How to conjugate & use Spanish reflexive verbs in sentences

May 23, 2013 Alex

Los verbos reflexivos or reflexive verbs in Spanish are a special type of verbs used for actions that affect the subject of a sentence directly. In this lesson we will learn more about reflexive verbs, and the rules to conjugate them and use them in the language. This lesson includes a conjugation chart for reflexive verbs, a list of VERBOS REFLEXIVOS and some rules to know when to use them.

Spanish reflexive verbs: definition and structure – Los verbos reflexivos

All verbs in the language end in -AR, -ER and -IR in their infinitive form. Verbs represent an action that usually affects an object. For a very basic sentence like ¨Yo barro el piso¨, YO (I) would be the subject, BARRER (sweep) the action or verb and EL PISO (the floor) the object. Reflexive verbs are somewhat different as they represent actions that affects the subject of the sentence not the object itself. A main difference is that their basic form does not end in -AR, -ER or -IR but in -SE. It is often a verb in infinitive plus the -SE ending, for example: BAÑAR + SE = BAÑARSE. We could transform any simple verb into a reflexive verb, but it does not make sense to do so for a great deal of them. The picture below shows how reflexive verb are formed in Spanish and two different ways to use them in sentences.

Reflexive verbs in Spanish - los verbos reflexivos

Reflexive verbs – Los verbos reflexivos

The rules to conjugate reflexive verbs in Spanish (chart, list + examples)

As the picture shows, a reflexive verb is formed by two parts: a verb in infinitive + a reflexive pronoun. The verb in infinite is conjugated following the rules for regular verbs so for a verb like BAÑARSE (BAÑAR + SE), we should apply the rules for verbs ending in –AR and conjugate that part as (Yo) baño, (Tú) bañas, (Él) baña and so on. The reflexive pronoun -SE at the end of BAÑARSE will also change depending on the pronoun or subject in use, e.g. “Yo me baño”, where ME is the reflexive pronoun that corresponds to YO. Putting all the pieces together, for BAÑARSE we could say Yo me baño, Tú te bañas, Él se baña… and so on. Leaving out the subject pronoun is fine, but not the reflexive pronoun so something like ME BAÑO is totally correct. Here is a chart with several examples of sentences using all the possible conjugations for the reflexive verb BAÑARSE in Spanish. Click on PLAY to listen to the example.

Examples with reflexive verbs
Yo me baño en la mañana
Translation:
I take a shower in the morning
Tú te/Vos te – Tú te bañas muy rápido
Translation: You bathe very fast
Él se/ Ella se / Usted se – ¿Ella se baña sola?
Translation:
Does she bathe by herself?
Nosotros nos bañamos en el río
Translation:
We go swimming in the river
Vosotros os bañáis sin permiso
Translation:
You take a shower without permission
Los niños se bañan juntos
Translation:
The children take a shower together

Here is a list of other important reflexive verbs in Spanish that can be conjugated in a similar way: VESTIRSE (to get dressed), DORMIRSE (to go to sleep), ALISTARSE (to get ready), IRSE (to go), PONERSE (to put on), QUITARSE (to take off), ENCONTRARSE (to meet), MIRARSE (to see), ENOJARSE (to get angry), METERSE (to get in), SALIRSE (to get out) and LLAMARSE (to be named). The verb IRSE (to go) is conjugated the same way as other verbs, but the infinitive part (IR) is an irregular verb so you should be careful to use the right conjugation: Yo me voy, Tú te vas… and so on. Most are regular verbs but may need a stem change or an ortographic change, for example, SALIR is conjugated as SALGO for the pronoun YO so we should say Yo me salgo not Yo me salo. Make sure you are familiar with all these rules for regular verbs and that you recognize a few basic irregular verbs as well. The key is to know how to conjugate the verb in infitinive form and then just add the correct reflexive pronoun for the subject.

Grammar quiz: Conjuating reflexive vers in Spanish

This short quiz will help you understand better how to conjugate reflexive verbs. Choose the best answer for each question in the quiz from the given options. You will receive a tip every time you find the right answer. Press Start to begin the quiz.
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When to use reflexive verbs in Spanish: activities, commands and obligations

Reflexive verbs can be used to say simple things such as “Yo me baño” or to talk about topics that are a little more complicated like daily routines and hobbies. Here are a few notes to learn how and when to use them:

1. “Los verbos reflexivos” are used in its basic form to talk about some activities that affect us directly, especially when we want to use any of these activities as the subject of the sentence, for example: Ejercitarse es bueno (Exercising is good) and Despertarse temprano es difícil. (Waking up early is difficult). Some verbs will not need a reflexive form such as COCINAR (to cook): Cocinar es mi pasatiempo (Cooking is my hobby). COCINAR is what we would call a non-reflexive verb in the language. Using one or the other depends on what we are trying to say, for example the sentence Bañar al perro es divertido (Bathing my dog is fun) begins with BAÑAR not BAÑARSE because we want the verb to affect the object PERRO not everyone in general unlike Bañarse es divertido (Taking a shower is fun). In other words, when reflexive verbs are used as activities, if the action will affect a specific object then use the verb in infinitive form only.

2. Reflexive verbs are used for commands such as “¡Ya es hora! ¡Alístate!” or “¡Cómete toda la comida Alex!” where CÓMETE and ALÍSTATE are verbs in reflexive form. Here we only conjugate the verb following the rules for Spanish regular verbs and then add the corresponding reflexive pronoun at the end. Commands are often used for conjugations in the second person so for a verb like BAÑARSE, we would say Tú bañate, Usted bañese, Vos bañate, Ustedes bañense, Vosotros bañaos. We can apply this rules using names of people instead of the pronouns so for Alex (he), we would say Alex bañate, Alex duermete, Alex vístete and so on, all of them ending in the reflexive pronoun -TE. It is important to mention that not all commands will need reflexive verbs, for example: ¡Alex estudia! (not Alex estudiate as it would mean Alex study yourself not Alex study!). The verb CÓMETE that we used in the first example, would be used only as CÓME if we do not have the object LA COMIDA in the sentence: ¡Cóme Alex! or keeping the object ¡Cómete la comida Alex! Be careful

3. Reflexive verbs may be used to talk about obligations and chores and to do this it is common to use the irregular verb TENER as in: Yo tengo que alistarme (I have to get ready), Ellos tienen que irse (They have to go) or Tenemos que dormirnos (We have to go to sleep). The biggest difference in this case is that we keep the verb in infinitive form for all subject pronouns, but change the reflexive pronoun at the end depending on the subject of the sentence.

More practice on reflexive verbs

We will practice a little more with another quiz. Complete each of the following sentences or questions with the correct form of the Spanish reflexive verb. Again, you will receive a tip every time you find a correct answer. Press Start to begin the quiz.
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