“Can you please explain sentir vs sentirse? I would also really like to know the difference between siento and lo siento for saying sorry in Spanish.” – Real Fast Spanish Subscriber.
Whenever you need to ask someone how they feel, talk about your own feelings or even make an apology in Spanish you’ll need to choose between the Spanish verbs sentir and sentirse.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the Spanish verbs sentir vs sentirse including how to use them to talk about what and how ‘you feel’, and how to apologize in Spanish.
Sentir vs sentirse – ‘to feel’ in Spanish
Both sentir and sentirse can mean ‘to feel’ in English.
But, like other Spanish reflexive verbs, there is a subtle difference between these two Spanish verbs.
To choose one of sentir or sentirse, you can think of this simple model to help explain the difference:
Sentir – describes ‘what’ you feel.
Sentirse – describes ‘how’ you feel.
In other words, we generally use sentir with nouns (joy, happiness, heat) and sentirse with adjectives or adverbs (happy, tired, excited).
The first example that I like to share with students on this topic is with ‘physically feeling’ something such as the heat of the sun.
In this case, you’ll need the verb sentir to describe ‘what’ you are feeling:
English: I can feel the heat of the sun.
Español: Puedo sentir el calor del sol.
In contrast, if you are feeling a certain way, especially an emotion, you’ll need the verb sentirse to describe ‘how’ you are feeling:
English: I’m feeling excited about the trip.
Español: Me siento emocionado por el viaje.
Note, in English, we often need to say ‘I’m feeling’ with the ‘ing’ form of ‘feel’ whereas in Spanish the simple present tense ‘me siento’ is the most common form.
Conjugations of sentir vs sentirse
Sentir is an irregular ‘e:ie‘ stem-changing verb. This means we need to replace the first ‘e‘ with an ‘ie‘ in some of the conjugations.
For the reflexive form sentirse, we simply need to add the reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nos, se) to the conjugations of sentir.
Here the conjugations of sentir and sentirse:
|I feel||Siento||Me siento|
|You feel||Sientes||Te sientes|
|He / she feels||Siente||Se siente|
|We feel||Sentimos||Nos sentimos|
|They feel||Sienten||Se sienten|
If you would like to see the full array of conjugations for sentir, you can use the conjugator for sentir on the RAE (Real Academia Española).
In the next two sections, we’ll look at more examples to highlight the differences between sentir and sentirse.
Examples of ‘sentir‘
As I mentioned earlier, the easiest way to think about sentir is with ‘feeling’ something physically.
English: Can you feel the rain?
Español: ¿Puedes sentir la lluvia?
English: I woke up and felt a pain in my shoulder.
Español: Me desperté y sentí un dolor en el hombro.
Keep in mind, though, that feelings with sentir don’t have to be physical.
You can also describe ‘feeling’ something that is internal and abstract, such as emotions.
But, we just need to be careful to use a noun to describe ‘what’ we are feeling as opposed to an adjective or adverb to describe ‘how’ we are feeling.
English: I can feel the excitement of the football fans.
Español: Puedo sentir la emoción de los aficionados al fútbol.
English: I felt a lot of joy to see her again.
Español: Sentí mucha alegría al verla de nuevo.
Again, we can use nouns to describe emotions such as ‘joy’, ‘sadness’, ‘excitement’ with sentir.
But, if we are going to use adjectives to describe emotions such ‘happy’, ‘sad’ or ‘nervous’, we need to use sentirse.
To close out this section, we can also say that ‘I feel that…’, similar to English, to describe what we think of something.
English: I feel that we are going in the right direction.
Español: Siento que vamos en la dirección correcta.
English: They feel there’s no future in their relationship, so I think they’re going to break up. We can also use sentir for feeling ‘sorry’ about something. I’m going to cover this in more detail below. Whenever you want to ask someone ‘how’ they are feeling or describe ‘how’ you are feeling, then you’ll need to use sentirse. For example:
Español: Sienten que su relación no tiene futuro, así que creo que van a cortar.
Examples of ‘sentirse‘
English: They feel there’s no future in their relationship, so I think they’re going to break up.
We can also use sentir for feeling ‘sorry’ about something. I’m going to cover this in more detail below.
Whenever you want to ask someone ‘how’ they are feeling or describe ‘how’ you are feeling, then you’ll need to use sentirse.
English: How do you feel?
Español: ¿Cómo te sientes?
English: Yesterday I felt bad. Today I feel good.
Español: Ayer me sentí mal. Hoy me siento bien.
English: If you feel nervous before the show, please give me a call.
Español: Si te sientes nervioso antes del espectáculo, por favor llámame.
Another useful way to remember when to use sentirse is to think of the word ‘como’ since it is indicating ‘how’ something feels.
English: I feel like new (a new person) after the vacation.
Español: Me siento como nuevo/a después de las vacaciones.
English: He feels like a member of the family.
Español: Se siente como un miembro de la familia.
These last two examples translate well between English and Spanish. But, we just need to remember the reflexive form sentirse goes with como and we need to avoid ‘
siento como‘ (without the me).
How to say I’m sorry in Spanish – ‘siento’ vs ‘lo siento‘
If you want to say you are ‘sorry’ in Spanish, then you can use the non-reflexive form sentir.
But, it’s important to keep in mind that ‘siento‘ or ‘lo siento‘ is not a literal translation of ‘I am sorry’, instead it’s ‘I’m feeling’ or ‘I’m feeling it’.
Since ‘I’m feeling it’ sounds odd in English, in this context, you can simply think of sentir as a way to offer condolences.
English: I’m so sorry for your loss (I feel your loss a lot).
Español: Siento mucho tu pérdida.
Also, here is another possible translation using ‘lo siento’:
English: I’m so sorry for your loss (I feel it a lot because of your loss).
Español: Lo siento mucho por tu pérdida.
Note, we can use these two Spanish sentences interchangeably.
But, while the second sentence likely feels better for English natives, the first is more common in Spanish.
Conversely, the situation where you’ll hear ‘lo siento‘ more often in Spanish is in reaction to bad news:
English: My husband just died.
Español: Mi esposo acaba de morir.
English. I’m so sorry (I feel it a lot).
Español: Lo siento mucho.
Here is another example where we can consider two Spanish options:
English: I’m sorry I forgot your birthday (I’m sorry for having forgotten your birthday)
Español: Siento haber olvidado tu cumpleaños.
English: I’m sorry for forgetting your birthday.
Español: Lo siento por olvidar tu cumpleaños.
Again, the second option works better in the mind of an English native but you’ll often hear the first option from Spanish natives.
Also note ‘haber olvidado’ (having forgotten) is a way of talking about a past action without having to conjugate a second verb (I’m sorry, I forgot). This double conjugation, which is common in English, doesn’t happen in Spanish.
Common mistakes with lo siento
This leads to the final point and that is you really need to avoid translating ‘I’m sorry that…’ into ‘lo siento que…’. This is a common mistake:
English: I’m sorry that…
Lo siento que… ⊗
We can think of ‘lo siento‘ as ‘I feel it’, so if you say ‘lo siento que…‘, it’s kind of like saying ‘I feel it that…’, which also doesn’t work in English.
Instead of ‘I’m sorry that…’, see if you can rephrase the sentence to replace ‘that’ with ‘for’ before translating.
I’m sorry that I arrived late → I’m sorry for arriving late.
This change makes the sentence much easier to translate:
English: I’m sorry for arriving late.
Español: Lo siento por llegar tarde.
Alternatively, you can say:
English: I’m sorry for having arrived late.
Español: Siento haber llegado tarde.
The other problem that occurs is when we use two different subjects in a sentence with sentir, it triggers the subjunctive.
If you aren’t ready for the subjunctive, you can simply rearrange the sentence to make the subjects agree:
I’m sorry we didn’t come to the party → We’re sorry we didn’t come to the party.
Which allows you to rearrange again:
We’re sorry we didn’t come to the party → We’re sorry for not coming to the party.
Again, this change makes the sentence easier to translate:
English: We’re sorry for not coming to the party.
Español: Lo sentimos por no venir a la fiesta.
English: We’re sorry for not having come to the party.
Español: Sentimos no haber venido a la fiesta.
These two sentences are really common in Spanish. So, learning how to avoid the subjunctive is not only useful for beginners and intermediates, it also results in the best option in a number of situations.
If there is something new to you in the article, or maybe something you’ve seen before but you haven’t used yet, then make a note to create some sentences of your own using the new idea.
Take one of the phrases and form some sentences using the idea and then try them out in your next Spanish conversation.
How else can you use sentir vs sentirse?