The concept of reflexive verbs in Spanish can be difficult for many beginners to understand. But, believe it or not, reflexive verbs really aren’t too difficult to get your head around.
Reflexive verbs are a key part of the Spanish language and you’ll need to understand them when learning Spanish beyond beginner level.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know what a reflexive verb is, what the most common ones are in Spanish and how to use them in the present tense.
Oh, by the way, that’s me! My name is James, I’m a Spanish tutor and the author of most of the language material on this site.
The book I’m holding in the image above, Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs, is the book I used to learn over 500 regular, irregular and reflexive verbs in multiple tenses. I highly recommend it! You can get your copy below 🙂
The goal of this post is to answer and provide clarity to the following questions.
⭐ 1. What are reflexive verbs in Spanish?
⭐ 2. What is a reflexive pronoun?
⭐ 3. Where do I place reflexive pronouns?
⭐ 4. What are the most common Spanish reflexive verbs?
What is a reflexive verb?
A reflexive verb in the Spanish language, put simply, is a verb whose direct object is the same as its subject. In other words, a person is performing an action on oneself. Whether you’re using the present tense, the preterite tense, or any other tense, this rule will always stay the same.
Some examples of reflexive verbs in Spanish, which are present amongst AR, ER and IR verb groups, are as follows:
Notice anything similar about them? They all have se attached to the end. In Spanish, if a verb has se at the end then it is reflexive.
Reflexive verbs are less common in English, which is what makes understanding them a little difficult sometimes for English speakers.
In English, we use the pronouns ‘myself’ ‘yourself’ ‘himself’ etc. In Spanish, conjugating a reflexive verb works a little differently.
It gets easier. First thing’s first, remember this. The subject of a sentence is the protagonist of the sentence – whether it’s a person, a place or thing. The subject is doing the action. It refers to the same person.
The object is the person, place or thing that receives the action performed by the subject.
The following examples should make things a little clearer.
He washes the dishes
object: the dishes
In Spanish, you can translate this sentence the same way:
object: los platos
So, where is the Spanish reflexive verb? Take a look at this next example:
He washes himself.
object: he (himself: same as the subject)
⭐ HE is both the object AND the subject of the sentence.
Examples of reflexive verbs in Spanish
As established a little earlier on, reflexive verbs in English are demonstrated with pronouns like myself, himself, ourselves etc.
In Spanish, this pronoun is already part of the verb. Just look at the ‘se’ in these reflexive verbs in Spanish below:
The literal translation of these verbs is:
to wash oneself, to get (oneself) up, to look at oneself…
In order to conjugate reflexive verbs in Spanish, we need to remove the ‘se’ from the end of the infinitive form and move it to the front of the verb.
Still sound complicated? Let’s look at these sentences, using the verbs we’ve just looked at above.
object: ella (se: part of the reflexive verb lavarse)
Here, se shows that she is doing the action to herself.
Sometimes, even in English, the object is not always evident. For example:
I get up.
verb: get up
object: I (myself)
In English, we do not need to say ‘myself’ in this context. We already know who is doing the action, since we say ‘I’.
In Spanish, however, reflexive verbs make it necessary to demonstrate who is carrying out the action.
Context would be lost completely if you used the Spanish verb conjugation ‘levanto’ and not ‘me levanto.’
Yo me miro.
object: yo (me: part of the reflexive mirarse)
What is a reflexive pronoun?
A reflexive pronoun refers to myself, yourself, himself, ourselves, themselves etc.
Reflexive pronouns, such as ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’, are used with reflexive verbs when the subject is performing an action to itself.
What are the reflexive pronouns in Spanish?
Below you will see the short list of Spanish reflexive pronouns:
How to conjugate Spanish reflexive verbs using reflexive pronouns
So, now we know what a reflexive verb is and what the corresponding pronouns are, let’s take a look at how to conjugate reflexive verbs.
|Subject||Reflexive Pronoun||Verb (conjugated)||Translation|
|yo||me||llamo||I am called|
|él / ella / usted||se||sienta||he/she/you sit/s down|
|nosotros / nosotras||nos||despertamos||we wake up|
|vosotros / vosotras||os||graduáis||you (pl) graduate|
|ellos / ellas / ustedes||se||acostumbran||they/you (pl) get used to|
This may seem tricky if you have previously learned Portuguese, but it is important to remember that in Spanish the pronoun must always come before the verb, once it is conjugated.
In order to remember this rule, think about these verbs as reflecting or turning back (to the start of the verb).
In the table above, you’ll see this put into practice. Let’s look now at some further examples of Spanish reflexive verbs when conjugated.
I am going out after eating.
She is called Claudia.
Reflexive verbs in the imperative form
When the verb is in the imperative form (an order, request or command), then the reflexive pronoun stays at the end of the conjugated form of the verb:
Take a bath before we go.
If a sentence already has a conjugated verb, you can either put it before the main conjugated verb verb OR attach it to the end of the reflexive verb:
Ramona is going to sleep early tomorrow night.
In this example, the infinitive ir (to go) is conjugated as va a (is going to).
The 30 most common reflexive verbs in Spanish
Ok, so we’ve cheated a little here. Having looked online, we found several articles providing extensive lists of reflexive verbs in Spanish.
So, we’ve compiled them and put them into separate tables, splitting them into AR, ER and IR verbs.
What you’ll see in these tables below is a list of Spanish reflexive verbs in their infinitive form.
As an exercise to improve your Spanish, try to conjugate them in your head, or on paper, using the reflexive pronouns we covered earlier.
|AR Verb||ER Verb||IR Verb|
What is a reflexive verb in a sentence?
Below are some examples of reflexive verbs in a sentence. As will other verbs you will come across, you will see the conjugated form in the sentence, with the infinitive version (main verb) in parenthesis.
Top 5 verbs in Spanish to learn (in their reflexive form)
So, what are some of the most important Spanish verbs to learn in their reflexive form?
Well, we have listed a few examples below. Try to learn these with the corresponding reflexive pronoun before you leave this page!
Llamarse – to be called (to call oneself)
In this case, just think about the reply required to the question we all know – “¿Cómo te llamas?”
The reflexive verb llamarse is probably the most common verb you’ll come across in early stage Spanish.
Afeitarse – (to shave)
Quedarse dormido – (to fall asleep)
Levantarse – (to get up)
Lavarse los dientes / las manos – (to brush one’s teeth / hands)
Summarising Spanish reflexive verbs – what we’ve learned
In this article, we have shown you what a reflexive verb is and how you can identify one in a sentence. Like so many elements in Spanish, such as the the imperfect tense, the subjunctive or irregular verbs,
You should now know not only when to use a Spanish reflexive verb, but also how to use one in a sentence, depending on who you want to refer to.
Remember, all you need to change when conjugating in the present tense is the pronoun. This change who you are referring to. Good luck!
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