6.1 Verbs Used Reflexively and Reflexive Pronouns

Verbs used reflexively are accompanied by an object pronoun that refers back to the subject. As you will see, this pronoun is sometimes routinely used in English, other times optional and, yet others, untranslatable. Examples of two verbs (with subject pronouns) used reflexively follow:

VESTIRSE (I)- TO GET DRESSED (TO DRESS ONESELF)

Person Singular Plural
1st me visto (I get dressed) nos vestimos (we get dressed)
2nd te vistes (you get dressed) os vestís (you all get dressed)
3rd se viste (he/she/you gets dressed) se visten (they/you get dressed)

LEVANTARSE- TO GET UP

Person Singular Plural
1st me levanto (I get up) nos levantamos (we get up)
2nd te levantas (you get up) os levantáis (you all get up)
3rd se levanta (he/she/you gets up) se levantan (they/you get up)

When reading or translating, you will have the choice of omitting or including the reflexive pronoun as appropriate, as well as some cases where two translations are possible.

Yo me levanto temprano. I get (myself) up early.
El niño se lastima cuando se cae. The child gets hurt (hurts himself) when he falls down.

If a conjugated verb + infinitive construction is present, the reflexive pronoun may precede the conjugated verb or be attached to the infinitive:

Me voy a bañar ahora.

Voy a bañarme ahora.

I’m going to take a bath now.

It is somewhat more common in dialogue to see the object pronoun before the conjugated verb. In Latin American Spanish, you are more likely to see the pronoun attached to the infinitive in written Spanish.

Some verbs are used reflexively and the pronoun is never translated. As you see below (as well as above, with vestirse and levantarse), when listed in the infinitive form, these verbs have the third person singular reflexive pronoun attached to the infinitive. Some such verbs with untranslatable reflexive pronouns are:

atreverse (a) to dare (to)
arrepentirse (ie) to repent
dignarse to deign
jactarse (de) to brag, to boast (about, of)
quejarse (de) to complain (about, of)

¡Ojo! When putting on, taking off or doing something else to one’s own clothing, in Spanish the definite article replaces the possessive pronoun before the article of clothing, as the reflexive pronoun indicates to whom the action is being done and the possessive pronoun is considered redundant. Note the following translations:

Me pongo los pantalones. I put on my pants. (Not “the pants.”)
Nos quitamos los zapatos al entrar en casa. We take off our shoes upon entering the house. (Not “the shoes.”)

The possessive pronoun is used only when the speaker is doing something to someone else’s clothing, which translates literally from English and poses no comprehension problem: Me pongo tu chaqueta, ¿está bien? (“I’m putting on your jacket, OK?”)

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

acordarse (ue) (de)- to remember*
acostarse (ue)- to go to bed
bañarse- to take a bath, to bathe
caerse- to fall down
cepillarse (los dientes)- to brush (one’s teeth)
cortarse- to cut oneself
despertarse (ie)- to wake up
divertirse (ie)- to have a good time, to amuse oneself, to enjoy oneself
dormirse (ue)- to fall asleep
encontrarse (ue)- to be located, to be (ill or well), to find oneself (somewhere)**
irse- to go away
lastimarse- to get hurt, to hurt oneself
lavarse- to wash
levantarse- to get up
llamarse- to be called, to be named
llevarse- to carry away/ off
olvidarse (de)- to forget***
parecerse a- to resemble
perderse (ie)- to get (to become) lost
ponerse- to put on (clothing)
probarse (ue)- to try on (clothing)
quedar(se)- to stay, to be****
quitarse- to take off (clothing)
secarse- to dry (off)
sentarse (ie)- to sit down*****
sentirse (ie)- to feel*****
vestirse (i)- to get dressed

Sustantivos:

la cara- face
la cartera- wallet
el cinturón- belt
el collar- necklace (false friend)
la corbata- tie
los guantes- gloves
las medias- stockings
la moda- fashion, style
el nombre- name
el pie- foot
la ropa interior- underwear
el traje- suit
el traje de baño- bathing suit
las zapatillas- slippers

Adjetivo:

seco- dry

*Acordarse is followed by an untranslated de when an object follows: No me acuerdo de la fecha (“I don’t remember the date”).

**Encontrarse combines with the preposition con to mean “to run into” or “to meet accidentally or on purpose.” It does not mean “to meet” in the sense of “to make the acquaintance of.”

***Olvidar may be used with both the reflexive pronoun and the preposition de before an object, or both may be omitted, without changing the meaning: Olvido tu cumpleaños or Me olvido tu cumpleaños are identical in meaning (“I forget your birthday.”)

****Quedar may be used reflexively or not, without generally changing the meaning. Regional considerations make it difficult to be precise.

*****Be careful, as the forms of these two verbs are always similar (and, in the case of the first person singular of the present, identical). Their meaning, however, is always clear in context.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.