What Are Reflexive Verbs in Spanish?

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When learning Spanish, many people may be dealing with reflexive verbs for the first time because they’re not used as much or in the same way in their own language. As a result, many new and experienced Spanish speakers wonder what reflexive verbs are. 

Spanish reflexive verbs are verbs that are always accompanied by reflexive pronouns. They are used to express that the subject performing an action and the object receiving it are the same entity. Therefore, reflexive verbs are used when talking about actions that a subject does to or upon itself. 

For many Spanish learners, it’s difficult to know what reflexive verbs. However, these constructions are not only common but also necessary for good Spanish communication. As a result, in the following sections, we’ll explain to you what these verbs are, how they work, and how you can identify them.  

Additionally, we’ll provide you with examples of how to use these verbs. By the end of this, you’ll have a clear understanding of what Spanish reflexive verbs are. 

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What Are Reflexive Verbs in Spanish?

Reflexive verbs are a core part of the Spanish language. But since these verbs follow other grammatical rules, they can be a little bit difficult to understand and to apply. 

When it comes to Spanish, reflexive verbs always work with reflexive pronouns. Adding these pronouns allows the reflexive verb to fulfill its purpose: to express that a subject is doing an action to itself. 

In other words, with reflexive verbs, the subject that performs the action is also who is receiving this action or being affected by it. 

Yo me puse el suéter al revés
I put on the sweater inside out

Antes de correr, me quito mis collares
Before running, I take my necklaces off

Notice the previous examples. I put on the sweater inside out myself. Nobody else did this to me and it’s me who is going to be affected or recipient by this action. This explanation and examples show how reflexive verbs work in the first person, but they also apply in the second and third person as well (read below).

Now, let’s see how reflexive verbs work and how you can identify them. 

How to Identify Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

In their infinitive form, reflexive verbs are very easy to identify because they all have a ‘se’ ending. Here you have some examples: 

Reflexive Non-Reflexive

As mentioned before, reflexive verbs always work with reflexive pronouns. Therefore, the presence of these pronouns will allow you to identify a reflexive verb from a regular (non-reflexive) verb.

Me baño en la mañana y en la noche
I bathe in the mornings and at night

Yo baño a mi perro en el patio
I bathe my dog in the yard 

The first example uses a reflexive verb (bañarse) because “I” perform the action on myself, whereas the second example is a regular verb (bañar) since “I” perform the action, my dog is the recipient of the action.

Take Note: A sentence with non-reflexive verbs may require an object (the person or thing receiving the action) which would be introduced with the preposition a. Due to its nature, a reflexive verb uses its reflexive pronouns to indicate that the subject is performing the action to itself. 

Related Resource: Difference Between Reflexive and Normal Verbs in Spanish

How Reflexive Verbs Work in Spanish

The main key to know how reflexive verbs work in Spanish is being aware of the purpose of these verbs. A reflexive verb is used every time that a subject performs an action on itself.

In order to indicate this ‘reflection’, we need to use reflexive pronouns. In previous sections, we established that reflexives verbs have a ‘se’ ending. ‘Se’ indicates that you’re dealing with a reflexive verb. In order to conjugate properly, this pronoun ‘se’ needs to be replaced with a proper pronoun that matches the subject of the sentence. 

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

Samantha se pinta las uñas muy mal
She paints her nails very badly 

¿Por qué te despertaste a media noche?
Why did you wake up in the middle of the night?

Ross se peina con mucho gel
Ross combs his hair with a lot of gel

¿Chicos, se lavaron las manos con jabón?
Did you guys wash your hands with soap?

These previous examples show that a person is performing an action on itself. These same verbs can also be used in their non-reflexive form. Notice the difference between the phrase structures that you need to use for each case:

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

Ross peina a su hijo
Ross combs his son’s hair

Samantha le pinta las uñas a sus clientas
Samantha paints her customer’s nails

Mis hermanos le lavan las manos a mi primita
My brothers wash my little cousin’s hands

Take Note: Reflexive verbs are like any other verb in Spanish. As a result, you need to make sure to follow their proper conjugation rules. 

Related Resource: How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns

A reflexive verb wouldn’t be reflexive if it wasn’t accompanied by a reflexive pronoun. In previous sections, we mentioned that in their infinitive form, reflexive verbs end with ‘se’. However, when conjugating, this pronoun ‘se’ needs to be replaced by any of the following reflexive pronouns.

SubjectSpanish Reflexive PronounEnglish Reflexive Pronoun
Él / Ella / UstedSeHimself / Herself / Itself
Ellos / Ellas / UstedesSeThemselves / Yourselves 

Although each Spanish reflexive pronoun has a translation, notice that in English, you may not always use them because the sentence may sound unnatural. 

Vosotros os despertáis muy tardes
You guys wake up (yourselves) very late

Christian se afeita todas las mañanas
Christian shaves (himself) every morning

Take Note: Reflexive pronouns are very similar to direct and indirect object pronouns. All of these pronouns are indicating that a person received an action. The main difference between them is that relative pronouns are also indicating that the subject of the action is also its object. 

Wrapping Up 

For most Spanish students, reflexive verbs are a challenging topic. However, these verbs are used in a lot of daily conversations. For that reason, in this article, we explained what reflexive verbs are. 

We learned that these verbs always work with reflexive pronouns and that their purpose is to indicate that a subject performs an action to/upon itself. Additionally, we discussed that unlike non-reflexive verbs, reflexives have a ‘se’ ending. 

Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what reflexive verbs are. 
Related Resource: How & When to Use Reflexives Verbs in Spanish

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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