6.4 Subjective Use of Reflexive Pronouns

The Spanish reflexive pronoun is used in ways that it is not in English, in cases where it cannot be translated literally or at all, such as with the verb quejarse, (“to complain”), which in itself has no reflexive meaning:

Me quejo con el profesor. I complain to the teacher.

English expresses such subjectivity by other means or Spanish possesses a linguistic subtlety absent in English. You have seen such usages listed in section 6.1:

Reflexive non-reflexive
irse (to go away) versus ir (to go)
dormirse (to fall asleep) versus dormir (to sleep)
caerse (to fall down) versus caer (to fall)
llevarse (to carry away/off) versus llevar (to carry)

Although all but the most basic of these forms are difficult to use in speech by non-native speakers, they are very common, especially in speech but also in writing and should be recognized so that the reader can have a clear idea of their implication. As seen above, English can communicate this subjectivity by adding words such as “away,” “down,” and, as you will see below, “up,” among others. Notes the various ways, when it is possible in English, to communicate this subjectivity that corresponds to the inclusion of reflexive pronouns in Spanish with verbs that are not normally reflexive or otherwise used reflexively. Note in the examples below that the reflexive pronoun is inserted only when something is eaten or drunk in its entirety.

El se come todas las galletas. He eats up (devours) all the cookies.
Ella se toma toda la leche. She drinks up (down) all the milk.

Other times, the reflexive pronouns can only be translated parenthetically, or, in reading, intuitively, once you have grasped the basic concept. A verb with which to illustrate this is the verb morir (“to die”):

Spanish English Interpretation
El paciente murió en el hospital. The patient died in the hospital.  This is a statement of fact that might be made by someone with no personal connection to the patient.
Ella se murió. She passed away.  There is emotional involvement present. The speaker is affected by her death.

Vocabulario básico 


parecer- to seem


la boca- mouth
el brazo- arm (cognate- embrace)
el cabello- hair
la cabeza- head
el dedo- finger
el dedo del pie- toe
la espalda- back
el hombro- shoulder
el lavabo- sink
la mano- hand
la nariz- nose
el oído- inner ear
el ojo- eye
la oreja- outer ear
la pierna- leg


levantarse con el pie izquierdo- to get up on the wrong side of the bed

Last revised on June 16, 2021.