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Reflexive Verbs - Spanish Grammar

Written by tutor Jennifer H.

What is a reflexive verb?

A reflexive verb is a verb that is used when the subject and object receiving the action are the same.

In English:

Ex. I wash myself.
-Subject: I
-Verb: wash
-Object: myself

Both the subject and the object refer to the same person. I am doing the action to myself.

Since the subject and the object are the same the verb is reflexive.

When is it not reflexive?

Like stated before if the subject and object are not the same if the verb is not reflexive.

In English:

Ex. I wash the dog.
-Subject: I
-Verb: wash
-Object: dog

The subject and the object are different. I am doing the action to something else, NOT myself.

Because the subject and object are different, this verb is not reflexive.

How do I know if a verb is reflexive in Spanish?

Reflexive verbs in Spanish end in se when not conjugated.

Example:

lavar lavarse
to wash (non-reflexive)      to wash oneself (reflexive)

Other examples:

despertar - to wake up      despertarse - to wake oneself up
maquillar - to put make-up on      maquillarse - to put make-up on oneself
vestir - to dress      vestirse - to dress oneself/to get dressed
poner - to put      ponerse - to put on

When do I use reflexive verbs and pronouns in Spanish?

If the subject and the object of a verb are the same a reflexive pronoun can be used.

In Spanish the reflexive pronoun shows that the subject acts upon itself.

This is where that se comes into play...

How do I conjugate reflexive verbs?

When you conjugate, include the reflexive pronoun that agrees with the subject, but place it in front of the conjugated verb.

Ex. lavarse

yo me lavo           nosotros nos lavamos
te lavas vosotros os lavaís
Usted, él, ella      se lava Uds., ellos, ellas      se lavan

Notice that the verbs are conjugated according to their subject and each subject has its own pronoun.

Other ways to use the reflexive pronoun

Reflexive pronouns can go before a conjugated verb or can be joined to the end of an infinitive.

Me lavo la cara.
I wash my face.

Voy a lavarme la cara.
I am going to wash my face.

Common Reflexive Verbs

afeitarse - to shave
levantarse - to get up
prepararse - to get ready
bañarse - to bathe
mantenerse - to maintain
quitarse - to take off
despertarse - to wake up
maquillarse - to put on make-up
relajarse - to relax
vestirse - to get dressed

Reflexive verbs practice quiz

Choose the correct translation.

I wash the car.

A. Lavo el auto.
B. Me lavo el auto.
The correct answer here would be A.

I bathe myself.

A. Me baño.
B. Yo baño.
The correct answer here would be A.

Juan goes to bed at ten in the evening.

A. Juan acuesta a las diez de la noche.
B. Juan se acuesta a las diez de la noche.
The correct answer here would be B.
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