Reflexive verbs in Spanish: A guide

Reflexive verbs in Spanish: A guide

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated December 2, 2022

Are you about to embark on a journey to learn reflexive verbs in Spanish? At first glance, this part of Spanish grammar may seem like a big mountain to tackle. If the way we conjugate reflexive verbs in Spanish is different from that of your native language, it might seem difficult.

In reality, reflexive verbs are so common in everyday Spanish that you may already be acquainted with some without realizing it. That’s okay! We are here to remind you of what you know and build from there.

We’ve prepared this guide to help you figure reflexive verbs out. You’ll see that the mountain is more of a small hill in this case.

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What is a reflexive verb in Spanish?

A reflexive verb in Spanish is used when the subject and object of our sentence is the same person or entity. We use these verbs to indicate that a person or thing has done something for or to themselves.

In English, these actions are tied to pronouns like myself, her/himself, themselves, etc. Take a look at this sentence:

  • English: Maddy introduced herself to Jake.
  • Spanish: Maddy se presentó con Jake.

In this sentence, both the person doing the introduction (the subject) and the one being introduced (the object) is Maddy. She performs the action at or to herself. Therefore, we’re using a reflective verb in Spanish.

Tip: If you need to figure out when to use reflexive verbs in Spanish, ask yourself this question: are the subject and the object of the sentence the same person or thing? If so, then we’ve got a reflexive verb on our hands.

How do we identify infinitive reflexive verbs in Spanish?

So we know that Spanish verbs end in –ar, -er or -ir. However, reflexive verbs in their infinitive form do not. 

To identify infinitive reflexive verbs, just check the ending. Is there -se after the usual verb’s ending? Bingo. It’s a reflexive verb. The -se indicates that the action is being done to the subject itself. For example: bañar-se (to bathe oneself), querer-se (to love oneself), dormir-se (to put oneself to sleep). 

Reflexive pronouns in Spanish

Before we learn how to conjugate reflexive verbs in Spanish, we need to review the reflexive pronouns in the endings. 

SubjectReflexive pronoun
Yo (I)Me
Tú (you)Te
Usted (formal ‘you’)Se
Él, ella (he, she)Se
Nosotros, nosotras (masculine ‘we’, feminine ‘we’)Nos
Ustedes (plural ‘you’)Se
Ellos, ellas (masculine ‘they’, feminine ‘they’)Se

Okay, let’s get into the good stuff below with conjugation.

How to conjugate reflexive verbs in Spanish

Let’s say we want to express that Laura wakes herself up every day at 7:00 a.m. The reflexive verb here is levantarse (to wake oneself). To conjugate this verb, we can follow these steps:

  • We determine the reflexive pronoun for our sentence according to gender and number of the subject.
    Laura is female, so we go with the pronoun se.
  • We take the reflexive verb and ignore the infinitive -se ending because we already have the reflexive pronoun above.
    Levantarse is now levantar (to wake).
  • We conjugate the new infinitive form of the verb as we usually would (past, present or future) according to the subject. This includes irregular verbs.
    For this sentence, we use the present tense of levantar for ‘she’. So we now have levanta.
  • We place the reflexive pronoun right before the conjugated verb.
    Se levanta

Complete the rest of the sentence: Laura se levanta todos los días a las 7:00 a.m.

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When is the reflexive pronoun not in front of its verb?

In some cases, the pronoun doesn’t have to go immediately before the reflexive verb. In special cases, it can appear in different word order.

  • Progressive verbs (‘-ing’ verbs):
    Me estaba bañando cuando llamaste (I was showering -myself- when you called).
    Mario está sentándose en tu silla/Mario se está sentando en tu silla (Mario is sitting -himself- on your chair).
  • Infinitive forms of the verb:
    Romina tiene que irse ya/Romina se tiene que ir ya (Romina has to go now).
  • Commands:
    No vayas a caerte (don’t fall -by yourself-).

A list of common reflexive verbs in Spanish

Ready to learn some vocabulary? Here is a list of some of the most common reflexive verbs in Spanish:

AburrirseTo feel boredMe aburro en las tardes (I feel bored in the afternoons)
BañarseTo showerLucía se está bañando (Lucía is showering)
CaerseTo fallMe caí en la calle (I fell down on the street)
CansarseTo feel tiredNos cansamos de correr (we got tired from running)
DivertirseTo have fun¿Se divirtió Sofía? (Did Sofía have fun?)
DormirseTo sleepMe voy a dormir (I’m going to sleep)
EnamorarseTo fall in loveÉl se enamoró de ella (he fell in love with her)
IrseTo go¿Te vas ya? (Are you leaving now?)
LevantarseTo wake up/get upMe levantaré temprano (I’ll wake up early)
LlamarseTo be namedMe llamo Amanda (I’m named Amanda)
PerderseTo get lostUstedes se perdieron (you got lost)
SentarseTo sit downNo me voy a sentar (I won’t sit down)
SentirseTo feelLos chicos se sienten contentos (the guys feel happy)
VestirseTo dress up¿Usted se vestirá? (Are you going to get dressed?)

As you can see, reflexive verbs are particularly useful when we want to describe routines, movements, feelings or moods. This is why you’ll hear them often in everyday conversations.

Not a mountain but a small hill

See? The mountain was not too large to overcome! You now know when to use reflexive verbs in Spanish and how to conjugate them. If you focus on who is performing the action and who is the direct object of that action, you can identify a reflexive verb. Reflex away!

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

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