Spanish reflexive verbs are easy to recognize because they have ‘se’ on the end of their infinitive form, which means that the subject and the object of the verb are the same person. Basically, it’s something that one does to oneself.
Reflexive verbs in Spanish are pretty easy to use. All you have to do is conjugate the verb as normal and then put the appropriate reflexive pronoun in front of the verb. Here are the pronouns:
yourselves (plural formal)
Be sure that you don’t confuse these with Spanish direct and indirect object pronouns, which look similar but aren’t quite the same. With reflexive verbs, the subject and the object are always the same person.
Some verbs get used in a kind of reflexive way, but aren’t truly reflexive. The proper reflexive verbs will have ‘se’ at the end of the infinitive when you look them up in the dictionary.
A lot of the most common ones refer to daily routine:
|despertarse||to wake up|
|levantarse||to get up|
|ducharse||to take a shower|
|lavarse||to wash oneself|
|vestirse||to get dressed|
|peinarse||to comb one’s hair|
|maquillarse||to put on makeup|
|acostarse||to go to bed|
These are all things that you do to yourself, even though we don’t explicitly say so in English. Check out these examples:
|despertarse||Me despierto a las 7.||I wake myself up at 7.||I wake up at 7.|
|levantarse||Juan se levantó a las 8.||Juan got himself up at 8.||Juan got up at 8.|
|ducharse||Ya me he duchado.||I have already showered myself.||I’ve already showered.|
|bañarse||¿Vas a bañarte?||Are you going to bathe yourself?||Are you going to take a bath?|
|lavarse||Me lavo.||I wash myself.||I have a wash.|
|vestirse||Vístete.||Get yourself dressed.||Get dressed.|
|peinarse||Se peinarán.||They will comb their own hair.||They’ll comb their hair.|
|afeitarse||Pedro se afeito cada día.||Pedro shaves himself every day.||Pedro shaves every day.|
|maquillarse||Me maquillo cuando salgo de fiesta.||I put makeup on myself when I go to parties.||I put makeup on when I go to parties.|
|desvestirse||Me desvisto antes de ir a la cama.||I undress myself before going to bed.||I undress before going to bed.|
|acostarse||¿Te acostaste temprano?||Did you go (get yourself into) to bed early?||Did you go to bed early?|
In the present tense, the reflexive pronoun goes directly before the verb, for example:
(Yo) me visto. I get dressed/I dress myself.
This is the same for any other simple tenses. See some examples below.
|(Tú) te despertarás a las 6.||You will wake up at 6.|
|Ana se acostó a medianoche.||Ana went to bed at midnight.|
|(Nosotros) nos ducharíamos si hubiera agua caliente.||We would shower if there were any hot water.|
In compound tenses, like the perfect tense, the reflexive pronoun goes right at the start, before the haber and the main verb.
|(Vosotros) os habéis peinado.||You have all combed your hair.|
|(Ella) se había maquillado.||She had done her makeup.|
|(Nosotros) nos habríamos levantado.||We would have got up.|
|Si (ellos) ya se hubieran peinado, habríamos ahorrado tiempo.||If they had already combed their hair, we would have saved time.|
|Me habré vestido.||I will have got dressed.|
If we are using the verb in the infinitive, you can just stick the pronoun straight on the end. Sometimes it’s also possible to put it before the verb(s).
|Voy a bañarme.|
Me voy a bañar.
|I am going to bathe myself.|
|Tienes que acostarte.|
Te tienes que acostar.
|You have to go to bed.|
|No es necesario maquillarse.||It is not necessary to put on makeup.|
The same rule applies with the gerund.
Me estoy peinando.
|I am doing my hair.|
|Pablo estaba afeitándose.*|
Pablo se estaba afeitando.
|Pablo was shaving himself.|
Se estarán vistiendo.
|They’ll be getting dressed.|
* When you add this extra syllable to the end of a word, you may need to add an accent to make sure the stress stays in the correct place.In the positive imperative (that’s giving commands and telling people to do things), the pronoun always just goes straight on the end. As with the gerund, you may have to throw in an accent to keep the emphasis on the right syllable.
|¡Despiértate ahora mismo!||Wake up right now!|
|Duchaos.*||Get yourselves showered.|
|Vístanse||Get dressed. (formal plural)|
*The imperative form of duchar for vosotros (you informal plural) is duchad. The final ‘d’ is dropped when we add the ‘os.’
For the negative imperative (i.e. telling someone NOT to do something), the pronoun goes between the no and the verb.
|No te maquilles.||Don’t put makeup on.|
|No os bañéis, el agua cuesta mucho.||Don’t take baths, the water costs a lot.|
|No se levanten.||Don’t get up. (formal plural)|
Sometimes we can use reflexive verbs with an additional object. In the following examples, yo is the subject, the dark green words are the direct objects, and the indigo is the indirect object.
Yo lavo el coche. = I wash the car.
Yo me lavo. = I wash myself.
Yo me lavo las manos. = I wash my hands.
This construction means that we don’t always use possessive pronouns (my, your, his, etc.) in Spanish in the same way as in English. The reflexive pronoun makes it clear that you’re referring to your own body parts!
It works with some of the verbs we’ve already looked at, and other phrases form in similar ways:
|Me cepillo los dientes.||I brush my teeth.|
|Se afeitó la barba.||He shaved his beard.|
|Nos peinamos el pelo.||We combed our hair.|
|¡Cuidado! Te vas a cortar con el vidrio.||Careful! You’ll cut yourself on the glass.|
Some verbs mean one thing, but when you add ‘se,’ they act like reflexive verbs (for the grammar nerds, they become what we call “pronominal verbs”) and take on a slightly different meaning.
|aburrir||to bore||aburrirse||to be/get bored|
|despedir||to sack/fire||despedirse||to say goodbye|
|llamar||to call||llamarse||to be called (e.g. me llamo Ana.)|
|negar||to deny||negarse a||to refuse to do something|
|perder||to lose||perderse||to lose oneself/get lost|
|poner||to put||ponerse||to put on (a garment)|
|preocupar||to worry||preocuparse||to worry someone|
|quitar||to remove/take away||quitarse||to take off (a garment)|
Let’s try out a few questions to see if you’ve got the idea!
First of all, translate the following:
1. Me desperté muy tarde.
I woke up very late.
2. Te llamas Juan.
You are called Juan.
3. ¿Os habéis cepillado los dientes?
Have you guys brushed your teeth?
Now try filling in the gaps:
4. I woke up like this. = ____ desperté así.
5. They are combing their hair. = ____están peinando.
6. You have to go to bed at 9. = Tienes que acostar ____ a las 9.
Well done, you’ve made it to the end of another grammar article, which we hope has been useful! We’ve shown you what reflexive verbs look like, what they’re used for, and given you a summary of how to use them in various tenses. Have fun practicing them, a little each day. ¡Hasta luego!
For more grammar lessons, check out My Spanish Routine Volume 1 with audio!
Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.
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