6.3 Clarifying Ambiguity of Reflexive Pronouns

At times, when the subject and verb are plural, reflexive pronouns may be ambiguous out of context, as they may also carry the reciprocal meaning of “(to) each other”:

Nos despertamos. We wake (ourselves) up.

OR

We wake each other up.

Se engañan. They’re deceiving themselves.

OR

They’re deceiving each other.

When such ambiguity occurs, Spanish may use one of two prepositional phrases to differentiate one meaning from the other:

Nos despertamos a nosotros mismos.  We wake (ourselves) up.
Nos despertamos el uno al otro.  We wake each other up.
Se engañan a sí mismos.  They’re deceiving themselves.
Se engañan el uno al otro.  They’re deceiving each other.

If the two involved parties are women, the second construction shifts to la una a la otra. Likewise, if the parties are masculine plural or feminine plural, the construction becomes los unos a los otros or las unas a las otras, respectively.

Last revised on December 10, 2021.