08 Mar 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!
|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!