How To Use the Spanish Verbs ‘Sentir’ and ‘Sentirse’

Verb typically means ‘to feel’

Hispanic female teacher in front of blackboard
Terry Vine Getty

Sentir is a very common verb that typically means "to feel." It usually refers to feeling emotions, but it can also refer to physical sensations.

The Difference Between Sentir and Sentirse

Sentir commonly appears in the reflexive form sentirse. The difference in using sentir and sentirse is that sentir is typically followed by a noun, while sentirse is followed by an adjective or adverb describing how a person feels. Otherwise their meanings are essentially the same.

Here are some examples of sentir used to describe emotional feelings:

  • El atleta dijo que sentía alegría y satisfacción por el logro del campeonato. (The athlete said he felt joyful and satisfied about attaining the championship.)
  • Siento pena y tristeza por ello. (I feel shameful and sad about it.)
  • Se siente feliz por ser abuela. (She feels happy about being a grandmother.)
  • Me siento enojada y frustrada. (I feel angry and frustrated.)

Here are examples of sentir being used with physical sensations. Although in most of these cases you could probably translate sentir as "to sense," usually it would be better to translate based on the context:

  • Puedo sentir pasos en la azotea. (I can hear footsteps on the roof.)
  • Él me dijo que sentía olor a muerte. (He told me he smelled death.)

When sentirse de refers to a body part, it usually indicates the sensation of pain: Me siento de la cabeza. (I have a headache.)

Standing by itself, sentir can indicate sorrow or regret: Lo siento mucho. I'm very sorry.

Using Sentir in Phrases

It is common to use sentir as part of a phrase. Although you may not use "feel" in the most natural translation, often you can determine the meaning of the phrase from the individual words. Some examples:

sentir algo por + una persona (to have love or similar feelings for someone): Decirte que ya no siento algo por ti sería mentir. (To say I no longer have feelings for you would be lying.)

sentir celos (to be jealous): Cree que sólo sienten celos las personas inseguras. (She believes that only insecure people have jealousy.)

sentir culpa, sentirse culpable (to feel guilty): No sentía culpa por lo que acababa de hacer. (He did not feel guilty for what he had just done.)

sentir ganas de + infinitivo (to feel like doing something): Siento ganas de llorar cuando pienso en el accidente. (I feel like crying when I think about the accident.)

sentir que (to be sorry or sad that): Siento que mi color de piel ha cambiado. (I am sad the color of my hair has changed.)

hacer sentir (to cause a feeling in someone): A veces nos hacemos adictos a alguien que nos hace sentir bien. (Sometimes we become addicted to someone who makes us feel good.)

sin sentir (without being noticed): Tomé la medicina sin sentir ninguna diferencia en mi vida. (I took the medicine without noticing any difference in my life.) This phrase is sometimes best translated literally: ¿Cómo es posible que te lo diga sin sentir? (How is it possible that she told you that without any feeling?)

Using Sentir as a Noun

Sentir also can be used as a noun to refer to feelings or sentiments:

  • El sentir y el pensar son dos funciones de la mente. (Feeling and thinking are two functions of the mind.)
  • El presidente representa el sentir del pueblo. (The president represents the feelings of the people.)
  • Tenía una vida dedicada a la promoción del sentir indígena. (He had a life dedicated to the promotion of indigenous sentiment.)
  • Las almas no nos permitieron matar sin sentir. (Our souls did not allow us to kill unfeelingly.)
  • Entiende muy bien el sentir de la calle. (He understands very well the feelings on the street.)

Conjugation of Sentir

Keep in mind that sentir is irregularly conjugated. When it is stressed, the sent- of the stem changes to sient-, as in siento, I feel. And in some but not all forms, the stem changes to sint-, as in sintió, he or she felt. Unfortunately, this second stem change doesn't occur in a predictable way.

The conjugation pattern is shared by about three dozen other verbs. Among them are consentir (to allow), convertir (to change), mentir (to lie), and preferir (to prefer).

Also, the conjugated forms of sentir overlap with those of sentar, which means to sit. For example, siento can mean either "I feel" or "I sit." This overlap is seldom a problem because the two verbs are used in such different contexts.

Key Takeaways

  • Sentir is a common Spanish verb that typically means "to feel," especially in an emotional or mental sense.
  • There is usually little difference in meaning between sentir and its reflexive form, sentirse.
  • Sentir is conjugated irregularly in that its stem sometimes changes to sient- or sint-.