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Se Habla Español 'Se' What?: Learning How to Conjugate Reflexive Spanish Verbs

Reflexive Spanish verbs are very common in everyday Spanish.
It is nearly impossible to avoid using reflexive Spanish verbs. Verbs are used reflexively in Spanish more frequently than English. For these reasons, I felt it was important to include reflexive Spanish verbs in my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs, and in today's post.

Please note, however, that reflexive Spanish verbs are appropriate to study once you understand how to use the Spanish subject pronouns and conjugating regular verbs. So if this topic is premature for you, save it for later. Don’t overwhelm yourself more than necessary. You can preview this topic to offer perspective in any case.

Have you ever seen a sign in a store window advertising bilingual service that reads, “Se habla español”? When I was a beginner, this phrase confused me. I wondered why it didn’t just read, “Hablamos español” (We speak Spanish) without the reflexive pronoun (se).

“Se habla español” is the passive voice which means “Spanish is spoken” (here). This is a good example of how reflexive Spanish verbs are commonly used yet confusing to beginners whose native language is English.

Reflexive Spanish verbs make communication in Spanish more efficient.
As a beginner, another area that confused me was learning how to translate phrases in English that started with the word “get” or in the past “got.” If you look up the word “get” in an English to Spanish dictionary, there isn’t a single word or phrase listed to define it. That’s because it is implied when using reflexive Spanish verbs.

Sentences like: “I get bored in Science class,” can be communicated in Spanish as “Me aburro en la clase de ciencias.” (present tense of aburrirse); or “Did you get sick?” translates into one single reflexive verb phrase, “Te enfermaste?” (preterit of enfermarse).

Reflexive Spanish verbs make it easier to learn how to use object pronouns.
As a beginner, I was so frustrated with verb conjugation in Spanish that when it came to object pronouns I tried not to use them at all. I thought it would be okay to just name the objects of the action instead of replacing them with a pronoun. It worked for a while, but as my verb conjugation skills improved, it became obvious that I needed to learn how to use object pronouns.

Reflexive Spanish verbs are the perfect introduction to learning how to use the other object pronouns, direct and indirect. When you understand the difference between the subject of the action and the object of the action, you can apply the concept to using reflexive pronouns, direct object pronouns, and indirect object pronouns in Spanish.

The following excerpt from The Spanish Verb Conjugator provides an outline to the basics of learning how to use Reflexive Spanish Verbs.

Whether the verb ending is “ar,” “er,” or “ir,” the infinitive reflexive verb will end in “se.” For example, “bañarse,” “caerse,” or “divertirse.” Reflexive verbs can be regular or irregular. In addition to the verb conjugation, a reflexive pronoun will precede the verb and reflect the subject of the conjugated verb. The “se” at the end of the infinitive verb is not retained when the verb is conjugated.

For example, “bañarse” (to bathe oneself) a regular -ar reflexive verb in the present tense:

“bañ” is the stem; “ar” is the ending; “se” is the infinitive reflexive pronoun    
        me    baño           I bathe myself
        te      bañas         you (inf.) bathe yourself
        se     baña           he bathes himself, she bathes herself, you (f.) bathe yourself
        se     bañan         they bathe themselves, you all (f. & inf.) bathe yourselves
        nos   bañamos    we bathe ourselves
        os     bañáis        you all (inf.) bathe yourselves

Reflexive verbs are used most frequently in the following ways:
a.)    Some verbs can be used reflexively to convey “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “itself,” etc.
        when the subject and the object of the action are the same person(s) or thing(s). For
        example, “I look at myself in the mirror.” (Me miro en el espejo.)

b.)    Verbs in English that imply “get” / “got” or “become” / “became” are used reflexively in
        Spanish. For example, “I get tired” (Me canso); “I got bored” (Me aburrí).

c.)    To communicate “each other” or “one another,” reflexive verbs are used: “We speak to
        each other every day.” (Nos hablamos todos los días.)
d.)    Reflexive verbs in the third person (se) are used for the passive or impersonal voice. For example:
        “They say that/It is said that...” (Se dice que...) or “How does one say...?” (¿Cómo se dice...?);
        Spanish is spoken here.” (Se habla español)

In the next blog post I will highlight the reflexive Spanish verb “irse” (to leave) as an excellent example of a mainstream irregular reflexive Spanish verb. I will compare it to its counterpart: the non-reflexive and super common Spanish verb, "ir" (to go). Until then...hasta luego.

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