We use reflexive pronouns after a transitive verb, when the direct object is the same as the object of the verb.
The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself, herself and itself (singular) and ourselves, yourselves and themselves (plural).
Verbs often found with reflexive pronouns are: cut, dry, enjoy, hurt, introduce, kill, prepare, teach and wash.
Some verbs change their meaning slightly when they have a reflexive pronoun as a direct object: amuse, apply, busy, content, behave, blame, distance, express, find, help and see.
Examples of reflexive verbs in sentences
- I cut myself on the broken glass.
- He dried himself with a towel.
- They introduces themselves to the delegates.
- Prepare yourself for bad news.
- I bought a book to teach myself how to speak French.
- We enjoyed ourselves at the party.
We do not need a reflexive pronoun after some verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, for example:
- She washed in hot, soapy water (the reflexive pronoun “herself” isn’t necessary)
- He always shaved before work.
- Sarah dressed and got ready for school.
In these instances, we only use reflexive pronouns for emphasis:
- She is old enough to wash herself.
- He dressed himself, in spite of his injuries.
Spanish reflexive verbs
In Spanish, reflexive verbs are used when the subject and object are the same:
- I wash myself (reflexive)
- I wash the car (not reflexive)
The Spanish language has a very simple and useful way of denoting when a verb is reflexive: the infinitive simply ends in “se”.
Examples of Spanish reflexive verbs
Lavar – to wash
Reflexive: Lavarse – to wash oneself
Llamar – to call
Reflexive: Llamarse – to call oneself (commonly used in Spain to say one’s name, eg: me llamo Pablo)
Acostar – to put to bed
Reflexive: Acostarse – to put oneself to bed/go to bed
Bañar – to bathe
Reflexive: Bañarse – to bathe oneself
To learn how to conjugate reflexive verbs, you need to learn a set of reflexive pronouns. These are usually positioned before the verb, while the ending “se” is dropped from the infinite and the verb is conjugated normally (see Spanish Verb Conjugator).
yo me lavo (I wash myself)
tú te lavas (you wash yourself)
él/ella/usted se lava (he/she washes himself/herself/you (formal) wash yourself)
nosotros/as nos lavamos (we wash ourselves)
vosotros/as os laváis (you wash yourselves)
elos/ellas/ustedes se lavan (they wash themselves/you (formal) wash yourself)