A Guide to Understanding Spanish Reflexive Verbs

A Guide to Understanding Spanish Reflexive Verbs

Proper referencing in conversation is one of the essential elements to master when learning a new language. Therefore, you need to invest in understanding the object and subject of sentences as an initial step in language learning.

One concept that proves difficult for most people when it comes to Spanish is reflexive verbs. Mastering both the use and the occurrence of these verbs contribute highly to your fluency in communication.

 Spanish Frequency Dictionaries

Learning Spanish reflexive verbs requires a lot of studying and reading. Our Spanish Frequency Dictionaries will teach you 10,000 most common words in Spanish. They are listed by frequency and alphabet, which makes learning new vocabulary extremely effective. Try them out! You will find a lot of extras there, such as example sentences translated into English.


Spanish Reflexive Verbs


Reflexive verbs are those whose subject and object refer to the same thing or person. When the doer of the action is also the receiver, the verb is identified as being reflexive. This usage of verbs occurs a lot in day-to-day conversations, and it is easy to send the wrong message if you are not careful.

You should note that although you can get a reflexive verb from a regular verb, there are instances where the meaning changes completely. 


Spanish Reflexive Pronouns


A reflexive verb is followed by a reflexive pronoun. The pronoun is used as either the direct or indirect object of the sentence. By identifying the pronoun, you can point out the reflexive verb. The following is a table of these pronouns:




1st Person

Myself – me

Ourselves – nos

2nd Person

Yourself – te (informal)

Yourselves – os (informal, in Spain)

3rd Person


Himself – se


Yourself (formal)

Themselves – se

Yourselves (informal)



Types of Reflexive Verbs


There are several types of reflexive verbs in Spanish. These include:


  1. Those which also have a non-reflexive form with a similar meaning, such as:


  • Conocer – to know; conocerse – to know each other
  • Casar – to marry; casarse – to get married
  • Llamar – to call; llamarse – to be called



  1. Those which also have a non-reflexive form with a different meaning, such as:


  • Ir – to go; irse – to leave
  • Levantar – to pick up; levantarse – to get up
  • Poner – to put; ponerse – to put on



  1. Those only in the reflexive form (there aren’t too many of them), such as:


  • Arrepentirse – to regret
  • Suicidarse – to commit suicide



Using Reflexive Verbs in Sentences


One distinction of reflexive verbs from regular verbs is that they end in ‘sein the infinitive form. This factor makes it easy to identify them in sentences and learn the best way to use them. Below are some of the ones that are most likely to appear in your daily conversation continually.

The table below reminds you, once again, of the respective reflexive pronouns:




1st Person



2nd Person



3rd Person




Dejarse – To Let


The application of dejarse takes up different forms depending on how it is used. The reflexive pronoun determines whether the verb will include ‘se’ or not. This is because the concept of ‘self’ to be communicated is either taken up by the reflexive verb or pronoun.



  • Siempre me olvido de dejarme descansar cuando estoy trabajando desde casa.I always forget to let myself rest when I am working from home.
  • Se negó a dejarse fracasar.She refused to let herself fail.
  • No había manera de que se iba a dejar caer en la trampa.There was a chance he was going to let himself fall into the trap.
  • El perro trató de dejarse entrar, pero fracasó. – The dog tried to let itself in but failed.


Desgastarse – To Wear Out


The normal verb desgatar, which translates as “to wear,” is lost in the reflexive version. You cannot, therefore, use desgastarse to talk about wearing clothes, ornaments, shoes and such.



  • Trató de no desgastar los neumáticos del coche.She tried not to wear out the car tires.
  • El libro fue leído por tanta gente que era imposible que no se desgastara. – The book was read by so many people; it was impossible not to wear it out.


Olvidarse – To Forget


You can use both olvidar and olvidarse. They generally mean the same.


  • Me olvidé de poner la alarma. – I forgot to put the alarm on.
  • Olvidé las llaves. – I forgot the keys.


Descubrirse – To Uncover 


Descubrir means “to discover” or “uncover” while descubrirse means “to give oneself away.”



  • Estaba reacio a descubrir mi herida. – I was hesitant to uncover my wound.
  • La novia trató de descubrirse a sí misma, pero ella no pudo. – The bride tried to uncover herself, but she couldn’t.
  • Sus secretos eran difíciles de descubrir. – Their secrets were difficult to uncover.


Delatarse – To Give Oneself Away


This can be interpreted to mean “to betray oneself by revealing secrets.” It is used when someone did not intend to go against themselves but ends up doing so. This reflexive verb should not be mistaken for that which refers to giving oneself (commit) physically, mentally, or emotionally (asegurarse) to a task or a situation. 



  • Estaba comprometida a no delatarse con la cojera. – She was committed not to give herself away with the limp.


Preocuparse – To Concern/To Worry


This can be used as a warning or a statement meant to offer new information. In each of the occurrences, the inflection is different.



  • No tienes que preocuparte por los detalles.You don’t have to concern yourself with the details.
  • Dile que no se preocupe.Tell her not to worry!
  • Decidí no preocuparme por sus problemas.I decided not to worry about their issues.


Lavarse – To Wash




  • Quería lavarse las manos en el agua sucia. – She wanted to wash her hands in the dirty water.
  • Eran reacios a lavarse los zapatos.They were reluctant to wash their shoes.


The reflexive verbs discussed are only some of the many in the Spanish language. The list below contains others you should look out for:


Suscribirse – To Subscribe


This means either to conform (ajustarse) or to register for (registrar).



  • Decidieron suscribirse al paquete.They decided to subscribe to the package.
  • Puede suscribirse para recibir información sobre ciertos productos.You can subscribe to receive certain product-specific information.


Sentarse – To Sit (Down)


The ideal translation of sentarse would be “to sit down.” However, the inclusion of sit and down in the same sentence is repetitive and unnecessary. When referring to the location, it is essential to mention the item, room, or area the person is in. For instance, “she decided to sit next to her dog.”



  • No quería sentarse en su escritorio. – He didn’t want to sit on his desk.
  • No podía sentarse sola en la cafetería.She couldn’t bring herself to sit alone in the cafeteria.
  • No había dónde sentarse solos. – There was nowhere for them to sit by themselves.


Esperarse – To Hold On, To Be Expected


Esperar means “to expect.” The reflexive esperarse is either the passive form “to be expected.” However, it can also be used rather informally in the meaning “to hold on” or “to expect.”



  • Ella no parecía esperar mucho de sí misma.She didn’t seem to expect much from herself.
  • No fue tan bueno como se esperaba. – It wasn’t as good as expected.


Bajarse – To Lower (Oneself)


A common mistake made is the use of this reflexive verb to mean degrade (degradarse), which refers to the lowering of value and standards. Bajar or bajarse can also mean “to get off (e.g. a bus).”



  • ¿Te bajas? – Are you getting off?
  • Los chicos tuvieron que bajar su canasta para que el niño anotará. The boys had to lower their basket for the toddler to score.



Other Common Reflexive Verbs in Spanish


There are numerous reflexive verbs in the Spanish language, and extensive coverage requires continuous interaction both in listening and speaking. Below is a list of the verbs that are likely to appear in your daily conversations.


To get burned – quemarse

To kneel (down) – arrodillarse

To protect (oneself) – protegerse

To shower – ducharse

To complain – quejarse

To increase – aumentarse

To organize (oneself) – organizarse

To shave – afeitarse

Most Used Words in Spanish

If you want to get the most out of your Spanish practice, don’t forget to take a look at our Spanish Frequency Dictionaries. You’ll learn 10,000 most common words in Spanish, so you should understand 99% of all daily spoken language. You will also learn to pronounce the words correctly with the help of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and much more!


Things to Avoid when Using Spanish Reflexive Verbs


There are several mistakes that people make when learning new languages. Some of the common ones include taking in too much information without taking time to practice, going through too much content at once. Also, those who are committed to going through content fast end up losing more than they gain.

Not reading up on common mistakes and tips that will help you master the language fast is also a great hindrance to effective learning. The more you make them, the more your fluency and understanding is compromised.

Thus, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the areas that might prove difficult when it comes to reflexive verbs. The awareness of what to avoid allows you to focus on proper spelling, articulation, and usage.


  • Incorrect spelling – some Spanish words are challenging to write, and the introduction of conjugation increases the problem level. Always look out for double letters, opposites, and similarly articulated sounds, such as in the following examples.


  1. Creerse (to believe) – crecerse (thrive)
  2. Desarrollar (to develop) – subdesarrollar (to underdevelop)
  3. Quedarse (to stay) – cuidarse (to take care of o.s.)


  • Improper pronunciation of the reflexive pronoun – both the meaning and the articulation of the reflexive verb is dependent on the pronoun. If you mess up the latter, you are highly likely to make a mistake with the former. Therefore, you should listen to audio guides to determine the proper way to say both reflexives. 


  • Using the wrong verb in your sentences – we have highlighted that the change from a normal to a reflexive verb comes with a shift in meaning. The wrong verb will alter the message you want to communicate. Also, mixing up the verbs you should use will affect the structure of your sentences, including the reflexive pronoun.


  • The wrong conjugation – while using ‘se’ is common for most verbs, the reflexive pronoun used might dictate the use of a different one. For instance, when you are referring to yourself, you should use ‘me.’ This difference brought about by the category of the pronoun you use, whether first, second, or third, is evident when you are making sentences with the reflexive verb. 


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