When to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish?
Let’s learn how and when to use reflexive verbs in the Spanish language.
Using Me, Te, Se, Nos, Os in Spanish
Note: A reflexive verb in Spanish is when the subject and the object are the same.
I clean myself.
Since the subject and object are the same, the verb is reflexive.
I clean the car.
Since the subject and object are different, the verb is not reflexive.
Note: When a verb is reflexive, the infinitive ends in “se”
to clean (non-reflexive)
to clean oneself (reflexive)
to smell (non-reflexive)
to smell oneself (reflexive)
Note: When you learned to conjugate regular verbs, you needed to learn a set of pronouns called “subject pronouns.”
Limpiar (to clean) (Present Tense)
él, ella, usted limpia
ellos(as), ustedes limpian
Note: To learn to conjugate reflexive verbs, you need to learn a different set of pronouns called “reflexive pronouns.”
These pronouns are positioned before the verb, while the ending “se” is dropped and the verb is conjugated normally.
yo me limpio – I clean (myself)
tú te limpias – you clean (yourself) (informal)
él se limpia – he cleans (himself)
ella se limpia – she cleans (herself)
usted se limpia – you clean (yourself) (formal)
nosotros nos limpiamos – we clean (ourselves)
nosotras nos limpiamos – we clean (ourselves) (feminine)
vosotros os limpiáis – you-all clean (yourselves) (informal)
vosotras os limpiáis – you-all clean (yourselves) (informal, feminine)
ustedes se limpian – you-all clean (yourselves)(formal)
ellos se limpian – they clean (themselves)
ellas se limpian – they clean (themselves) (feminine)
Note: The reflexive pronouns are not subject pronouns; rather they are object pronouns.
se (himself, herself, yourself)
se (themselves, yourselves)
Note: The purpose of the reflexive object pronouns is to show that the action of the verb remains with the subject.
Ana se prepara la sopa. (for herself)
Ana prepares the soup. (reflexive)
Ana prepara la sopa. (for others)
Ana prepares the soup. (non-reflexive)
Tip: When referring to body parts, use the definite article, thus “la cara”, not “su cara”
When to Use Reflexive verbs | Spanish 2
Note: When the sentence has two verbs, the pronoun can be placed directly before the conjugated verb or attached to the end of the infinitive.
Te quieres ver. – You want to see yourself.
Paola se necesita lavar el pelo – Paola needs to wash her hair.
Paola necesita lavarse el pelo.
Ahora Paola se puede cepillar los dientes – Paola can brush her teeth now.
Ahora Paola puede cepillarse los dientes
Note: Whenever a verb directly follows a preposition, it remains in the infinitive form. For reflexive verbs, the ending “-se” changes to agree with the subject.
Antes de cepillarme, yo desayuno.- Before brushing, I have breakfast
Antes de cepillarte, tú desayunas- Before brushing, you have breakfast
Antes de cepillarse, la chica desayuna.- Before brushing, the girl has breakfast
Antes de cepillarnos, nosotros desayunamos.- Before brushing, we had breakfast
Antes de cepillaros, vosotros desayunáis – Before brushing, you have breakfast
Antes de cepillarse, los chicos desayunan.- Before brushing, the boys have breakfast
For some verbs, the meaning changes when they are used reflexively.
aburrir – to bore
aburrirse – to be bored
acordar – to agree
acordarse de – to remember
acostar – to put to bed
acostarse – to go to bed
casar – to perform a marriage ceremony
casarse con – to become married to someone
despedir – to fire
despedirse de – to say goodbye
dormir – to sleep
dormirse – to fall asleep
ir – to go
irse – to go away, to leave
morir – to die (abruptly, as of an accident, war, etc.)
morirse – to die (as from natural causes; also “to die” figuratively)
negar – to deny
negarse a – to refuse
parecer – to seem
parecerse a – to resemble
poner – to put
ponerse – to put on
probar – to try, to taste
probarse – to try on
quitar – to take away
quitarse – to take off
Note: A few verbs are always used reflexively.
arrepentirse (e:ie) – to repent
atreverse a – to dare
darse cuenta de – to realize
jactarse de – to boast
quejarse de – to complain about
suicidarse – to commit suicide