Spanish Grammar - Reflexive Verbs, Reflexive Pronouns

Spanish grammar lesson 19: Reflexive Verbs, Reflexive Pronouns

If the subject in a sentence performs an action on itself, then the verb is considered to be reflexive, and the pronoun used to receive the action is reflexive.

The singular reflexive pronouns are: me (myself), te (yourself), and se (yourself (formal), himself, herself).

The plural reflexive pronouns are: nos (ourselves), os (yourselves - informal Spain), and se (yourselves, themselves).

For example, consider the sentence, "Yo me baño," (I bathe myself, or I take a bath). The verb is reflexive, and "me" is the reflexive pronoun. Of course the verb bañar is not always used as a reflexive verb, but in this case it is.

There are some verbs that are always used reflexively, such as arrepentirse (to repent, or regret), and that is how they are found in the dictionary, with the reflexive pronoun "se" attached to the end.

Reflexive verbs and pronouns are often used in ways that are less straightforward. Consider the following examples.

"Me corté el dedo." (I cut my finger.) In this case, the object that receives the action is the finger, but also oneself.

"Roberto se cansa." (Robert is getting tired.) In this case, Robert tires himself by doing some activity or perhaps just going along through the day.

"Me alegro de estar aquí." (I am glad to be here.) In this case, the subject is gladdening himself due to being somewhere. The use of a reflexive verb to express a feeling is customary in Spanish.

"¿Porqué te vas?" (Why do you leave?) In this case, the reflexive form if the verb ir (to go), is irse (to leave, or go away.) One is causing himself to go away.

Of note, there are also a few situations when verbs are used reflexively even though the subject has no clear action upon itself, as, for example, in the sentence, "Se murió repentinamente." (He died suddenly.)

Here is a list of reflexive pronouns with subjects and a sample conjugated reflexive verb:

acostar(se) (to lie down)

I lie down.
You (informal) lie down.
Él, Ella, Usted
He, she, you (formal) lie(s) down.
We lie down.
You (plural informal in Spain) lie down.
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes
They (male), they (female), you (plural) lie down.

The reflexive pronoun is positioned before the verb when the verb is conjugated (as seen above), but is placed after (and connected to) the verb when the verb is in the infinitive or imperative (giving an order). However, if the infinitive verb is preceded by a separate conjugated verb, then the reflexive pronoun can be positioned first. All of the following sentences are correct:

Antes de vestirme, prendo la luz. (Before getting dressed, I turn on the light.)

¡Vistete! (Get dressed!)

Me puedo calmar. (I can calm down.)

Puedo calmarme. (I can calm down.)

Note: When properly positioned, reflexive pronouns always come before any indirect or direct object pronouns. This can be remembered with the acronym "RID." Reflexive pronouns come before indirect, which come before direct pronouns.



Exercise: Read carefully, listen to, and repeat aloud the following sentences. Try to identify the reflexive verbs and pronouns.

Me voy a despertar de madrugada.

(I am going to wake up at daybreak.) Note: The word "myself" is not translated here..

Tienes que afeitarte antes de ir.

(You have to shave before going.)

Los niños siempre se ríen.

(The kids always laugh.)

Nos cepillamos los dientes dos veces al día.

(We brush our teeth twice a day.)

Me llamo Pedro.

(My name is Peter.) Note: Litererally, it says, "I call myself Peter."

Puede vestirse, ya terminamos el examen.

(You can get dressed. We have finished the examination.)


(Cheer up!)

¿Ella se desmayó?

(Did she faint?)

Os podéis sentar.

(You can sit down.)


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