Pronominal Verbs in Spanish

There are two types of pronominal verbs: reflexive and reciprocal. Pronominal verbs must be conjugated with reflexive pronouns.  When the subject of the sentence is acting upon him- or herself, it is called reflexive. When two (or more) subjects are performing the same action upon one another, it is called reciprocal.
Here are the pronouns that we’ll use:

Singular

Plural

Me (myself) Nos (ourselves)
Te (yourself) Os (yourselves-Spain only)
Se (himself, herself, itself, yourself-formal) Se (themselves, yourselves)

(Note that these pronouns are identical to the direct and indirect object pronouns in the first and second persons, plural and singular.)

Reflexive verbs in the infinitive are typically written with ‘se’ tacked onto the end. For example: Lavar is the infinite of to wash. We call it the infinitive because it is not conjugated, there is no subject doing the action. Lavarse is the infinitive of to wash oneself. Note the slight shift in meaning. When we conjugate reflexive verbs it is a two-step process. First we remove se and conjugate the verb. Then we match the pronoun to the person doing the action and stick it in front of the conjugated verb:

Emilio se ve en el espejo  (Emilio sees himself in the mirror) (from verse-to see oneself)

Most textbooks use this opportunity to practice daily routine vocabulary, because much of it is reflexive. Here are some common vocabulary words:
acostar(se)   to put to bed; to go to bed
afeitar(se)    to shave; to shave oneself
bañar(se)     to bathe; to bathe oneself
casar(se)    to get married
despertar(se)   to wake (someone up); to wake up
dormir(se)   to sleep; to fall asleep
duchar(se)   to shower; to take a shower
lavar(se)  to wash; to wash oneself
levantar(se) to raise/lift; to get up
maquillar(se)  to put makeup on someone; to put makeup on oneself
peinar(se)  to comb someone’s hair; to comb one’s own hair
poner(se) (la ropa) to put clothes on (oneself)
quitar(se)  to take off/to remove (la ropa)(from oneself)
secar(se)  to dry; to dry oneself
vestir(se) to wear; to dress oneself

Who is doing what, to whom?
Reflexive (and reciprocal) verbs, tell you that the person(s) performing the action is/are the same person(s) receiving that action. But what does that mean?
Here are some more examples:

1.Él se cepilla los dientes. (He brushes *himself* the teeth)=(He brushes his teeth)
[Note the lack of possessive adjectives in the Spanish sentence, we don’t say sus dientes (his teeth) we say the teeth, because if it’s reflexive, we already know the teeth are his!]

2. Yo me despierto muy temprano. (I wake *myself* up very early)=(I wake up very early)
[I am waking up early, I am not waking someone else up very early! You can, but it wouldn’t need a reflexive pronoun. And it would be super mean.]

3. Tú lavas al perro (You wash the dog)
[Uh oh! This isn’t reflexive because you are not washing yourself, you are washing something else. In this case, the dog. Be careful!]

4. Yo me lavo la cara. (I wash *myself* the face)=(I wash my face)
[In this case, it is definitely reflexive because you are doing it to yourself.]

 

 

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