How to Use ‘Reír’ and ‘Reírse,’ the Spanish Verbs for Laughing

Two forms of verb usually mean same thing

woman laughing
Mujer riendo. (Woman laughing.).

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Is there a difference in meaning between reír and reírse? Dictionaries give the same definition for both. The two verbs, which mean "to laugh," mean basically the same thing. Although you will find some regional variations, reírse is the more common of the two. Thus, while reí would be understood to mean "I laughed," it would be more common to say me reí. Reír by itself can sometimes sound poetic or old-fashioned.

When Reír or Reírse Is Required

There are at least two cases where one form is required:

More commonly, when followed by de, the reflexive form reírse usually means "to make fun of" or "to laugh at":

  • Me reía de mi hermano, pero ahora somos amigos. (I used to make fun of my brother, but now we're friends.)14. 3/19. Expanded, fixed error, added takeaways
  • Se reirán de su falta de sofisticación computarizada. (They will laugh at your lack of computer sophistication.)
  • Me quiero reír de mí mismo. (I want to laugh at myself.)

If you are talking about what makes a person laugh, the reflexive form isn't used. Hacer is typically used as the verb for "to make":

  • Me hace reír cuando estoy triste. (She makes me laugh when I'm sad.)
  • Austin Powers no me hizo reír más de una vez. (Austin powers didn't make me laugh more than once.)
  • Ayer me hiciste daño y hoy me vas a hacer reír. (Yesterday you hurt me and today you're going to make me laugh.)

There's no logical reason why reírse de is used to mean "to laugh at" rather than reírse a or even reírse en. That's just the way it is. This is one of those cases where you should learn the preposition along with the verb.

Conjugation of Reír and Reírse

Reír is one of the very few -ir verbs with an accent on the final syllable. It is conjugated irregularly, but only in terms of writing, not pronunciation.

An written accent is needed in many forms to prevent the e of the stem and and í of the ending from forming a diphthong.

And example of the written irregularity can be seen in the indicative present forms with the irregular forms shown in boldface): yo río, tú ríes, usted/él/ella ríe, nosotros/as reímos, vosotros/as reís, ustedes/ellos/ellas ríen.

Words Related to Reír

Among the Spanish words related to or derived from reír:

  • la risa — laugh (noun), laughter
  • risible — laughable
  • risión — mockery, ridicule (noun)
  • la risita — chuckle (noun)
  • el riso — chuckle (noun; word used in limited areas)
  • la risotada — guffaw
  • sonreír — to smile
  • sonriente — smiling (adjective)
  • la sonrisa — smile (noun)

Among the few English words etymologically related to reír are "derision" and "risible." All these words come from the Latin ridēre, which meant "to laugh."

Phrases Using Reír or Reírse

Here are four common expressions that use these verbs, most often reírse. Translations other than those given here can be used:

  • reírse a carcajadas — to laugh one's head off, to laugh one's tail off, to roar with laughter, etc. (A carcajada is a loud laugh or a guffaw.) — Nos reíamos a carcajadas de las cosas que decía el cómico. (We roared with laughter at the things the comic said.) A more colloquial way of saying the same thing is reír a mandíbula batiente, literally to laugh with a flapping jaw.
  • reírse entre dientes — to chuckle (literally, to laugh between the teeth) — La tenista rió entre dientes y sacudió la cabeza. (The tennis player chuckled and shook her head.)
  • reírse hasta el llanto — to laugh until crying — Muchos días nos reíamos hasta el llanto. (Many days we would laugh to the point of crying.)
  • reírse para adentro — to laugh on the inside — Me río para adentro cuando recuerdo lo que escribió. (I laugh on the inside when I remember what she wrote.)

Key Takeaways

  • Both reír and its reflexive form, reírse, mean "to laugh," and they are often interchangeable with little to no change in meaning.
  • The reflexive form reírse is used in the phrase reírse de, meaning "to laugh at," while the simple form reír is used in the phrase hacer reír, meaning "to cause to laugh."
  • Reír and reírse are conjugated regularly in terms of pronunciation, but a written accent is often needed to maintain that pronunciation.