Reflexive Verbs In Spanish: The Only Guide That You Need

reflexive verbs in Spanish

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Mastering reflexive verbs is an important step in becoming a competent Spanish speaker.


So, what is a reflexive verb in Spanish?

In simple terms, reflexive verbs in Spanish are used when a person performs an action to or for him/herself.

For example, I wake (myself) up, he gets (himself) dressed, she showered (herself), and so on.

In other words, the subject and direct object of the reflexive verb is the same.

This means that the subject pronouns (yo, tú, él, ella, nosotros, ustedes, ellos, ellas) will always be affected by the action.

So how do you identify a reflexive verb? 

As we’ll cover later in this post, reflexive verbs come in many forms.

You can identify reflexive verbs by paying attention to the verb ending, which always include the reflexive pronoun “se” at the end of a verb when in the infinitive form (for example: Conocerse – to know each other).

Before we dive into the actual verbs, we must take a slight detour, and quickly review the importance of reflexive pronouns.

What is a Reflexive Pronoun?

The reflexive pronoun is key to identifying reflexive verbs.

Let’s take the verb “bañar”, which means “to bath”.

In the reflexive form, we add reflexive pronoun se, ie. “bañarse” and verb becomes “to bath oneself”.

We’ll cover more verbs like this later.

For now, let’s focus on the reflexive pronoun and how to use it:

What are the six reflexive pronouns?

Reflexive verbs need reflexive pronouns in order to make the subject and the object of the verb the same figure (ie. the action is being performed on the subject itself)

Without the reflexive pronouns, the verb will mean something else, or worse – it won’t make any sense at all.

Below are the reflexive pronoun endings, according to each subject.

Subject Reflexive pronoun
Yo Me
Tu Te
Él/Ella Se
Nosotros Nos
Ustedes Se
Ellos/Ellas Se

Where To Place Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are typically placed before conjugated verbs.

  • te afeitas todas las semanas – you shave (yourself) every week
  • Yo me despierto a las 6 de la mañana – I wake (myself) up at 6am

For negative commands, the reflexive pronoun is placed in between “no” and the conjugated verb.

  • No se preocupen, todo está bien – Don’t worry (guys), everything is fine

There are three exceptions when reflexive pronouns don’t have to be placed before the conjugated verbs.

a. Regular commands (Imperativo)

  • Levántate temprano mañana, es un día importante – Wake up early tomorrow, it’s an important day

b. Progressive verbs (-ing)

  • Estaba lavándome la cara, perdona – I was washing my face, sorry
  • Me estaba duchando cuando me llamaste – I was getting a shower when you called

c. Infinitive forms of the verb

  • No vas a salirte con la tuya – You are not going to get away with it
  • No se van a saludar – They won’t say hello to each other

Now that we nailed a basic explanation of reflexive verbs, we can examine their use in further detail.

We are going to split the use of reflexive verbs into three categories.

1. Reciprocal reflexives

Verbs used to describe an action being performed by two or more people at the same time, and normally on each other.

  • Patricia y Ana se maquillan antes de salir – Patricia and Ana put makeup on each other before going out

2. Non-reflexives

Verbs that have a different meaning when used with reflexive pronouns. For example, volver (to return) vs volverse (to become):

  • Yo vuelvo a Asia la próxima semana – I return to Asia next week
  • Ellos se volvieron amigos después de unos años – They became friends after a couple of years

3. Natural Reflexives

There are verbs which are easily identified as reflexive verbs since the pronoun se is attached to the infinitive (dormirse, bañarse, arrepentirse).

  • Me arrepiento de todo lo que hice – I regret (myself) for all I have done
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How do you use reflexive Spanish verbs?

The answer to this question will depend on which type of reflexive verb you are using, of which there are three different categories.

1) Reciprocal Reflexive Verbs

As the name suggests, reciprocal reflexives are verbs that when used with plural reflexive pronouns, indicate that the action is being performed by two or more subjects at the same time.

Remember, since the action is reciprocal, it is performed by two or more subjects, on each other, which means it always includes the reflexive pronouns “nos” or “se“.

Below are some examples of the most common reciprocal reflexive verbs.

Spanish English Spanish / English Sentence
Conocerse To know each other
  • Paolo y Sofía se conocen hace mucho tiempo – Paolo and Sofía know each other long time ago
Saludarse To say hello to each other
  • Ellos se saludan en la oficina – They say hello to each other at the office
Golpearse To hit each other
  • Los peleadores se golpean fuerte – The fighters hit each other hard
Contarse To tell/say each other
  • Raquel y yo nos contamos todo – Raquel and I tell everything to each other
Lastimarse To hurt each other
  • Los competidores se lastiman – The competitors hurt each other
Pelearse To fight each other
  • Carlos y yo nos peleamos casi todos los días – Carlos and I fight each other almost every day
Insultarse To insult each other
  • Ellas se insultan por él – They insult each other because of him

You’ll notice that the closest English translation for reciprocal reflexives is: action verb + each other.

In Spanish, there’s no need to add reciprocal phrases or words like: entre sí, el uno al otro (each other) etc at the end of the sentence, as reciprocal reflexives already tell us that the action is being performed by two subjects on each other.

The only reason you might use these words is to place emphasis on who is receiving the action.

  • Patricia y Damián se aman el uno al otro – They love each other

Even when you don’t add “each other”, the sentence is understood as a reciprocal action.

  • Joseph y yo nos saludamos en la mañana – Joseph and I said hello to each other in the morning.

Some verbs that aren’t typically reciprocal verbs can, in the right context, be used to indicate a reciprocal action when two or more subjects are involved.

  • Franco y Bianca se comen a besos – Franco and Bianca eat each other up with kisses
  • Mis amigos se adivinaban los pensamientos – My friends guessed each other’s thoughts.

2) Non-Reflexive Verbs

Verbs that can be used with or without reflexive pronouns are known as non-reflexive verbs.

These verbs are ones that can easily land you in trouble.

Because when we add reflexive pronouns to non-reflexive verbs, the subject affected by the action changes, and most of the time the original meaning is changed – sometimes drastically.

Without a reflexive pronoun, the action of the verb affects a different subject.

Look at what happens the verb levantar (to pick up/lift) when we add reflexive pronouns to make it levantarse (to get up).

In the below non-reflexive example, Andrea’s action is affecting the books.

  • Andrea levanta los libros – Andrea picks up the books.

But in the below reflexive example, Andrea’s action is affecting herself directly.

  • Andrea se levanta temprano – Andrea gets up early.

Below is a list of “non-reflexive” verbs with and without reflexive pronouns.

Non-reflexive English equivalent Reflexive English equivalent
Aburrir To bore Aburrirse To get bored
Acercar To bring closer Acercarse To get closer
Caer To fall or to like/dislike someone Caerse To fall over or to fall down or to fall out
Encontrar To find Encontrarse To find (someone or oneself)
Ir To go Irse To leave
Levantar To pick up / To lift Levantarse To get up
Llamar To call Llamarse To be called/named
Negar To deny Negarse To decline or refuse
Ocupar To occupy or fill Ocuparse To take care of something
Perder To lose Perderse To become lost or to miss something
Referir To narrate Referirse To refer
Retirar To remove Retirarse To back out or retire
Reir To laugh Reírse To laugh oneself
Reunir To collect Reunirse To gather or get together
Secar To dry Secarse To dry up
Volver To return Volverse To become
Poner To put Ponerse To put on
Quedar To set a meeting or to agree on something Quedarse To stay

As you can see from above table, many verbs have a completely different meaning when used with reflexive pronouns.

This naturally causes a lot of confusion when you mistakenly misuse reflexive pronouns.

Imagine that you agreed to meet a friend at the park. Before leaving your house, you send him a message to say that you’re on the way.

So you write: yo voy a irme del parque.

Your friend would probably be confused since you just told him that you are leaving the park – and he hasn’t even arrived.

Of course, you should have said: yo voy a ir al parque.

That’s a simple example of how misusing “non-reflexives” can land you in an embarrassing or confusing situation.

Let’s compare this to using a non-reflexive correctly.

For example, ocupar (to occupy, fill, take up) vs ocuparse (to take care of something).

  • Ese mueble ocupa mucho espacio en la sala de estar – That piece of furniture takes too much space in the living room
  • Yo voy a ocuparme de sacarlo de aquí – I will take care of getting it out of here

3) Natural Reflexives

And finally, we are going to cover Spanish verbs that the most commonly used for reflexive actions.

Many of these can be classed as routine verbs, since you’ll use them when speaking about daily actions, routines and personal care.

These verbs are easy to identify, since they will always include the reflexive pronoun se in the infinitive form

By nature, these verbs are reflexive since the verbs describe an action being performed on the subject (yo, tú, él, ella, nosotros, ustedes, ellos, ellas).

When used in a non-reflexive form, they often keep their original meaning but refer to a different subject ie. when you perform an action on somebody else.

For example, below we use the reflexive form to indicate that the subject (person) is doing the action for themselves.

  • Yo me afeito en la mañana – I shave (myself) in the morning

When we use the same verb without the reflexive pronoun, we indicate that the subject (person) receiving the action of the verb is somebody else.

  • Yo afeito la barba de mi abuelo – I shave my grandfather’s beard

Now, let’s review the most common reflexive verbs for speaking about daily actions.

Daily Actions

Non-reflexive English equivalent Reflexive English equivalent
Acostar To lay down Acostarse To go to bed
Afeitar To shave Afeitarse To shave oneself
Bañar To bath Bañarse To take a bath
Cepillar To brush Cepillarse To brush oneself
Despertar To wake Despertarse To wake up
Dormir To sleep Dormirse To fall asleep
Lavar To wash Lavarse To wash up
Maquillar To apply makeup Maquillarse To apply makeup oneself
Peinar To comb Peinarse To comb oneself

Here are a few examples of how to use these verbs.

  • Siempre me ha gustado cepillarme antes de bañarme – I have always liked brushing before taking a bath
  • Ve a vestirte para salir temprano – Go and get dressed so that we can leave early
  • Te puedes acostar allí, yo voy a dormirme ya – You can lay there, I’m going to sleep now

Emotions and moods:

You’ll also use these verbs to describe personal feelings and moods.

Non-reflexive English equivalent Reflexive English equivalent
Alegrar To cheer up/to lighten up Alegrarse To be happy/pleased
Asustar To frighten/to scare Asustarse To get scared /to be frightened
Cansar to tire/to annoy Cansarse To get tired
Divertir To amuse Divertirse To have a good time/to enjoy oneself
Sentir To feel Sentirse To feel oneself

These will work similarly if not identically, shown here:

  • Me alegra mucho que vengas – It makes me happy that you come
  • Él se siente mal, lleva así desde la tarde – He’s feeling bad, and has been like that since the afternoon
  • Siéntate acá, ya vuelvo – Sit here, I’ll be right back

The final group of verbs that we are going to mention can only be used with the reflexive pronouns.

For that reason, they are truly Natural Reflexives.

Unlike the last section, these verbs don’t change meaning when used without reflexive pronouns but instead, they often won’t make any sense.

Spanish English
Adentrarse To enter
Adormilarse To doze off
Adueñarse To take ownership
Arrepentirse To regret
Casarse To get married
Desvestir To undress
Desinteresarse To lose interest
Dignarse To condescend
Sentarse To sit down
Suicidarse To commit suicide
Quitarse To take off

Below are two examples of how these verbs are used:

  • Estabas adormilándote en el viaje hacia acá – You were getting sleepy on the way here)
  • Debes estar arrepintiendote de perder tanto tiempo en eso – You must be regretting wasting so much time in that
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Practice: Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Complete the sentences with the reflexive verbs:

1.Todos los días luego de _________ (Levantarse), _________ (Lavarse) la cara

Every day after waking up, I wash my face

2. Recuerda _________ (Lavarse) los dientes antes de salir.

Remember to brush your teeth before going out

3. Mis familiares _________ (Reunirse) todos los años en esta fecha.

My family members gather every year around this time.

4. _________ (Asustarse) cuando vieron todo el trabajo que tenían que hacer.

They got scared after seeing how much work they had to do.

5. Luego de vivir solo, Carlos _________ (Volverse) una persona mucho más responsable.

After living alone, Carlos became much more responsible person.

6. _________ (Perderse) del partido por llegar tarde!

You missed on the game for being late!

7. Es una niña pequeña así que _________ (Aburrirse) muy fácil.

She’s a little girl so she gets bored easily.

8. _________ (Arrepentirse) por muchas de las cosas que había hecho.

He regretted many of the things he had done.

9. Ayer _________ (Dormirse) muy temprano.

We fell asleep early yesterday

10.- _________ (Doler) un poco la cabeza, ¿Puedes bajar el volumen?

I have a bit of a headache, could you lower the volume.


1. Todos los días luego de levantarme, me lavo la cara.

2.Recuerda lavarte los dientes antes de salir.

3. Mis familiares se reúnen todos los años en esta fecha.

4. Se asustaron cuando vieron todo el trabajo que tenían que hacer.

5. Luego de vivir solo, Carlos se volvió una persona mucho más responsable.

6. ¡Te perdiste del partido por llegar tarde!

7. Es una niña pequeña así que se aburre muy fácil.

8. Se arrepintió por muchas de las cosas que había hecho.

9. Ayer nos dormimos muy temprano.

10. Me duele un poco la cabeza, ¿Puedes bajar el volumen?.


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