Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

You probably didn't realize, but one of the first phrase sets you learned while studying Spanish contains a reflexive verb: ¿Cómote llamas? and Me llamo... both contain the reflexive verb llamarse. Though you may have learned that these phrases mean "What's your name?" and "My name is...," a more literal translation would be "What do you call yourself?" and "I call myself..." These are reflexive sentences.

For a verb to be considered reflexive, it must have the same object and subject. In the sentence "I see myself," the verb "see" is reflexive because the subject "I" and the object "myself" refer to the exact same thing. In the sentence "I see your point," "see" is not being used reflexively, because the subject and object are different.

In Spanish, reflexive verbs end in se.
Examples:
Lavar = to wash (non-reflexive)  Lavarse = to wash oneself (reflexive)
Vestir = to dress(non-reflexive)  Vestirse = to dress oneself (reflexive)

When you conjugate a reflexive verb, you need to include a reflexive pronoun in addition to a subject pronoun. Though it is possible to leave out a subject pronoun if it is clear from the context, you may not leave out the reflexive pronoun. The reflexive pronoun goes after the subject and before the verb. If the sentence is negative, no goes before the reflexive pronoun.

Here are the reflexive pronouns:
Me [myself]
Te [yourself, informal]
Se [himself, herself, yourself formal, themselves, yourselves]
Nos [ourselves]
Os [Yourselves {Spain only}]

Here are some example sentences to show how the reflexive pronouns match subject pronouns:
Yo me lavo. [I wash {myself}.]
Túte lavas. [You wash{yourself}.] (informal, singular "you")
Él se lava. [He washes {himself}.]
Ella se lava. [She washes {herself}.]
Usted se lava. [You wash{yourself}.] (Formal, singular "you")
Nosotrosnoslavamos. [We wash {ourselves}.]
Nosotrasnoslavamos. [We wash {ourselves}.] (feminine)
Vosotrososlaváis. [You wash {yourselves}.] (informal, plural "you," Spain only)
Vosotrasoslaváis. [You wash {yourselves}.] (feminine, informal, plural "you," Spain only)
Ellos se lava . [They wash {themselves}.]
Ellas se lavan. . [They wash {themselves}.] (feminine)
Ustedes se lavan. [You wash {yourselves}.] (plural, formal "you")

Reflexive verbs are used far more often in Spanish than in English. For instance, it is not really necessary to use "myself," "yourself," etc. in the English sentences above - but in the Spanish sentences, me, te, etc. are required! This shows that the action of the verb stays with the subject. For this reason, if you refer to a body part as the object, you use the reflexive pronoun and the definite article (el, la, los, las).
Example:
Me lavo las manos. (I wash my hands.)

As a beginner, you only need to be able to recognize reflexive verbs and form basic sentences. The various uses of reflexive verbs in Spanish are quite nuanced, and making a verb reflexive can change the meaning of what you are trying to say - but those are more advanced grammar topics.

Related Links:
Spanish Imperatives
Spanish Worksheets
Spanish Quizzes
Spanish Games
Spanish FlashCards


Educational Videos