If you have ever been confused by Spanish reflexive verbs, then in this post you’ll find a helpful list of the most important reflexive verbs to study and put to good use.
Reflexive verbs in Spanish are a challenge because their meaning can be quite different from their normal verb form. For example, quedar can mean ‘to meet’, whereas quedarse can mean ‘to stay (in one place)’.
So, what is the best approach to learning Spanish reflexive verbs?
Well, I suggest you start by studying the most frequently occurring reflexive verbs.
The list of reflexive verbs below is by no means exhaustive. But, if there are verbs on the list that you don’t know, it is worth familiarizing yourself with them because, due to their high use, you will very likely need one of them in your next Spanish conversation.
Types of Spanish verbs
Spanish verbs can be found in 3 forms: normal, verbs like gustar, and reflexive.
Technically, reflexive verbs are a subcategory of pronominal verbs, which I explain in more detail here.
But, in short, pronominal verbs are those that are either reflexive or reciprocal. Reciprocal verbs occur when two subjects are performing the same action on each other, like two people hugging each other. Conversely, reflexive verbs occur when the subject and the object of the sentence are the same, like someone cleaning himself or herself.
For this post, I have ignored reciprocal verbs in order to focus on reflexive verbs.
So, how do you know when a verb should be reflexive or not?
Well, there are some verbs in Spanish, such as parecer, that you can just as easily find as a normal verb, a verb like gustar, or a reflexive verb.
On the other hand, there are verbs such as atreverse that almost always occur as a reflexive verb.
In essence, the point of this post is to answer that above question. And the best way to do this, from my point of view, is to take a close look at the numbers.
Sometimes reflexive sometimes not
The behaviour of Spanish reflexive verbs varies greatly. A large portion of Spanish verbs can be found in both normal and reflexive forms.
But, when you look more closely you can see that some Spanish verbs are almost always reflexive, some rarely reflexive, and of course some in between. Here are a few examples (with data I have pulled from several Spanish frequency studies):
Based on the data, the Spanish verb fugar is always found in its reflexive form—fugarse (to flee or escape). In other words, the only place you will find fugar in non-reflexive form is in this sentence and the previous one.
Some Spanish reflexive verbs do occur in normal form but very rarely. Here are a few examples:
- Atreverse (to dare) — 92% as reflexive.
- Referirse (to refer) — 87% as reflexive.
- Acostarse (to go to bed) — 84% as reflexive.
I wasn’t able to find data like this for a large list of Spanish verbs. But I was able to work out which reflexive verbs are the most frequently used in the Spanish language using n-gram analysis.
I recently used ‘n-gram’ data for the Spanish language to determine the 25 most frequently occurring verbs like gustar. And, as a natural sequel to that post, I have repeated the analysis to determine the most frequently occurring Spanish reflexive verbs.
In the ‘verbs like gustar‘ post, I explain ‘n-grams’ in more detail. But, to explain in short again, the study of ‘n-grams’ is the study of the occurrence of sequences of words as opposed to individual words on their own.
For example, how frequently to do the words ‘I want’ occur next to each other in English? And do they occur more often than ‘I don’t’?
‘N-gram’ analysis seeks to answer these kinds of questions.
To determine the most frequently occurring reflexive verbs, I used the ‘2-gram’ data for Spanish to match up verbs in the same form and adjacent to as their reflexive pronouns:
- Me – Myself
- Te – Yourself
- Se – Himself / Herself
- Nos – Ourselves
- Os – Yourselves
- Se – Themselves
Next, I added the occurrence of different persons (I, you, him, her etc.) for each verb together to give an overall frequency.
As an aside, I also had to cut out, what I assumed, was reciprocal behaviour for certain 2-gram results such as nos vemos. This result is most likely reciprocal because two people tend to see each other as opposed to reflecting on themselves and their situation.
I know the analysis wasn’t perfect, but the results should still give an incredibly useful set of reflexive verbs for you to practice.
Let’s look at the results.
The results: the most commonly occurring Spanish reflexive verbs
The results of the data analysis showed the most commonly occurring Spanish reflexive verbs in order are:
|4||To give (oneself)||Darse|
|5||To find (oneself)||Encontrarse|
|7||To put on||Ponerse|
|10||To make yourself||Hacerse|
|12||To take notice||Fijarse|
|14||To get married||Casarse|
|15||To see oneself||Verse|
|16||To sit down||Sentarse|
|18||To get up||Levantarse|
|19||To find out||Enterarse|
|21||To say (to oneself)||Decirse|
|22||To call (oneself)||Llamarse|
|23||To get into||Meterse|
|25||To get closer||Acercarse|
A few notes on the results:
- I assumed some reciprocal behaviour such as nos vemos, and nos vimos and removed this data from the analysis.
In the next section, you’ll find some examples of how to use these Spanish verbs in a conversation.
How to use these Spanish reflexive verbs in a sentence
This section is the most important part of this post because it’s where you put all of the above information into action.
Choose a number of these examples and work through them for yourself. Create your own sentences then try them out in your next Spanish conversation.
1. Irse – to leave
Irse is a good example of a reflexive verb that changes meaning from its normal form ir. The difference between ir and irse isn’t extreme but still requires a little practice.
English: I’m going home (I’m leaving for home).
Español: Me voy a casa.
English: We’re going on a family vacation.
Español: Nos vamos de vacaciones en familia.
2. Acordarse – to remember
There is one super important tip you need to remember with the reflexive form of this verb. When you form a full sentence you need to say ‘acordarse + de + (algo)‘. You can simply ask someone if they remember (¿Te acuerdas?), but if you want to be more specific, remember the de.
English: Do you remember that you have to do something important today?
Español: ¿Te acuerdas de que tienes que hacer algo importante hoy?
English: I remember when my brother and I used to go to the beach.
Español: Me acuerdo de cuando mi hermano y yo íbamos a la playa.
Recordar is another Spanish verb that is often confused with acordarse, here you can read about the differences between recordar and acordarse.
3. Sentirse – to feel
The reflexive verb sentirse is similar to the English verb ‘to feel’ but only in the case of emotional feelings, not in the case of physically feeling something such a rough surface or the heat of the sun.
English: I feel sad.
Español: Me siento triste.
English: I feel better about my relationship with my wife.
Español: Me siento mejor sobre mi relación con mi esposa.
4. Darse – to give (oneself)
You will most likely see darse in combination cuenta, which means ‘to realise’. This phrase is really useful so I will focus on two examples on it. Like acordarse, you also need to use de with this phrase—’darse cuenta de (algo)‘.
English: When did you realise?
Español: ¿Cuándo te diste cuenta?
English: I did not realise what was happening until it was too late.
Español: No me di cuenta de lo que ocurría hasta que fue demasiado tarde.
5. Encontrarse – to find (oneself)
Encontrarse can mean ‘to meet’, ‘to encounter’, or ‘to find oneself’. Here are a few examples:
English: I found myself with a new problem (encountered).
Español: Me encontré con un nuevo problema.
English: If you continue like this, you can find yourself in trouble (difficulties).
Español: Si sigues así, te puedes encontrar en dificultades.
6. Quedarse – to stay
Quedar and quedarse are a challenging combination because their definitions are quite different and because they both appear frequently in the language. For now, here are some examples of quedarse only:
English: Tonight, I’m staying at home.
Español: Esta noche, me quedo en casa.
English: He stayed in bed all day.
Español: Se quedó en la cama todo el día.
7. Ponerse – to put on
Ponerse is a difficult verb to translate because you’ll hear it used in a lot of specific phrases. Here are two examples: ponerse al día (to catch up) and ponerse de pie (to stand up).
English: I have to catch up with my friends.
Español: Tengo que ponerme al día con mis amigos.
English: It’s not easy to stand up and say what needs to be said.
Español: No es fácil ponerse de pie y decir lo que hay que decir.
8. Imaginarse – to imagine
Imaginar is used just as often as the reflexive form imaginarse. The difference in meaning is really subtle, but conveniently quite similar to the difference between ‘imagine’ and ‘imagine yourself’ in English. Also note, this verb is often used as a command.
English: I can’t imagine it.
Español: No me lo puedo imaginar.
English: Imagine a world without violence.
Español: Imagínate un mundo sin violencia.
9. Referirse – to refer
Referirse is very similar to the English verb ‘to refer’ in the context of ‘speaking about something’.
English: That’s not what I’m referring to.
Español: Eso no es lo que me refiero.
English: She is referring to what the president said last week.
Español: Ella se refiere a lo que dijo el presidente la semana pasada.
10. Hacerse – to make yourself
Similar to ponerse above, you can use hacerse in a few common phrases including hacerse oír (make yourself heard), and hacerse fuerte (to strengthen).
English: This is an effective way to make yourself heard.
Español: Esta es una manera eficaz de hacerse oír.
English: Every week she is getting much stronger.
Español: Cada semana se hace más fuerte.
11. Preocuparse – to worry
An extremely important conjugation of this verb is the negative command form. At some stage, you’ll probably need to tell someone not to worry:
English: Don’t worry!
Español: ¡No te preocupes!
English: I need to stop worrying about everything.
Español: Necesito dejar de preocuparme por todo.
12. Fijarse – to notice
Fijar means ‘to fix’, and so fijarse could mean ‘to fix yourself’ with the complete phrase being fijarse en (algo), ‘fix yourself on (something)’ or ‘to notice (something)’.
English: Have you noticed the cheap prices here? (fixed yourself on)
Español: ¿Te has fijado en los precios baratos aquí?
English: I noticed her because of the red dress.
Español: Me fijé en ella por el vestido rojo.
13. Atreverse – to dare
If you want to challenge someone—’you wouldn’t dare…’—then atreverse is the reflexive verb you need.
English: You wouldn’t dare dance with me.
Español: ¡A que no te atreves a bailar conmigo!
English: Now is your opportunity to talk to her if you dare!
Español: Ya es tu oportunidad de hablar con ella, ¡si te atreves!
14. Casarse – to get married
It is tempting to think that the translation of me caso is ‘I marry myself’ because casarse is reflexive. But, the best way to think about this verb is that you are getting yourself married with someone else—me caso contigo (I get married with you).
English: I got married very young.
Español: Me casé muy joven.
English: We got married in 2005.
Español: Nos casamos en 2005.
15. Verse – to see oneself
Similar to encontrarse, you can use verse for introspection with thoughts like ‘I see myself…’ or ‘I find myself…’.
English: I found myself obligated to quit smoking for the health of my family.
Español: Me vi obligado a dejar de fumar para la salud de mi familia.
English: If you find yourself in the need to ask for money, tell me and I’ll help you.
Español: Si te ves en la necesidad de pedir dinero, dímelo y te ayudo.
16. Sentarse – to sit down
An interesting quirk (at least for me) with sentarse is that has the same first-person conjugation as sentirse—me siento. The difference is generally obvious from context but you could find unusual examples like this:
English: I don’t feel well so I’m sitting down.
Español: No me siento bien así que me siento.
English: Do you need a moment to sit down?
Español: ¿Necesitas sentarte un rato?
17. Preguntarse – to wonder / to ask oneself
Similar to English, if you ‘ask yourself’ a question in Spanish with preguntarse, you may be pondering something profound, or something as simple as what to eat.
English: I wonder where I left my wallet.
Español: Me pregunto dónde dejé mi cartera.
English: I wonder if I’m going to find my dream job this year.
Español: Me pregunto si voy a encontrar mi trabajo ideal este año.
18. Levantarse – to get up
You can use levantarse to mean ‘get up’ in a few contexts but the most common is getting out of bed.
English: I don’t like getting up early.
Español: No me gusta levantarme temprano.
English: What time did you get up?
Español: ¿A qué hora te has levantado?
19. Enterarse – to find out
In the context of discovering or uncovering some new information, you can use the reflexive verb enterarse. Here are a few examples:
English: I just found out my girlfriend is pregnant.
Español: Acabo de enterarme de que mi novia está embarazada.
English: When I found out I was going to win the prize, I was so excited I could not speak.
Español: Cuando me enteré de que iba a ganar el premio, me sentí tan emocionado que no pude hablar.
20. Dedicarse – to dedicate
When you decide you will dedicate yourself to a task and you want to tell the world about it in Spanish, use dedicarse. You can also use this reflexive verb to ask an important question when you meet someone new:
English: What do you do? (dedicate yourself to)
Español: ¿A qué te dedicas?
English: I’m dedicated to this school. (I dedicate myself)
Español: Me dedico a esta escuela.
21. Decirse – to say (to oneself)
When I was analysing the data for reflexive verbs I found that me dije (I told myself) came up a lot. So here are a few examples you could use for describing your self-talk or inner monologue.
English: I said to myself ‘ah, I’m not that strange’.
Español: Me dije ‘ah, no soy tan raro’.
English: I told myself that I need to move up a gear with my Spanish.
Español: Me dije a mi mismo que necesitaba ponerme las pilas con el español.
22. Llamarse – to call (onself)
Hopefully, you will have seen this verb already. It is the most useful verb for asking for someone’s name or giving your name. These examples should come before the example with dedicarse for asking about someone’s job.
English: What’s your name? (What do you call yourself?)
Español: ¿Cómo te llamas?
English: My name is Andrew. (I call myself Andrew)
Español: Yo me llamo Andrew.
23. Meterse – to get into
Similar to the equivalent idea in English, you can use meterse for getting into things literally and metaphorically.
English: It was cold so I got back into bed.
Español: Hacía frio así que me metí de nuevo en la cama.
English: I don’t want to get into trouble.
Español: No quiero meterme en problemas.
24. Creerse – to believe
Creer means ‘to believe’. Creerse also means ‘to believe’ but implies more convincing may be required to believe the idea. Moreover, if you find it hard to believe someone or you are a little shocked about what someone believes, you can point out the extra convincing you’ll need to believe it with creerse.
English: I don’t believe it!
Español: ¡No me lo creo!
English: Do you consider yourself a good singer?
Español: ¿Te crees un buen cantante?
25. Acercarse – to get closer / approach
When you move towards something physically or metaphorically, you can use acercarse:
English: It’s really hot, I don’t want to get too close.
Español: Está muy caliente, no quiero acercarme demasiado.
English: We approached the wrong person.
Español: Nos acercamos a la persona equivocada.
Spanish reflexive verbs are an incredibly important part of the language. And, in this post, you have the 25 most common verbs that you are likely to hear or need.
If there are verbs in the list above you don’t know yet, choose a few, make some sentence variations and then try them out with a Spanish friend, family member, teacher, or exchange partner.
How else can you use the above Spanish reflexive verbs in a Spanish conversation?