Reflexive verbs in Spanish

Reflexive verbs are a type of transitive verbs (that is, verbs where someone does something: I read) but in this case, the action falls on the person who is doing it, on their body or on something they have or carry.

We use reflexive verbs in Spanish when we want to tell about things that we do ourselves or other people, but in which the action is directly related to the subject. That is to say, it is not the same to say that “estoy lavando los platos” (I am washing the dishes), than to say that “estoy lavándome los dientes” (I am brushing my teeth). In the first sentence, the action of washing falls on the dishes, while in the second, the action falls on myself.

A very simple way to discover that we are dealing with a reflexive verb is to look at its structure. Unlike other verbs, reflexive verbs in Spanish will always be accompanied by a reflexive pronoun. The pronoun indicates us that we are dealing with a reflexive verb.

Reflexive pronouns in Spanish

The following table provides a sum-up of reflexive pronouns in Spanish.


Person Reflexive pronoun in Spanish
First person singular (yo) Me
Second person singular (tú) Te
Third person singular (él, ella, usted) Se
First person plural (nosotros) Nos
Second person plural (vosotros) Os
Third person plural (ellos, ellas, ustedes)* Se

*In the third person plural, the reflexive pronoun will change depending on who performs the action of the verb. If it is ellos/ellas/usted, we will use Se. For example: “Ellos se peinan.” On the other hand, if the action is done by another person but falls on ellos/ellas/usted, the reflexive pronoun will change to “les”. For example: “María les peina.” (a ellos).

What is the position of the reflexive pronoun in the sentence?

Depending on the tense or the form of the verb you are using, the reflexive pronoun can go before the verb or behind it. Here some examples.

Before the verb:

Reflexive pronouns in Spanish will go before the verb:

 1- In any of its personal forms:

  • María se levanta a las 7:00
  • Yo me lavo el pelo todos los días
  • Vosotros os coméis toda la comida


 2- With imperatives in their negative form:

  • No te comas todo el pastel
  • No os levantéis de la cama

After the verb:

Reflexive pronouns in Spanish will go behind the verb with imperatives in their affirmative form:

  • Cómete todo el pastel
  • Levantaos de la cama

Before or after the verb:

Reflexive pronouns in Spanish may go both before and after the verb in the following circumstances:

1- Before a verbal periphrasis or after the infinitive of the periphrasis:

  • María se va a peinar
  • María va a peinarse


2- In the form estar + gerund:

  • Ana te estaba escuchando
  • Ana estaba escuchándote

Reflexive verbs vs normal verbs in Spanish

Many of reflexive verbs can also be used as simple verbs, that is, in which the action does not fall on the subject. However, we must bear in mind that depending on whether the verb is reflexive or not, its meaning will change.

For example, the verb “llamar” can be used both reflexively and normally, but the meaning of the sentence will change completely. It’s not the same to say “Me llamo María”, where we indicate the fist name of the person, and to say “Llamó María”. In this second sentence we are saying that Maria called on the phone.

In Spanish there are many verbs of this type. Check the following table to find out what changes occur once these verbs become reflexive!

Meaning Example
Reflexive: Levantarse Act of getting out of bed Hoy me he levantado a las 7:00
Non reflexive: Levantar Act of raising, lifting No puedo levantar tanto peso
Reflexive : volverse A change of character Marta se ha vuelto muy caprichosa
Non reflexive: volver To come back Marta ha vuelto de Italia
Reflexive : ponerse To dress up with some clothes Me he puesto mi vestido nuevo
Non reflexive: poner To put, to place He puesto el vestido nuevo en el armario
Reflexive : encontrarse To feel Hoy no me encuentro bien
Non reflexive: encontrar To find soemthing He encontrado un libro en el parque
Reflexive : irse To go, to leave Me he ido de casa de mis abuelos ya
Non reflexive: ir To go to a place He ido a casa de mis abuelos

Put your knowledge into practice!

Here are some exercises so that you can put your knowledge into practice!

1. ¿Qué es lo primero que hacemos por la mañana? . (despertarse)

2. Y cuando es la hora de empezar nuestras actividades, ¿qué hacemos? . (levantarse)

3. Luego, ¿qué hacemos en el baño?   la cara. (lavarse)

4. ¿Y qué hacemos con nuestra ropa?. (vestirse)

5. Después del desayuno cuidamos nuestros dientes, ¿verdad? los dientes (cepillarse).

6. Si tenemos barba, ¿qué hacemos? .(afeitarse)

7. ¿Qué hacemos para mejorar la apariencia de nuestro pelo? . (peinarse)


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