Reflexive Verbs

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So Spanish is really weirdly specific, to the point that you have to specify who you are doing certain actions to. The classic example is that instead of saying ducho (I shower), you have to say me ducho (I shower myself). But where does that me come from? Let’s investigate.

Forming Reflexives

As we know, all Spanish verbs end in “-ar”, “-er”, or “-ir”. Making them reflexive can seem quite easy, as all we’ve to do is add “se” on to the end. That means the verb convertir becomes convertirse, the verb hacer becomes hacerse, and duchar (as mentioned before) becomes ducharse. Because of the latter, we used to laugh and call them “arse” verbs. Hilarious!

But wait, this is only in the infinitive. If we want to use these in any kind of sentence, we’re going to have to work out how to handle this new “se” nonsense. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult, as we just pull the “se” off the end and put it before the verb. It’s not too easy either, though, as “se” changes depending on who it’s referring to. It’s time for another table, this time to see what to change “se” to depending on who’s doing the verb!

ENES“-se” becomes…

So when we put this into practice, we can create a few examples of people who are doing things to themselves!

  • Me ducho (I shower)
    • Literally: I shower mself
  • Ella se viste (She gets dressed)
    • Literally: She dresses herself
  • Os sentáis (Yous sit down)
    • Literally: Yous sit yourselves
  • ¿Cómo te llamas? (What are you called?)
    • Literally: How do you call yourself?
  • Nos levantamos (We get up)
    • Literally: We get ourselves up
  • Se acuestan (They go to bed)
    • Literally: They put themselves to bed

Identifying Reflexives

But how on earth do we know what verbs should be reflexive? Well, I have a little trick in the form of a couple of questions that I ask myself…

  1. Am I doing the action to myself?
  2. Could I be doing the action to someone else?

If I answer “yes” to both of the above, chances are we’ll have to use the reflexive. Lets take the classic example of duchar, “to shower”. In English, if I said “I shower every morning”, we would naturally assume that I meant that I shower myself every morning, but technically I could be saying that I shower my dog every morning. Duchar must then become ducharse, its reflexive equivalent, because it passes my two questions above:

  1. Am I doing the action to myself?
    Yes, I’m showing myself!
  2. Could I be doing the action to someone else?
    Yes, I could be showering my dog, or someone else…

You can also, of course, use the reflexive structure to describe any normally non-reflexive verb that you or someone is doing to themselves. If I was in a going a bit loopy because I was getting confused by all this Spanish nonsense, I might want to say “I talk to myself”. Let’s break down the steps of how I’d work out how to say this:

  1. What verb do we want? Well, to talk, which is hablar.
  2. Am I doing the action to myself? Well, yes! So I’ve to use hablarse, the reflexive form.
  3. So I’ve to take off the “se” and put it before the verb. So se hablar.
  4. Now I’ve to conjugate the verb. I’m talking, so it’d be yo hablo.
  5. But don’t forget that “se”! I’ve to convert it to the “I” form, so it becomes “me”, leaving us with yo me hablo.
  6. Because who is doing an action can be figured out by the ending of the verb, we can drop yo and just say me hablo.