair with an ivory brush.

But sometimes the noun can be completely omitted.

Example:

  • (Yo) Me cepillo la piel en seco todos los días. -> I dry brush my skin every day.
  • Ayer nos bañamos en la tina. -> Yesterday we bathed in the tub.

Reflexive verbs always require a reflexive pronoun! Practice the conjugation with the reflexive verb ‘duchar’ (to shower).

PERSONAL PRONOUN REFLEXIVE PRONOUN REFLEXIVE VERB
Yo Me Ducho
Te Duchas
Vos Te Duchas
Usted Se Ducha
Ella/él Se Ducha
Nosotros Nos Duchamos
Vosotros Os Ducháis
Ustedes Se Duchan
Ellos/ellas Se Duchan

Nonetheless, Castilian can be a bit tricky!

For instance, the sentence “She wanted to impress her boyfriend, so she cooked dinner herself.” could be translated to Spanish in several ways:

  • Quería impresionar a su novio, así que ella preparó la cena. 
  • Quería impresionar a su novio, así que ella sola preparó la cena.
  • Quería impresionar a su novio, así que ella misma preparó la cena.

Here the last option being the most appropriate.

Notice how none of the above include the Spanish reflexive pronoun ‘se’ (pertaining the third person singular ‘ella’); if it had, the meaning would completely change.

Example:

  • Quería impresionar a su novio, así que se preparó la cena.

Se preparó la cena’ means that she prepared dinner only for her, excluding the boyfriend from the equation, and making no sense!  

The correct translation would be the expression ‘ella misma’.

  • Quería impresionar a su novio, así que ella misma preparó la cena.

Therefore, to avoid confusion, a reflexive pronoun in English is often translated to Spanish with the complement ‘a sí mismo’, but it only works when the subject is the one who actually performs the action.

Example:

  • He convinced himself that he could win. -> Se convenció a sí mismo de que podía ganar.
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In colloquial Spanish you can find the use of the phrase ‘ella sola’ or ‘él solo’ in substitution of ‘por sí mismo’, or even ‘por sí solo’.

Example:

  • The boy is a genius, he never went to music school, he himself learned to play the guitar with his father’s old books.
  1. El niño es un genio, nunca fue a la escuela de música, él solo aprendió a tocar la guitarra con los libros viejos de su padre.
  2. El niño es un genio, nunca fue a la escuela de música, aprendió por sí mismo a tocar la guitarra con los libros viejos de su padre.
  3. El niño es un genio, nunca fue a la escuela de música, aprendió por sí solo a tocar la guitarra con los libros viejos de su padre.

Finally, it is also common to come across expressions with the reflexive form of ‘se’ before another reflexive pronoun such as ‘me’.

Example:

  • Se me olvidó que teníamos examen y no estudié. -> I forgot we had an exam and I didn’t study.

The correct grammar would be:

  • Olvidé que teníamos examen y no estudié.

And you can even find this kind of mistaken combinations:

  • Yo misma me saboteo. -> I sabotage myself.

The right way of using a reflexive pronoun and a reflexive verb in this sentence is:

  • Me saboteo a mí misma.

Spanish Reflexive Verbs

reflexive verbs spanish

Spanish reflexive verbs in their impersonal form are constructed with the addition of the suffix –se. Many of which form part of our daily routine!

VERB REFLEXIVE FORM ENGLISH
Afeitar Afeitarse Shave
Bañar Bañarse Shower
Cepillar Cepillarse Brush
Comer Comerse Eat
Desvestir Desvestirse Undress
Distraer Distraerse Distract
Dormir Dormirse Sleep
Lavar Lavarse Wash
Levantar Levantarse Get up
Secar Secarse Dry
Vestir Vestirse Dress

Personal Vs. Impersonal:

  • Impersonal form: afeitarSE
  • Personal form: afeitarME, afetitarTE, afeitarNOS

Example:

  • Para una piel suave es necesario afeitarse diariamente.-> For soft skin, it is necessary to shave on a daily basis.
  • Quiero afeitarme todos los días para forjar un buen hábito de belleza. -> I want to shave everyday to forge a good beauty habit.

In some instances, emotions can be converted into reflexive verbs.

VERB REFLEXIVE FORM ENGLISH
Amar Amarse Love
Alegrar Alegrarse Cheer up
Entristecer Entristecerse Sadden
Enojar Enojarse Get angry
Reír Reírse Laugh

Example:

  • Mi novio trajo flores para alegrarme después de que murió mi perro. -> After my dog died, my boygriend brought me flowers to cheer me up.
  • Señor, no debe enojarse por tonterías. -> Sir, you shouldn’t get angry over silly things.
reflexive spanish

Spanish Reflexive Verb and Pronoun Placement

In Spanish a reflexive pronoun can vary its position in the sentence in the following scenarios:

  1. Before simple conjugated regular and irregular verbs.
  2. Me ducho por las noches. -> I shower at night.
  3. Before the verb in negative commands.
  4. No te separes de mí. -> Don’t leave my side.
  5. Attached to the end in affirmative commands.
  6. Quítese la ropa. -> Take off your clothes.
  7. For compound verbs either before or after the erb.
  8. Estoy bañándome. -> I am bathing.
  9. Me estoy bañando. -> I am bathing.
  10. Voy a afeitarme. -> I am going to shave.
  11. Me voy a afeitar. -> I am going to shave.
  12. Estaba sentándome a la mesa. -> I was sitting at the table.
  13. Me estaba sentando a la mesa. -> I was sitting at the table.

Would you like to learn more about reflexive verbs and reflexive pronouns? Start with our Spanish Survival Crash Course. Each day for six days, we’ll send e-books and audio files to your inbox to help you get a basic foundation for the language, totally FREE!

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