Reflexive verbs: to get dressed, to leave, to paint oneself…

There are many verbs in Spanish with two forms: normal and reflexive. What makes this form different is that it requires an object pronoun, which matches the subject, when you conjugate the verb. We saw it with llevar when it means “to take away”.

Here is an example with the reflexive form of the multi-versatile  “poner



Traducción y más

  • To put on (clothes, makeup, etc.)
  • with “malo” (bad) to get sick, fall under the weather

present tense conjugation

ponerse [reflexive] present conjugation

The infinitive of a reflexive verb ends in “-se“. This is the object pronoun for 3rd person, singular & plural, masculine and feminine. To distinguish if the subject’s gender use “él” or “ella” in the sentence.

rear-mirror-110228_1280A good way to think of the reflexive form is: “to do an action oneself”, as if you are watching life unfold in a mirror.


  • ir
  • llevar
  • quitar
  • bajar
  • subir


  • to go somewhere (on vacation, a house); to indicate future plans
  • to take something or someone somewhere in your arms, car…; to carry
  • to remove something
  • to lower something
  • to raise something


  • irse
  • llevarse
  • quitarse
  • bajarse
  • subirse


  • to go [oneself] from a place; to leave
  • to take something [oneself] away
  • to remove something from yourself
  • to go down oneself
  • to go up oneself


Bajar & subir are often used in the context of metros, planes, and other forms of transit. (Think: “to get off”, “to get on”) You can get away with not using the reflexive form with “bajar” & “subir” as long as you use the preposition “de“.


  • Me bajo del metro” o “Bajo del metro” = I get off the metro.
  • Te subes del avión” o “Subes del avion” = You get on the plane.
  • “Bajate de la bici” o “Baja de la bici” = Get off the bike (you, sing)
  • “Subidos del barco” o “Subid del barco” = Get on the boat (you, plr)





Lée el recordatorio.

Do you remember the unsolved linguistic mystery from “How to order…“? The reason “to carry dishes” (llevarse los platos) is reflexive while “to carry a baby [in your arms]” (llevar un bebe [en brazos]) isn’t? How this change happens at the sub-fundamental level of the Spanish language?

In general, if you want to know what form to use, think of the English verb. Are we adding a preposition at the end? And does this change the meaning? If so there’s a good chance (but not always) that the verb in Spanish will be reflexive.

For example, “To put something somwhere” (poner) is different than “to put on something” (ponerse). Likewise, “to take something somehwere” (llevar) is different than ” to take something away” (llevarse).

Another good way to know when an action requires the reflexive form in Spanish — To do something to yourself. Such as trip, “tropezarse“.



El hombre tropieza con la alfombra

porque no es muy listo.

Me tropiezo con la alfombra

porque no presto atención.


The man trips on the rug because he isn’t very smart.


I trip on the rug because I don’t pay attention.


¡Más ejemplos!


Non reflexive Spanish

  • Te llamo para comer
  • Lavas los vasos sucios.
  • Él corta el jamon
  • Ella peina su perro.

Reflexive Spanish

  • Me llamo Paco.
  • Te lavas las manos
  • Él se corta el dedo.
  • Ella se peina el pelo


  • I’ll call you to eat.
  • You wash the dirty glasses.
  • He cuts the Iberian ham.
  • She brushes her dog.


  • My name is Paco or I call myself Paco
  • You wash your hands
  • He cut his finger.
  • She brushes her hair.

Watch out
Did you spot the difference?

In English we put a personal adjective (your hands, his finger, her tongue, etc.) before the object. In Spanish the object pronoun reaffirms the subject, so the article is used to avoid redundancy.

Español correcto

“Yo me quito el abrigo

Español incorrecto

“Yo me quito mi abrigo

Traducción de español correcto

I take off my coat or I take off the coat myself

Traducción de español incorrecto

I take off myself my coat)

not confusing

If all of this reflexiveness seems strange, it shouldn’t – the form isn’t completely foreign to the English language. We often express it with the verb “to get” + an adjective to describe an action or sensation. Here are 10 verbs to show you. Not all are related to food, unless the meal isn’t going well, as you shall see.


  • vestirse
  • enfadarse
  • mejorarse
  • empeorarse
  • asustarse


  • to get dressed
  • to get angry
  • to get better
  • to get worse
  • to get scared


  • disgustarse
  • irritarse
  • decepcionarse
  • acostarse
  • cansarse


  • to get upset
  • to get irritated
  • to get disappointed
  • to go to bed
  • to get tired

Sometimes we use a verb other than “to get” such as “to take”, “to have” or “to fall”, when in Spanish the vern becomes reflexive. But the same logic applies:


  • dormirse [una siesta] (to fall asleep; to take a nap)
  • ducharse (to take, to have a shower)
  • bañarse (to take, to have a bath, swim in the sea)


Una sugerencia de Paco. Take a moment to reflect on the reason the above verbs turn reflexive in Spanish. The structure and syntax might seem strange compared to English, but there is a logic to it.  Sometimes you just need to step outside of yourself and remember all languages have these quirks and idiosyncrasies, that border on the mysterious.

The final reason Spanish verbs assume the reflexive form isn’t because of an action, rather a change from the active to passive voice. In a dining or market situation, this especially true with the verbs:


  • hacer
  • poder
  • caer

Pulsa para ver ejemplos

  • ¿Cómo se hace la comida aquí?
  • La hacemos a la brasa.
  • ¿Nos puedes traer ketchup para la paella?
  • Eso no se hace.
  • ¿Puedo tomar un café antes de la cena?
  • Sí, se puede, si quieres.


    • How is the food made here?
    • We barbecue it
    • Can you bring us ketchup for the paella?
    • That isn’t done
    • Can I have a coffee before dinner?
    • Yes it can [be done] if you want.


One of the great linguistic mysteries of Spanish is the tendency to use the passive voice to describe actions which you do in fact do. A perfect illustration of this is when you drop something.

The verb to use is:



“Perdona. Se ha caído el tenedor al suelo”.

Literal translation

“Excuse me. The fork has fallen by itself onto the floor”.

Presta atención. This is quite different than how we would put it in English. But if you were to translate, “I dropped my fork on the floor” directly into Spanish, it would be: “He dejado caer el tenedor en el suelo” or “I have allowed the fork to fall on the floor.”

How dare you be so careless and permissive!

So remember. You never drop anything in Spain. “It has fallen by itself”. Same goes for “to break”. Se ha roto (It has broken by itself).

To help you memorize this, here is the phrase that applies for you and whomever is at the table, when something hits the floor and smashes.


Se ha caído [insert object] y se ha roto…


[WpProQuiz 20]


Have a question? Don’t be passive and ask it in the comment section!

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