The Complete Guide to Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

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For many Spanish learners, understanding and using reflexive verbs is one of the most difficult topics to deal with when learning Spanish. However, soon they notice that reflexive verbs are an important part of any Spanish conversation. As a result, they find themselves needing to know what reflexive verbs are, how to use them, how to conjugate, and more. 

If you’re learning Spanish, sooner than later you will need to use reflexive verbs. For that reason, in this guide to Spanish reflexive verbs, we compiled different topics that will allow you to have a better understanding of these verbs as well as the rules to identify and use them. 

In each section, you’ll find an overview of the most common questions about Spanish reflexive verbs. On top of discussing when and how to use these verbs, we’ll provide real-life examples. If you would like to learn more about each topic, you’ll find additional reflexive verb resources that can help you linked in each section. 

By the end of this, you will have a better understanding about reflexive verbs in Spanish. 

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What are reflexive verbs and how do they work?

Reflexive verbs are verbs that are used to talk about actions that we perform on ourselves. Unlike ‘standard’ sentences, sentences that work with reflexive verbs indicate that the person performing the action is also the object (person(s)/thing(s) that receive or are affected by the action). 

Spanish reflexive verbs always work with reflexive pronouns that need to match with the subject of the sentence. 

Me levanto muy temprano todos los días
Every day, I wake up very early

te amarras las agujetas
You tie your shoelaces 

Rebeca se prepara para ir a trabajar
Rebeca gets ready to go to work

Notice that the actions mentioned in the examples above are done and received by the same person. I don’t need anybody to wake me up, because I do that myself and it’s me who is going to be affected or beneficiated by this action. 

Learn More: What are reflexive verbs in Spanish?

Difference between reflexive verbs and non-reflexive verbs in Spanish

When dealing with reflexive verbs, many Spanish learners wonder if there’s a difference between a reflexive and a regular verb. In meaning both types of verbs are exactly the same. However, when it comes to who is receiving the action, reflexive and non-reflexive verbs are completely different.

In other words, each verb is directing the action to a different object. So, as you know, reflexive verbs express that a subject does something on itself. But with standard verbs you have two elements: someone performs the action and another person or thing receives it. 

[Subject] + [reflexive pronoun] + [verb conjugated]

Brenda se despierta muy temprano
Brenda wakes up very early

[Subject] + [verb conjugated] + a + [determiner] + [object]

Todas las mañanas, Brenda despierta a Saúl 
Every morning, Brenda wakes Saul up

Notice the difference between these examples where #1 is using a reflexive form and #2 a non-reflexive verb. In #1, Brenda wakes herself up while in #2 Brenda performs the action (wake up) on someone else (Saúl). 

Take Note: Reflexive verbs and ‘standard’ verbs are easy to confuse because the verbs look the same and share the same meaning (in most cases). However, they work with different elements and have different purposes. 

Learn More: Difference Between Reflexive Verbs and Non-Reflexive Verbs 

How & When to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Reflexive verbs can be used anytime you’re expressing that a person performed an action on or upon herself/himself. There’s no doubt that there are many contexts where this concept can be applied. 

But, in general, reflexive verbs are very common when talking about: daily routines, personal care activities, reciprocal actions and changes on relationships, social status, emotions or physical conditions. 

Chris se enamoró de Susana
Chris fell in love with Susana

Me cortó el cabello cada mes
I cut my hair every month

Damián y yo nos enojamos con Priscila
Damian and I got mad with Priscila

Mis hermanos no se cansan de jugar
My brothers don’t get tired of running 

One of the most common contexts where you can use reflexive verbs is to talk about daily routines and any personal care activities that you do yourself. Although these are great and common situations, keep in mind that reflexive verbs can also be applied in other contexts. 

Learn More: How & When to Use Reflexive Verbs

How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

In their infinitive form, reflexive verbs end with ‘se’ (bañarse, vestirse). When it comes to conjugating, this ‘se’ ending can be very confusing for Spanish learners. However, ‘se’ indicates that you’re dealing with a reflexive verb and it will need to be replaced by the proper reflexive pronoun:

Just like any other Spanish verbs, you need to identify in which Spanish verb group the reflexive verb fits (-ar, -er-, -ir) and just follow the endings for each group and tense. Here is a phrase structure that you can use:

Subject + [reflexive pronoun] + [verb conjugated]

Me bañé con agua fría
I showered with cold water

¿Por qué no te pruebas una talla chica?
Why don’t you try on a small size?

Edwin siempre se sienta en esta silla
Edwin always sits in this chair 

Nosotros nos iremos mañana en la mañana
We’re leaving tomorrow morning

Las bebés se quedaron dormidas en su cuna
The babies fell asleep in their crib

As long as your sentence only has one verb, this previous phrase structure can be used with:

  • Present tense
  • Questions
  • Negative statements
  • Past tense
  • Future tense 
  • Conditional sentences
  • Negative commands

When conjugating these verbs, the reflexive pronoun is extremely important and its position may vary depending on the number of verbs that your sentence has as well as the tense or mood you’re using. 

Learn More: How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

List with Most Common Reflexive Verbs

The following list contains some of the most common reflexive verbs in Spanish. All of them are very useful for real-life conversations since they can be used to talk about daily routines. 

¿Dónde te vas a sentar?
Where are you going to sit?

Entre semana, me duermo temprano
During the week, I fall asleep early

Miriam se mira en el espejo todo el tiempo
Miriam looks at herself in the mirror all the time

Although these are reflexive verbs that you can use to talk about your daily activities, you may also want to learn other verbs that you can apply in different situations. 

Learn More: 154 Most Common Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

What’s the difference between reflexive verbs and reciprocal verbs in Spanish?

At first sight, reflexive and reciprocal verbs look the same because they both work with reflexive pronouns and express that an action goes back to the subject performing it. Reciprocal verbs express reciprocity: this means that two or more subjects perform an action on each other. As a result, these verbs only work with plural form. 

Reflexive verbs express that the subject is performing the action on itself, as a result, it doesn’t express any reciprocity. Unlike reciprocal verbs, reflexive verbs are not limited to work with plural forms.  

Reciprocal activities:

(Subjects) + [plural reflexive pronouns] + [verb conjugated in plural form]

Alonso y Gabriela se miraron uno al otro
Alonso and Gabriela look at each other

Ellos se quieren mucho
They love each other so much

Take Note: In some cases, reciprocal statements can be translated as ‘each other’. However, this translation may not always sound natural. 

Reflexive activities:

Subject + [reflexive pronoun] + [verb conjugated]

Yo me miro al espejo para arreglarme el cabello
I look at myself in the mirror to fix my hair

Dennis se viste para ir a trabajar
Dennis gets dressed to go to work 

Learn More: Difference Between Reciprocal and Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Important Rules for Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

When working with reflexive verbs, the most important rules that you need to be aware of are related to the reflexive pronouns. So for instance:

  • They always need to match the subject of the action
  • Their position on the sentence may vary depending on the number of verbs that a sentence has as well as the tenses that you are using. 
  • Unlike personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns cannot be omitted because the sentence would lose its reflexive meaning. 

There are other important rules that you need to follow when working with reflexive verbs. So make sure you understand them all. 

Learn More: Rules for Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Wrapping Up

For many Spanish learners, reflexive verbs is a difficult and challenging topic. For that reason, in this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about reflexive verbs. 

We included extra resources so you can get a deeper and better understanding of what these verbs are, the contexts where you can use them and how to conjugate them. 

We also provided a shortlist of the most common reflexive verbs in Spanish. Hopefully, this guide has helped you develop a better understanding of these important and critical type of verbs.

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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