When we consider reflexive verbs, Spanish uses them in many more contexts than English does. For example, beyond the familiar English “myself” forms of reflexive verbs, Spanish reflexives are used for actions as diverse as getting excited or falling asleep.
In this post, we’re going to examine the Spanish reflexive verbs. In particular, we’ll introduce many of the reflexive verbs Spanish uses, which English doesn’t. We’ll also offer a list of reflexive verbs in Spanish for several main groups of uses.
The Basics: What are Reflexive Verbs in Spanish?
Before we go any further, we need to answer the basic question: what is a reflexive verb in Spanish?
All Spanish reflexive verbs, or verbos reflexivos, have one thing in common: their infinitive verb form has the pronoun se attached. Hence, the Spanish verb conjugation with the verbos reflexivos will always include the Spanish reflexive pronouns: me, te, se, and nos. For more detail, check out our specific post on the reflexive pronouns Spanish uses.
Spanish reflexive verbs generally refer to the subjects’ actions on themselves, though as we’ll see below the action can sometimes also be between the subject and another person.
When to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish
Now that we can recognize reflexive verbs in Spanish, let’s consider how they’re used, broken down into some main groupings. As you’ll see, the reflexive verbs Spanish uses are much broader than any equivalent uses you’re familiar with in English!
Reflexive verbs for actions done on oneself
This is the group of Spanish reflexive verbs which English speakers will likely find easiest to grasp, since many of the same reflexive concepts exist in both languages. These reflexive verbs describe actions the subject is doing on themself, typically related to daily life or personal hygiene. Spanish reflexives can also refer to actions involving parts of the body or clothing.
Let’s take a look at our first list of reflexive verbs in Spanish:
|Spanish reflexive verb||English|
|Levantarse||To get out of bed, To get up|
|Acostarse||To go to bed|
|Peinarse||To comb oneself, To brush oneself|
|Bañarse||To shower, to bathe|
|Maquillarse||To make yourself up, To put on makeup|
|Cepillarse||To brush [oneself]|
|Cortarse||To cut oneself, To trim (one’s hair, fingernails, etc.)|
|Ducharse||To take a shower|
|Lavarse||To wash [yourself] up|
|Llamarse||To be named|
|Mirarse||To look at oneself|
|Secarse||To dry [oneself] off, To wipe [oneself] dry|
|Vestirse||To get dressed|
|Ponerse||To put on, To get dressed|
|Quitarse||To take something off|
|Probarse||To try on|
|Arreglarse||To get ready, To primp [oneself]|
|Acicalarse||To clean oneself up|
|Ensuciarse||To get dirty|
|Prepararse||To prepare oneself, To get ready|
|Alistarse||To get ready, To get dressed|
- Dentists recommend that we should brush our teeth three times a day. – Los odontólogos recomiendan que nos cepillemos tres veces al día.
- What time do you usually go to bed? – ¿A qué hora te acuestas regularmente?
- What time do you all usually get up? – ¿A qué hora se levantan regularmente?
Reflexive verbs for feelings or emotions
This group of Spanish reflexive verbs may seem less intuitive to native English speakers, however keep in mind that, similarly to the previous group, feelings and emotions can still be considered as referring to the subject themself.
Let’s take a look at these in our next list of reflexive verbs in Spanish:
|Spanish reflexive verb||English|
|Aburrirse||To get bored|
|Alegrarse||To be glad, To be happy|
|Calmarse||To calm down|
|Divertirse||To have fun|
|Enfadarse||To get annoyed|
|Enojarse||To get angry|
|Entusiasmarse||To be thrilled, To be excited|
|Exasperarse||To lose patience|
|Marearse||To feel ill, To get motion sickness, To get tipsy, To get nauseated|
|Ofenderse||To be offended, To take offense|
|Molestarse||To be offended about, To get annoyed|
|Molestarse en||To make an effort to, To take the trouble to|
|Sorprenderse||To be surprised|
|Tranquilizarse||To calm down|
|Desesperarse||To despair, To lose hope|
|Sentirse + emotion||To feel [an emotion]|
|Ponerse + emotion||To feel, To get + emotion|
- We always get seasick when we travel by ferry. – Siempre nos mareamos cuando viajamos en ferry.
- Angela got mad at her boyfriend. – Angela se puso brava con su novio.
Note that, particularly when we talk about certain feelings, you may need to use the subjunctive form in the next phrase:
- I am glad you have found your keys. – Me alegro de que hayas encontrado tus llaves.
- We are surprised that you are so punctual. – Nos sorprendemos de que seas tan puntual.
Reflexive verbs for reciprocal actions
When a Spanish reflexive verb has a reciprocal meaning, the action happens to two or more subjects at once. In English, you commonly do this type of action “to each other.” Let’s take a look at this next list of reflexive verbs in Spanish:
|Saludarse||To greet each other|
|Despedirse||To say goodbye|
|Conocerse||To know each other|
|Llevarse bien / Llevarse mal||To get along well / To not get along|
|Besarse||To kiss each other|
|Escribirse||To write to each other|
|Amarse||To love each other|
|Sincerarse||To be honest, To tell the truth|
|Contarse||To tell each other|
|Abrazarse||To hug each other|
|Odiarse||To hate each other|
|Verse||To see each other|
- Karen and María have been getting along well since high school. – Karen y María se han llevado bien desde bachillerato.
- Luis and Martha hugged as soon as they saw each other. – Luis y Martha se abrazaron apenas se vieron.
Reflexive or Non-Reflexive?
So far in this post, the Spanish verbs we’ve introduced are primarily used in their reflexive form. There’s an entire family of verbs in Spanish, however, which have both reflexive and non-reflexive forms, each with their own meanings. The lists of Spanish verbs we present in the next sections are not exhaustive, since the rules we’re introducing can really be applied to a wide variety of concepts.
Reflexive verbs with non-reflexive forms
Some Spanish verbs are more common in their reflexive form, but can be used with a similar meaning in non-reflexive form. The reflexive is for when the subject is performing an action on themself, while the non-reflexive is used if they perform that same action on someone else.
By the same token, in cases when the subject performs an action on themself, we can sometimes even use a reflexive form on verbs which are normally non-reflexive.
In these examples, the important detail is that in the reflexive form, the action is happening to the subject. We use the Spanish reflexive pronouns in these cases, as opposed to the non-reflexive examples where the subject performs the same action on someone else:
- Lucia is getting dressed for the party, – Lucía se está vistiendo para la fiesta.
- Lucia is dressing her kids for the party. – Lucia está vistiendo a sus hijos para la fiesta.
- The girl gently combs her hair. – La chica se peina suavemente el cabello.
- The girl combs her little sister’s hair gently. – La chica peina suavemente el cabello de su hermanita.
- Roberto had his hair cut last week. – Roberto se cortó el pelo la semana pasada.
- Roberto cut his son’s hair at the beginning of the school year. – Roberto cortó el pelo de su hijo al inicio del curso escolar.
Spanish verbs with different meanings in reflexive and non-reflexive forms
With many Spanish verbs, the meaning changes more significantly. In these examples, it’s important to understand the difference between the non-reflexive and the reflexive forms of the Spanish verbs we’re using.
While the meanings may be related, there are important differences between the two forms. Here’s our next list of reflexive verbs in Spanish, with some of the common examples:
|Non-reflexive verb||English||Reflexive verb||English|
|Aburrir||To bore, To irritate||Aburrirse||To get bored|
|Abonar||To pay, To cash||Abonarse||To subscribe|
|Abrir||To open||Abrirse||To open up, To be receptive, To split open|
|Acusar||To charge, To accuse, To tell on||Acusarse||To confess|
|Callar||To silence, To hush||Callarse||To say nothing, To keep quiet|
|Combinar||To combine, To mix||Combinarse||To blend, To come together, To work as a team|
|Dormir||To sleep||Dormirse||To fall asleep|
|Ir||To go||Irse||To leave|
|Llevar||To take, To carry||Llevarse||To steal, To be in fashion|
|Poner||To put||Ponerse + emotion||To become + emotion, To get + emotion|
|Salir||To get out, To leave||Salirse||To leave (a position), To resign|
|Ver||To see||Verse||To imagine yourself, To see yourself|
Reflexive form to add some emphasis
Sometimes Spanish speakers add emphasis to an action by adding a reflexive pronoun, effectively conjugating an otherwise non-reflexive verb in a reflexive form. This doesn’t imply, however, that these should be considered to be reflexive verbs in Spanish! This is really just an informal way to say emphatically that the action occurred.
In general, this grammatical practice is employed to underline an excessive amount of action just happened. It’s common with non-reflexive Spanish verbs such as comer, beber, or comprar, where you might want to emphasize just how much was eaten, drank, or bought. There’s not really a good English equivalent for this, so let’s just see it in action:
- This morning I ate five apples. – Me comí cinco manzanas esta mañana.
- Did you drink all the orange juice? – ¿Te has bebido todo el jugo de naranja?
- Did you really buy the entire series of Harry Potter books? – ¿De verdad te compraste toda la serie de libros de Harry Potter?
With that, do you feel more comfortable with reflexive verbs in Spanish? – Y ahora, ¿te sientes más cómodo con los verbos reflexivos en español? We’re thrilled that you can better understand when to use reflexive verbs in Spanish! – ¡Nos entusiasmamos de que hayas entendido mejor cuándo usar los verbos reflexivos en español!
Once we got through the basics of using reflexive verbs with the reflexive pronouns in Spanish, the main section of this post looked at several main groups of reflexive verbs Spanish uses for different concepts surrounding the self, whether personal actions, feelings or emotions, or reciprocal actions. We then covered the contexts where verbs can be used in both reflexive and non-reflexive forms, with the important nuances in the meaning for each form.
And that’s it for today, folks. Finally, it’s time to say goodbye! – ¡Y finalmente ha llegado el momento de despedirnos!