What are the reflexive verbs in Spanish?

Hello everybody!


This week I want to give you an overview about the reflexive verbs. But, what are the reflexive verbs in Spanish? They are, basically, verbs whose action falls on the subject of the sentence.

For example, in English we say “I brush my hair” (it’s my hair, not yours, and I do it), but for Spanish we say “Yo me peino” (I make an action myself and “me” specifies that the action falls on me).


To know how to form these verbs, we must know the reflexive pronouns. Let’s see how they work using the verb peinarse as an example.

Yo me peino                           Nosotros nos peinamos

te peinas                            Vosotros os peináis

Él se peina                              Ellos se peinan

As you can see, the only difference with the rest of the verbs is the presence of the pronouns, but the conjugation (first group in this case) is the same. Let’s see some other examples:

Yo me levanto (levantarse, stand up)

te vistes (vestirse, get dressed)

Ellos se lavan los dientes (lavarse los dientes, brush the teeth)

Ella se ducha (ducharse, take a shower)

Note that the pronoun must agree with the subject. Otherwise, the meaning might be different! For example:

Yo me levanto (levantarse, I stand up)

Yo te levanto (levantar, I lift you up)

Why so? Well, it is because of the pronouns. For the reflexive verbs, we use the reflexive pronouns. In the second example (yo te levanto) it’s not a reflexive pronoun, but a direct object pronoun.

The difference is about the action:

Yo me levanto: I lift myself, I stand up, because the pronoun agrees with the subject.

Yo te levanto: I lift you up, it’s not reflexive, because the pronoun doesn’t agree with the verb, so the action falls on the object, not on the subject.

This is one example of how the meaning can change depending whether or not the verb is reflexive. Other examples are:

Llamar (to call) – Llamarse (to be named)

Asustar (to frighten) – Asustarse (to get frightened)

Ir (a) (to go somewhere) – Irse (de) (to leave a place)

Despedir (to fire -job-) – Despedirse (to say goodbye)

There are also some reflexive verbs whose action falls on two different people, not only one. In this case, the subject must be plural. For example:

Se miran a los ojos (both of them are looking at each other’s eyes)

Nos abrazamos (I hugged him and he hugged me)

Nos conocimos en enero (we met in January, I met him and he met me)

These are actions that basically need at least two people to be developed. Of course, you can embrace somebody and maybe that person doesn’t want to embrace you back. In this case, it wouldn’t be a reflexive verb, as you are embracing that person but it’s not reciprocal. For example:

La abracé: I hugged her, but she didn’t. This is not reciprocal, therefore it’s not reflexive pronoun, but direct object pronoun.

I could keep talking about this so long time, but I want this to be an overview, not something boring. I hope you liked it and got something clear about the reflexive verbs in Spanish. If you have any question or suggestion, just let me know in the comments or write me an email!

¡Hasta la próxima!

Publicado en Grammar.

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