Spanish reflexive verbs and their conjugation (present tense)
We already covered the conjugation rules for Spanish verbs in an earlier lesson. In that lesson the emphasis was on regular and irregular verbs. Moreover, present tense conjugations of two important Spanish verbs, ser and estar, were discussed in a separate section. If you don’t feel comfortable with those topics, please review the mentioned lessons first. Because the rules for Spanish reflexive verbs are very easy to understand once you know how to conjugate non-reflexive verbs.
A reflexive verb is used whenever the subject of the sentence does something to herself/himself/itself. If a verb is transitive, it can be made reflexive. A transitive verb can take an object.
Recall that a Spanish non-reflexive verb can have one of the three infinitive endings. A Spanish non-reflexive verb has one of these endings as well. In addition it has “se”” attached to its infinitive so that the structure of a reflexive verb looks like this
Reflexive verbs: stem of the verb + infinitive ending + se
Let us compare a non-reflexive verb with a reflexive verb through an example. “Llamar” is to call. The infinitive ending is –ar and the stem of the verb is “llam-“
llamar: llam + ar
On the other hand, llamarse is reflexive and it means to be called.
llamarse: llam + ar +se
As you may guess the ending “se” indicates the reflexive pronoun, which you learned in the last lesson. As a reminder, reflexive pronouns look like the following
Once you know how to conjugate a regular verb in present tense and the reflexive pronouns, you can easily conjugate a regular reflexive verb in present tense easily. Because all you need to do is adding the subject reflexive pronouns in agreement with the subject pronoun.
Let’s go on with our example verb llamarse, it is regular. So, you conjugate it by adding -o, -as,-a, -amos, -áis,-an. Note that below, llamarse is translated as “to be called”. This is how Spanish speakers are telling their names. So, by telling “me llamo”, you practically mean “my name is”.
- yo me llamo I am called
- tú te llamas You are called
- él/ella se llama He/She is called
- usted se llama You are called
- nosotros/-as nos llamamos We are called
- vosotros/-as os llamáis You are called
- ellos/ellas/ se llaman They are called
- ustedes se llaman You are called
Note that as always, the subject pronouns drop, therefore you just need to say me llamo, te llamas, se llama etc.
You can conjugate regular “er” reflexive verbs by adding the endings –o, -es, -e, -emos, éis, en. And “ir “verbs by adding –o,-es,-e,-imos,- ís, -en, just as you learned before.
Similarly, what we covered about the irregular verb conjugations in earlier sections is valid for the reflexive verbs as well. For example, let us take a stem changing verb of the type o->ue. As you know, after the conjugation, the “o” in the stem will change to “ue” in this case. One such verb is “acostarse”, which means to go to bed.
- me acuesto
- te acuestas
- se acuesta
- nos acostamos
- os acostaís
- se acuestan
Another example for stem-changing verbs is vestirse. It means to get dressed and it is a “e -> i” type verb. Its present tense conjugation is
- me visto
- te vistes
- se viste
- nos vestimos
- os vestís
- se visten
- Me acuesta a las once (I go to bed at 11 o’clock)
- Carlos se habla (Carlos talks to himself)
If a reflexive verb needs to be used in its infinitive form in a sentence, you need to replace the “se” which is attached to the verb in agreement with the subject pronoun. For example let us make some sentences with the Spanish verb querer, which means “to want”.
Querer is used to express plans and intentions and it is used with the infinitive of another verb.
Take the example sentence with the reflexive verb “ducharse”, which means to take a shower.
- quiero ducharme “I want to take a shower”.
As you see, to say “to take a shower” in a sentence you don’ use ducharse but ducharme, which agrees with the subject of the sentence, which, in this case, is (yo).The sentences for the other subject pronouns are built similarly
- quieres ducharte “You want to take a shower”
- quire duscharse “He/she wants to take a shower” etc.
When asking questions, the same principle holds. So that
- ¿Quieres ducharte? (do you want to take a shower?)
More reflexive verbs
Levantarse to get up
Lavarse to wash oneself
Dormirse to fall asleep
Afeitarse to shave
Cansarse to get tired
Vestirse to get dressed
Peinarse to comb
Ducharse to take a shower
Maquillarse to make up