Reflexive Verbs

Definition: a reflexive verb is one in which the subject of the verb does something to itself. For example: I wash the car / lavo el coche (non-reflexive); I wash myself / yo me lavo (reflexive). In the first example, the question "What do I wash?" elicits the resonse "the car"; while in the second example, the question "What do I wash?" elicits the response "myself"; ie the same person as the subject of the verb -- hence a reflexive verb in which the object pronoun reflects back upon the subject and is therefore reflexive.

English, French, and Spanish: This is where the bilingual citizens of Canada are fortunate, for the structure of reflexive verbs is virtually identical in French and Spanish, as the following table will show.

English: to wash oneself French: se laver Spanish: lavarse*
I wash myself je me lave yo me lavo**
you wash yourself tu te laves tú te lavas
s/he washes himself/herself il / elle se lave él / ella se lava
we wash ourselves nous nous lavons nosotros nos lavamos***
you wash yourselves vous vous lavez vosotros os laváis****
they wash themselves ils / elles se lavent ellos / ellas se lavan

Starred notes:

*Note that in Spanish the pronoun always follows the infinitive and is attached to it. Infinitive: lavar; pronoun: se; infinitive plus pronoun: lavarse. When the verb is conjugated, the pronoun is placed immediately before the conjugated verb and, in a reflexive verb, conforms to the subject: yo me lavo.

** I wash myself / yo me lavo or just me lavo. Remember that the subject pronoun need not be used as long as the meaning is clear.

***We wash ourselves / nosotros nos lavamos -- this is one of the clear differences between French and Spanish: nous nous lavons versus nosotros nos lavamos or nos lavamos. Incidentally, do not confuse the subject pronoun nosotros with the reflexive pronoun nos, especially in the abbreviated form nos lavamos (subject included in the verb ending and no separate subject expressed).

****You wash yourselves / vosotros os laváis -- there are two things to note here: (1) the English form you covers the Spanish form vosotros (you / familiar plural); and (2) the reflexive pronoun os is very different from the apparent repetition that occurs in French: vous vous lavez.

Stem-changing verbs:

Certain reflexive verbs are stem-changing and ask you to do two things at once; this can complicate life as (1) you must remember the reflexive forms, as listed above; and (2) you must also conjugate the stem-changing verb according to the applicable rules. Here are some stem-changing reflexive verbs.

acostarse (ue) dormirse (ue) sentarse (ie)
yo me acuesto yo me duermo yo me siento
tú te acuestas tú te duermes tú te sientas
ella se acuesta ella se duerme ella se sienta
nosotros nos acostamos nosotros nos dormimos nosotros nos sentamos
vosotros os acostáis vosotros os dormís vosotros os sentáis
ellos se acuestan ellas se duermen ellos se sientan

¿Cómo es tu día? / What is your day like?

One of the easiest ways to remember reflexive verbs is to shape your day around them, hour by hour.

A las siete, yo me despierto. / At seven I wake up.

A las siete y cuarto, yo me ducho y me afeito. / At 7:15, I shower and shave.

A las siete y media, yo me visto. / At 7:30, I get dressed.

A las ocho menos cuarto, yo me desayuno. / At 7:45, I have breakfast.

This exercise can be turned into a simple essay. It also can be used in an easy question and answer session: "At what time do you have lunch?" "What do you do at eleven o'clock?"

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