Spanish Reflexive Verbs

Understanding Spanish Reflexive verbs is essential to being able to communicate properly in Spanish.

By the end of this post you should:

  • understand what a Spanish reflexive verb is
  • know the differences between reflexive verbs and non-reflexive verbs in Spanish

What is a reflexive verb?

First of all it is important to know what a reflexive verb is. A nice summary is as follows:

A reflexive verb is a verb where the person doing the action is also the recipient of the action. An example of a sentence using a reflexive verb in English could be 'I wash myself'. The reason for it being reflexive is the person doing the washing is also the person doing the action.

Lavar (to wash) v Lavarse (to wash oneself)

Let’s firstly look at a non-reflexive verb, ‘lavar’ which literally means to ‘to wash’. It is a normal ‘ar’ verb and has normal ‘ar’ verb endings:

  • Lavo = I wash
  • Lavas = You wash (speaking to one friend/one child)
  • Lava = He/She/It washes + You wash (speaking to one stranger)
  • Lavamos = We wash
  • Laváis = You wash (speaking to 2(+) friends/2(+) children)
  • Lavan = They wash + You wash (speaking to 2(+) strangers)

The above verb is fine by itself for when a person wants to say that they wash something else, for example:

  • ‘Lavo el coche’ = ‘I wash the car’.

The alternative ‘lavarse‘ literally translates as ‘to wash oneself‘ (i.e. to have a wash) and in the present tense is as follows:

  • Me lavo = I wash myself
  • Te lavas = You wash yourself (talking to one friend/one child)
  • Se lava = He washes himself/She washes herself/(It washes itself) + You wash yourself (talking to one stranger)
  • Nos lavamos = We wash ourselves
  • Os laváis = You wash yourselves (talking to 2(+) friends/2(+) children)
  • Se lavan = They wash themselves + You wash yourselves (talking to 2(+) strangers)

You would use ‘lavarse’ when you want to say that someone is having a wash, etc.

If you compare ‘lavar’ with ‘lavarse’, you will see that the verb endings are the same for both. The reason for this is ‘lavar’ is the verb part of ‘lavarse’.

All that has happened is that for the reflexive version we need to add an extra word (‘me’ (myself), ‘te’ (yourself), etc.) to show that the person is doing the action to themselves.

Consequently, you use ‘lavar’ when you want to say that someone washes something. However, you use ‘lavarse’ to indicate that someone is having a wash.

Llamar (to call) v Llamarse (to call oneself)

Another example of a reflexive verb is ‘llamarse’. The ‘llamar’ part means ‘to call’, so can be used, for example, in the sense of ‘to phone’:

  • llamo = I call
  • llamas = You call (speaking to one friend/one child)
  • llama = He/She/It calls + You call (speaking to one stranger)
  • llamamos = We call
  • llamáis = You call (speaking to 2(+) friends/2(+) children)
  • llaman = They call + You call (speaking to 2(+) strangers)

The reflexive form ‘llamarse’ however means ‘to call oneself’ and is used to ask/tell what someone’s name is and is shown as follows:

  • Me llamo = I call myself (i.e. ‘My name is….’)
  • Te llamas = You call yourself (one friend/one child) (i.e. ‘Your name is….’)
  • Se llama = He calls himself/She calls herself/(It calls itself) (i.e. ‘His/Her/Its name is….’) + You call yourself (one stranger) (i.e. ‘Your name is….’)
  • Nos llamamos = We call ourselves (i.e. ‘Our names are….’)
  • Os llamáis = You call yourselves (2(+) friends/2(+) children) (i.e. ‘Your names are….’)
  • Se llaman = They call themselves (i.e. ‘Their names are….’) + You call yourselves (2(+) strangers) (i.e. ‘Your names are….’)

Again you will see the only difference between the non-reflexive verb (llamar = to call) and the reflexive verb (llamarse = to call oneself) is you simply need to add an extra word before the verb to show who the action is being done to (i.e. ‘me’, ‘te’, se’, etc). The same applies for all reflexive verbs.

Feel free to get in contact with any questions you have about Spanish reflexive verbs or if you wish to book Spanish tuition with me. (More details on my foreign language tuition services can be seen by clicking here).