An Easy Guide To Reflexive Pronouns In Spanish

He brushes his hair: Reflexive pronouns in Spanish

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Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and direct object of the reflexive verb is the same.

In simple terms, we use reflexive pronouns and verbs when referring to actions that we perform on ourselves, or likewise, actions that other people perform on themselves.

The most basic example of this is when describing your daily routine.

For example:

  • I wake (myself) up
  • I bathe (myself)
  • I put clothes on (myself)

Since reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself etc) are used less often in English, the direct translation often sounds a bit clumsy.

For example, in Spanish you’d say “me pongo la ropa”, which directly translates to “I put clothes on myself”.

Another reason to quickly master reflexive pronouns and verbs is to help make your conversation sound fluent, by enabling shorter sentences.

For example, you could say:

  • Yo compré una camisa para mi – I bought a shirt for me

Or you could use reflexive pronouns to sound less robotic and more native-like.

  • Yo me compré una camisa – I bought myself a shirt

An important point to remember is that reflexive pronouns only work when the subject both performs and receives the action (in other words, when a person performs an action on themselves).

Let’s take a look at more examples:

  • I bathe every day – Me baño todos los días
  • You look at yourself in the mirror – Te miras al espejo
  • My mother will be surprised for the gift – Mi madre se sorprenderá por el regalo

The remainder of this post will focus on reflexive pronouns, however, you can read more about reflexive verbs (or pronominal verbs) in this separate post.

What Are The 5 Reflexive Pronouns In Spanish?

Reflexive pronouns use the same forms as indirect object pronouns, with the exception of se, which is used instead of for the third person.

  1. me (myself)
  2. te (yourself),
  3. se (yourself (formal), himself, herself).
  4. nos (ourselves)
  5. se (yourselves, themselves).

Now let’s review some examples, using every reflexive pronoun:

  • I sit on the chair  – (Yo) Me siento en la silla
  • You wash your hair twice a week – (Tú) Te lavas el cabello dos veces por semana
  • She brushs her teeth – (Ella) Se cepilla los dientes
  • He looks in the mirror – (Él) Se mira en el espejo
  • You wake up early every day – (Usted) Se despierta temprano cada día.
  • We take off our shoes – (Nosotros) Nos quitamos los zapatos
  • They stayed at school – (Ellos) Se quedaron en la escuela
  • We wash our hands – (Nosotros) Nos lavamos las manos

Reflexive pronouns match the subject and the person, but including subject pronouns (you, tú, ella, etc) in a sentence is completely optional.

For example, to say “we wash our hands”, you can say either of the below:

  • nosotros nos lavamos las manos
  • nos lavamos las manos

Both mean the exact same thing.

How do you use reflexive pronouns?

Until now, we saw reflexive pronouns placed before conjugated verbs (e.g. se mira en el espejo)

Now let’s look at 3 other ways to use reflexive pronouns, and how they are placed.

1) Verbs in the infinite form

Reflexive pronouns can be placed at the end of an infinitive verb, like this:

  • I have to take a bath – Tengo que Bañarme

It can also be placed at the beginning of a conjugated verb, that ends with an infinitive.

  • I have to take a bath –  Me tengo que bañar

In both examples, the meaning in the exact same.

Let’s take a look at more examples of the same concept.

  • She has to wash her hands – Ella tiene que lavarse las manos / Se tiene que lavar las manos
  • She wants to sleep early  – Ella quiere dormirse temprano – Ella se quiere dormir temprano
  • We are going to wash our faces – Vamos a lavarnos la cara – Nos vamos a lavar la cara

2) Progressive Verbs

When dealing with progressive verbs (English -ing verbs) in Spanish, you can place the reflexive pronoun a) behind or b) in front of the progressive verb.

Once again, both options will result in the same meaning.

  • I am bathing – Estoy bañándome / Me estoy bañando

Below are more examples of progressive verbs with reflexive pronouns in Spanish.

  • She is washing her hands – Ella está lavándose las manos / Ella se está lavando las manos
  • She is sleeping early – Ella está durmiéndose temprano / Ella se está durmiendo temprano
  • We are washing our faces –  Estamos lavándonos la cara / Nos estamos lavando la cara

3) Reflexives Pronouns and Imperative Mood

It’s time to mention an exception to a rule we previously mentioned.

Earlier we said that reflexive pronouns must match the subject ie. an action must be performed and received by the same subject.

However, the imperative mood is the one exception to this.

We use the imperative mood to give commands or orders, which will always refer to someone else.

Why?

Because you cannot give orders to yourself in the first person.

Therefore you can use Spanish reflexive pronouns when using reflexive verbs to give commands in the Imperative.

Affirmative commands

When dealing with affirmative sentences, the reflexive pronouns will always be placed at the end of the conjugated verb.

Let’s take a look at some example scenarios.

I need my younger brother to look at me, so I tell him:

  • Look at me! – ¡Mirame!

A mother tells her children before eating:

  • Wash your hands (you plural) – Lávense las manos

I tell my daughter that she needs to go to bed early:

  • Go to sleep early (you) – Duermete temprano

My friend wants to go out with me, so she says to me:

  • Put on your shoes and let’s go – Ponte los zapatos y vamos

As you can see, Spanish reflexive pronouns and the affirmative Imperative mood is something that you will frequently use.

Negative sentences

When the sentence is negative, verbs in the imperative are used in the subjunctive.

(read here for a full explanation of the Imperative)

And when you want to use reflexive pronouns, these pronouns go after the negative word “no”.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Don’t wash your hands – No te laves las manos
  • Don´t sleep early – No te duermas temprano
  • Don’t wash your faces – No se laven la cara
  • Don´t you bath now, we gotta go – No te bañes ahora, tenemos que irnos

Every verb you see right after the reflexive pronoun  (te, se, nos)  in imperative sentences are conjugated in the subjunctive.

(don’t worry if you don’t know the subjunctive yet, the important thing is to remember where to place the reflexive pronouns.)

Before we finish, we need to clear up a common misconception.

Spanish Reflexive Pronouns vs Object Pronouns?

Many beginners tend to confuse reflexive pronouns with object pronouns, since some of the pronouns look similar.

Let’s review them side-by-side to clear up any confusion.

Personal Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun Direct Object Pronoun Indirect Object Pronoun
Yo Me Me Me
Te Te Te
Él Se Lo Le
Ella Se La Le
Usted Se Lo, La Le
Nosotros Nos Nos Nos
Ustedes Se Los / Las Les
Ellos / Ellas Se Los / Las Les

In simple terms, you use reflexive pronouns when the subject matches who/what is receiving the action

  • Me compro una camiseta – I buy myself a shirt

When the subject is not receiving the action, then the pronouns we use are called object pronouns.

  • Te compro una camiseta – I buy you a shirt

Although they look very similar, the main difference is that the first phrase is reflexive and the second phrase is not.

Simple.

Practice: Reflexive Pronouns in Spanish

Now it’s time to test what you know.

Simply add the correct Spanish reflexive pronouns to the below sentences.

(scroll to the bottom for the answers)

  1. Cuando _____  despierto , yo ____ lavo los dientes.

(When I wake up, I brush my teeth.)

  1. Ella ____ peina su cabello antes de ir a la escuela.

(She combs her hair before going to school.)

  1. ____ vestimos para salir a bailar esta noche

(We dress up to go dancing tonight)

  1. Yo ____ quito el maquillaje antes de ir a dormir

(I take off the makeup before going to sleep)

  1. No puedes perder___ ningún ensayo.

( You can’t miss any rehearsal)

  1. Tú barba está muy larga, ¡Afeita___!

(Your beard is too long, please shave!)

  1. Él ___ está  poniendo los zapatos.

(He’s putting on his shoes.)

  1.  ___ relaja oír música suave.

(It relaxes me to hear soft music.)

  1. Cuando voy a la playa, ___ baño en el mar durante muchas horas.

(When I go to the beach, I bath in the sea for many hours.)

  1. ___ rompí la pierna cuando ___ caí patinando.

(I broke my leg when I fell skating.)

Answers

  1. Cuando me despierto , yo me lavo los dientes.
  1.  Ella se peina su cabello antes de dormirse.
  1. Nos vestimos para salir a bailar.
  1. Me quito el maquillaje antes de ir a dormir.
  1. No puedes perderte ningun ensayo.
  1. Tú barba está muy larga, ¡Afeitate!
  1. Él está  poniéndose lo zapatos.
  1. Me relaja oír música suave.
  1. Cuando voy a la playa, me baño en el mar durante muchas horas.
  1. Me rompí la pierna cuando me caí patinando.
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