Reflexive Pronouns in Spanish

They’re used similarly to ‘-self’ pronouns of English

Woman looking at herself in mirror
Se ve en el espejo. (She sees herself in the mirror.).

Westend61 / Getty Images.

Reflexive pronouns are used in Spanish and English whenever the subject of a verb is also its object. In other words, reflexive pronouns are used when the subject of a sentence is acting on itself. An example is the me in me veo (and the corresponding "myself" in "I see myself"), where the person seeing and the person seen are the same.

Verbs used with a reflexive pronoun are known either as reflexive verbs or pronominal verbs.

This lesson covers the reflexive pronouns that are used with verbs. Spanish also has reflexive pronouns used with prepositions.

The 5 Reflexive Pronouns Used With Verbs

Verbal reflexive pronouns are used in much the same way as direct-object and indirect-object pronouns; they typically precede the verb or can be attached to the infinitive, imperative verb, or gerund. Here are the verbal reflexive pronouns along with their English equivalents:

  • me — myself — Me lavo. (I am washing myself.) Voy a elegirme. (I am going to choose myself.)
  • te — yourself (informal) — ¿Te odias? (Do you hate yourself?) ¿Puedes verte? (Can you see yourself?)
  • se — himself, herself, itself, themselves, yourself (formal), yourselves (formal), each other — Roberto se adora. (Roberto adores himself.) La niña prefiere vestirse. (The girl likes to dress herself.) La historia se repite. (History repeats itself.) Se compran los regalos. (They are buying themselves gifts, or they are buying each other gifts.) ¿Se afeita Ud.? (Do you shave yourself?) El gato se ve. (The cat sees himself.)
  • nos — ourselves, each other — Nos respetamos. (We respect ourselves, or we respect each other.) No podemos vernos. (We can't see each other, or we can't see ourselves.)
  • os — yourselves (informal, used primarily in Spain), each other — Es evidente que os queréis. (It's obvious that you love each other, or it's obvious you love yourselves.) Podéis ayudaros. (You can help yourselves, or you can help each other.)

As you can see from the above examples, the plural pronouns in Spanish can be translated using the English reflexive pronouns or the phrase "each other." (Technically, grammarians would call the latter usage of the Spanish pronoun reciprocal rather than reflexive.) Usually, context will make clear the more likely translation. Thus, while nos escribimos conceivably could mean "we write to ourselves," it most often would mean "we write to each other." If necessary, a phrase can be added for clarification, such as in "se golpean el uno a otro" (they are hitting each other) and "se golpean a sí mismos" (they are hitting themselves).

Reflexive pronouns should not be confused with English constructions such as "I myself am buying the gift." In that sentence (which could be translated to Spanish as yo mismo compro el regalo), "myself" isn't being used as a reflexive pronoun but as a way of adding emphasis.

Sample Sentences Using Reflexive Pronouns

¿Por qué me enojo tanto? (Why do I get mad at myself so much?)

Voy a cocinarme una tortilla de papas y queso. (I'm going to cook a potato and cheese omelet for myself. This is an example of attaching the pronoun to an infinitive.)

¿Cómo te hiciste daño? (How did you hurt yourself?)

Los gatos se limpian instintivamente para quitarse el olor cuando han comido. (Cats clean themselves instinctively to get rid of the odor when they have eaten.)

Nos consolamos los unos a los otros con nuestra presencia humana. (We comforted each other with our human presence.)

Se videograbó bailando y envió el archivo a mi agente. (She videotaped herself dancing and sent the file to my agent.)

Médico, cúrate a ti mismo. (Physician, heal thyself. The reflexive pronoun is attached to a verb in the imperative mood.)

Estamos dándonos por quien somos y lo que hacemos. (We are holding ourselves responsible for who we are and what we do. This is example of attending the reflexive pronoun to a gerund.)

Hay dias que no "hay dias que no me entiendo entiendo. (There are days I don't understand myself.)

Nos consolamos con dulces. (We comforted ourselves with candy.)

Los dos se buscaron toda la noche. (The two looked for each other all night.)

Le gusta escucharse dándome órdenes. (He likes listening to himself giving me orders.)

Key Takeaways

  • Spanish have five pronouns for use when the subject of a verb is also its object.
  • When a subject is plural, the reflexive pronoun can be translated using either a form such as "ourselves" or "each other," depending on the context.
  • Reflexive pronouns precede the verb or can be attached to an infinitive or gerund.