Reflexive Verbs in Spanish Grammar

Introduction

Reflexive verbs are verbs that take a reflexive pronoun, they are formed with se in the infinitive e.g bañarse (to bathe oneself/take a bath). We use reflexive verbs in Spanish when the subject and object of a verb are the same. In general, reflexive verbs are more common in Spanish grammar than they are in English grammar and it’s important to remember that a Spanish reflexive verb may not always be translated reflexively in English.

Learn the rules for the correct conjugation and usage of reflexive verbs in Spanish. In the exercises, you can practise what you have learnt.

Example

La abuela de Lucía se tiñe el pelo en casa una vez al mes. Cada semana se corta las puntas y a diario se peina como una verdadera profesional. Siempre se mira en el espejo mientras utiliza el secador y sabe realmente cómo conseguir el mejor resultado con su cabello.

Advertisement

Conjugation of Reflexive Verbs in Spanish Grammar

We conjugate the verb normally and use the appropriate reflexive pronoun (pronombre reflexivo).

peinarse comb one’s hair
yo me peino I comb my hair
te peinas you comb your hair
él/ella/usted se peina he/she/it combs his/her/its hair
nosotros nos peinamos we comb our hair
vosotros os peináis you (pl. inf.) comb your hair
ellos/ustedes se peinan they/you (formal) comb their/your hair


Placement of reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are placed:

  • before the conjugated verb
    Example:
    La abuela se peina.The grandmother combs her hair.
  • before the negative imperative (but directly after the positive imperative)
    Example:
    ¡No te peines!Don’t comb your hair!
    ¡Péinate!Comb your hair!
  • directly after the infinitive
    Example:
    Ella va a peinarse.She’s going to comb her hair.
  • directly after the gerund (in the progressive tense (estar + gerundio), the pronoun can come before or after the verb)
    Example:
    Ella está peinándose./Ella se está peinando.She is brushing her hair.

Usage

Reflexive verbs indicate that someone is performing an action on or for themselves. Therefore, the reflexive pronoun always agrees with the subject.

Example:
La abuela de Lucía se tiñe el pelo en casa una vez al mes.Lucía’s grandmother dyes her hair once a month at home.
Cada semana se corta las puntas.Every week she trims the tips.
A diario se peina como una verdadera profesional.Every day she combs her hair like a professional.
Siempre se mira en el espejo mientras utiliza el secador.She always looks at herself in the mirror while she uses the hairdryer.

Pronominal Verbs

Some verbs can only be reflexive. Some of the most frequent are acurrucarse, adentrarse, adormilarse, adueñarse, amodorrarse, antojarse, arremolinarse, arrepentirse, desinteresarse, dignarse, suicidarse.

Ejemplo:
El gato se acurruca al sol en el balcón.The cat curled itself up in the sun on the balcony.
Las hojas secas se arremolinan en las aceras.The dried leaves swirl around the pavement.

Reflexive/Non-Reflexive Verbs

When verbs are used without reflexive pronouns, it means the action is being performed on or for someone else. In this case, we have to use a direct or indirect personal pronoun before the verb.

Example:
La abuela se tiñe el pelo. (reflexive) The grandma is dying her hair (herself).
La abuela le tiñe el pelo a Lucía. (not reflexive)The grandma is dying Lucía’s hair.

Some verbs can be used either in their reflexive or their non-reflexive forms. By adding the reflexive pronoun, the verb receives a more particular meaning or even a completely different meaning from the non-reflexive verb.

verb meaning example
encontrar(se) reflexive

feel

Me encuentro un poco mareada.I’m feeling a bit sick
not reflexive find/encounter No encuentro mi paraguas.I can’t find my umbrella.
ir(se) reflexive leave Nos vamos inmediatamente.We are leaving immediately.
not reflexive go Vamos de vacaciones a Perú.We are going on holiday in Peru.
levantar(se) reflexive stand up/get up Siempre me levanto a la misma hora.I always get up at the same time.
not reflexive lift Levanta la alfombra mientras paso la fregona.Lift up the rug while I mop.
llamar(se) reflexive be called/be named Me llamo Guillermo del Toro.My name is Guillermo del Toro.
not reflexive call/name No llamarán hasta las seis.They won’t call until 6.
meter(se) reflexive annoy Sus primos se meten con todo el mundo.Their cousins annoy everyone.
not reflexive put Mete las tijeras en el cajón, por favor.Put the scissors in the drawer, please.
negar(se) reflexive refuse Los alumnos se niegan a ir al colegio los sábados.The pupils refuse to go to school on Saturday.
not reflexive deny El testigo negó todo lo ocurrido.The witness denied everything that happened.
ocupar(se) reflexive take care of sth Nuestro equipo se ocupa de las ventas internacionales.Our team takes care of international sales.
not reflexive take up/fill up La ropa de invierno ocupa todo el armario.Winter clothes take up the whole wardrobe.
perder(se) reflexive get lost Nos perdimos en el bosque durante varias horas.We got lost in the forest for several hours.
not reflexive lose Yo perdí una vez las llaves de la oficina.once, I lost the keys to the office.
poner(se) reflexive put sth on Carla se puso su mejor traje.Carla put on her best suit.
not reflexive put Pon el vaso e en el armario.Put the glass in the cupboard.
referir(se) reflexive refer Este libro se refiere a la guerra civil.The book refers to the civil war.
not reflexive give/provide Nadie refirió ejemplos concretos.No one provided concrete examples.
retirar(se) reflexive leave(formal) Los invitados se retiraron después de la cena.The guests left after dinner.
not reflexive put sth away Retiraron ese producto del mercado hace meses.They put that product from the market away months ago.
reunir(se) reflexive meet La Junta Directiva se reúne en el salón de actos.The board of directors meet in the conference hall.
not reflexive meet/fulfil Este candidato no reúne las cualificaciones necesarias.This candidate does not fulfil the necessary requirements.
sentar(se) reflexive sit Siéntate y abróchate el cinturón.Sit and fasten your seatbelt.
not reflexive (not) sit well Le sentó mal el batido de frutas.The fruit milkshake made him feel ill. (literally: The fruit milkshake didn’t sit well with him.)
volver(se) reflexive become Después del accidente, Alberto se volvió muy cauteloso.After the accident, Alberto became very cautious.
not reflexive return Volvemos a casa el martes por la noche.We return home on Tuesday night.

Reciprocal Verbs

In addition to reflexive verbs, there are also reciprocal verbs (verbos reflexivos recíprocos). These are used to communicate the idea of “each other”, which means they only appear in the plural.

Example:
Lucía y su abuela se entienden a la perfección.Lucía and her grandma get along with each other very well.
Spanish English
ayudarse help each other
conocerse know each other/get to know each other
pelearse fight/scuffle with each other
reñirse argue/bicker with each other
separarse separate from each other
telefonearse call each other/phone each other