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Ask a teacher, lesson 23 - What are reflexive verbs and when do you use them?
Hi everybody! Rosa here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Spanish questions.
The question for this lesson is…
What are reflexive verbs and when do you use them?
Before we get into pronouns, let’s cover the basics-- every sentence has a subject and an object. For example, in the sentence Yo compré un paraguas, which means, “I bought an umbrella,” yo, which is “I,” is the subject and un paraguas, which is “an umbrella,” is the object.
With some sentences, the subject and the object are the same. This is when you use reflexive verbs, which are verbs used with reflexive pronouns. Some common examples are-- lavarse, literally meaning “to wash oneself,” dirigirse a, meaning “to address oneself to,” acostarse, meaning “to put oneself to bed,” and vestirse, meaning “to dress oneself.”
These are all reflexive verbs, they all have the pronoun se attached to the verb and they generally mean that the action described by the verb is working on the subject itself.
The reflexive pronouns are me with yo for “myself," te with tú for “yourself informal," se with él/ella/usted for “himself,” “herself” and “yourself formal,” respectively, nos with nosotros for “ourselves” and os with vosotros for “yourselves informal," se with ellos/ellas for “themselves” and with ustedes for “yourselves formal.”
Let’s go through some examples so you can learn how to use Spanish reflexive verbs correctly.
First up, (Yo) voy a acostarme. Literally, “I’m going to put myself to bed.”
If you and your family get up early in the morning, you'd say, Nosotros nos levantamos temprano en la mañana. Literally, “We wake up ourselves early in the morning.”
Using me you can say Yo me compro un libro, which literally means “I buy a book (for/to myself).” Using te, Tú te compras un libro, meaning “You buy a book (for/to yourself).” Using se, Él se compra un libro, meaning “He buys a book (for/to himself).” And so on...
Notice that since these verbs use reflexive pronouns, their objects usually lack the possessive adjectives that appear in English.
For example, Él se lava las manos means, “He washes his hands.” However, if you translated it word for word, it would sound like "He washes the hands to himself." This also goes for other phrases like Él se lava el pelo, “He washes his hair,” and Él se cepilla los dientes for “He brushes his teeth.”
You can also use reflexive pronouns with emotions to make them stronger. For example, if you made your mother angry, you would say, ella se enfadó as in “she became angry.”
Note that with reflexive pronouns, you conjugate the verb according to the subject. If it were your father or your uncle who were angry, you would write, ellos se enfadaron, “they became angry.”
How was this lesson? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!
¡Hasta luego! “See you later!”