Reflecting on reflexive verbs Conversa blog | Conversa Spanish Institute

Reflecting on Reflexive Verbs

At the very beginning of your Spanish classes, you probably learned “Me llamo…” to say “My name is…” but did you know it literally translates to “I call myself”? In fact, this introductory phrase is part of a category of verbs called reflexive verbs. There are lots of reflexive verbs in Spanish that have special rules, and we’ll explain them more here.

What are reflexive verbs?

These are verbs where the person doing the action is also the person receiving the action. Most verbs have a subject, the one that does the action, and an object, the one that receives the action. In many cases, the subject and the object are different. In the case of reflexive verbs, you do the action to yourself. You can think of them as reflexive because the action reflects back on the subject, like a reflection in a mirror.

The tricky part about learning reflexive verbs in Spanish is that most of them aren’t exactly the same in English. For example, a really common verb is “despertarse” which in English means “to wake up.” In English, you don’t really say “to wake oneself up,” but that’s how it literally translates in Spanish.

Conjugating reflexive verbs

First, we have to be able to identify reflexive verbs. Verbs end in -ar, -er or -ir, but reflexive verbs will have a -se at the end of them. Looking at “despertarse,” we see the -ar ending in “despertar” and then the -se ending at the end. This tells us that despertarse is a reflexive verb. This means that we can split reflexive verbs into two parts: the main verb and the reflexive component “-se.”

The main verb conjugates just like normal- based on the subject and the tense. However, we have to make sure to conjugate the “-se” too. First, move it to the front of the verb. Then, you’re going to conjugate it based on the subject. Remember, reflexive verbs mean that whoever is doing the action does it to themself. There are 6 reflexive pronouns that you need to know. We’ll show you them along, and in context of the verb despertarse.

yo me -> me despierto

te -> te despiertas

él/ella/usted se -> se despierta

nosotros(as) nos -> nos despertamos

vosotros(as) os -> se despertáis

ellos/ellas/ustedes se -> se despiertan

Common reflexive verbs

There are lots of common reflexive verbs in Spanish in addition to despertarse. Some of them are:

  1. Levantarseto get oneself up
  2. Lavarse to wash oneself
  3. Ducharseto shower oneself
  4. Cepillarseto brush oneself
  5. Acostarse to put oneself to bed

There are lots of other reflexive verbs in Spanish, and before long, you’ll be using them all the time like a pro!

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