Grammar Tip – Spanish Reflexive Verbs

Spanish Grammar Tip

Los verbos reflexivos (Spanish reflexive verbs) indicate those actions that someone usually performs on themselves. In fact, most reflexive verbs express actions related to personal care or daily routines: e.g. levantarse (to get up), lavarse (to wash oneself), vestirse (to get dressed). For this reason, reflexive verbs are always accompanied by reflexive pronouns which must agree with the subject in person and number.

Pronombre reflexivoVerboEnglish
MElavoI wash myself
TElavasYou wash yourself
SElavaHe washes himself/she washes herself
NOSlavamosWe wash ourselves
OSlaváisYou lot wash yourselves
SElavanThey wash themselves


As shown in the grid above, to conjugate a reflexive verb such as lavarse (lavar + se) in the present tense, you must drop the reflexive ending -se and apply the usual endings for -ar verbs of the tense at hand along with the reflexive pronouns going before each verbal form.

Needless to say, this rule applies to all three verb groups, i.e. –ar, -er, -ir, as well as any tense.

ducharse (duchar + se) = me duchaba →I used to shower myself

caerse (caer + se) = te has caído → you have fallen down

vestirse (vestir + se) = nos vestiremos → we will get dressed


However, in the case of verbal periphrasis, reflexive pronouns can either go before the main verb or attached to the second verb.

Carlota se está preparando. = Carlota está preparándose. → Carlota is getting ready.

¿Te vas a bañar? = ¿Vas a bañarte? → Are you going to take a bath?


To form the negative of reflexive verbs you simply need to put no before the reflexive pronoun accompanying the verb.

No me maquillo todos los días. → I don’t put make up on every day.

De pequeña no me acostaba muy temprano. → As a child, I wouldn’t go to bed very early.


Be aware that a great number of Spanish reflexive verbs express a different meaning when used as non-reflexive, that is without reflexive pronouns. Here are some of them:

ir(se)to leave / to quit
irto go
levantar(se)to get up
levantarto lift
llamar(se)to be named (called)
llamarto call
meter(se)te get in
meterto put
ocupar(se)to take responsibility for
ocuparto occupy
perder(se)to get lost
perderto lose
poner(se)to become / to get dressed in
ponerto put
volver(se)to become
volverto return


Let’s look at some examples:

Mañana vamos a la playa.  → Tomorrow we are going to the beach.

≠Se fue del trabajo porque no aguantaba a su jefe. → He left his job as he couldn’t stand his boss.

Acabo de poner los platos en la mesa. → I’ve just put the plates on the table.

≠ Luis siempre se pone los mismos zapatos. → Luis wears the same shoes all the time.

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