Actualizado: 2 jun 2022
Have you ever wondered what the deal is with "se" in Spanish words like ducharse, vestirse, or levantarse? In the first part of this 3-part episode series on reflexive verbs, we're going to go over the basics of what reflexive verbs are.
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What are Reflexive Verbs?
Reflexive verbs are, quite simply, verbs in Spanish where the subject performs the action on itself.
For example, when you take una ducha (a shower), you are washing yourself. Hence, in Spanish you would say me ducho. Or if you stand up, I would say te levantas for you stand up because you are causing yourself to stand up. We don't really think like this in English - we tend to focus more on the action itself. For example, we say I took a shower instead of I showered myself. Or we would say I got dressed instead of I dressed myself. (If you were to focus on I dressed myself, which is a direct translation of the Spanish me visto, you would be implying that you normally cannot dress yourself. This connotation, or implied context, isn't there in Spanish. Quite the opposite - if you only said visto and didn't make it reflexive, they might wonder who you dressed and why.)
You conjugate reflexive verbs the same way that you conjugate any other Spanish verb, except that the reflexive pronoun goes before a conjugated verb and at the end of a conjugated verb. So levantarme is the unconjugated form, or the infinitive form of the verb, with the first personal reflexive pronoun (i.e., me), and conjugated form would be me levanto.
The reflexive pronouns are pretty close to the pronouns you use for direct and indirect pronouns. In fact, all three pronoun sets are the same, except when it comes to the third person nouns (i.e., He, She, They, and Formal You). With direct pronouns, you use lo, la, los, and las, and for indirect pronouns you use le or les. With reflexive pronouns, you use se.
Yo = Me Nosotros/as = Nos
Tú = Te Vosotros/as = Os
Él / Ella / Usted = Se Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes = Se
A couple of side notes: reflexive verbs are different than verbs with direct or indirect objects (such as él me dio un regalo, or he gave me a gift), where the subject performs an action on someone or something else. Also, sometimes reflexive verbs can also be reciprocal verbs, where two subjects are doing the same thing to each other (such as with casarse. For example: se casan would be they marry each other, or as we would say in English, they are getting married). But that's for a different episode.
Here are some common reflexive verbs, based on some normal daily activities (I conjugated all as first person singular, or Yo):
Despertarse - to wake up. Example: Me despierto cada día a las 7. (I wake up every day at 7.)
Levantarse - to get out of bed. Example: Pero no me levanto hasta las 7:30. (But I don't get out of bed until 7:30.)
Vestirse - to get dressed. Example: Rápidamente me visto. (I get dressed quickly.)
Ducharse - to shower. Example: Por las mañanas me ducho. (I shower in the mornings.)
Peinarse - to comb or to style your hair. Example: Me peino el pelo antes de comer. (I brush my hair before eating.)
Irse - to leave. Example: Me voy al trabajo. (I leave for work.)
Quedarse - to stay or remain someplace. Example: Me quedo en el trabajo todo el día. (I stay at work all day.)
Bañarse - To take a bath. Example: Después del trabajo, me baño para relajarme. (After work, I take a bath to relax.)
Cepillarse los dientes - to brush your teeth. (Cepillarse is generally used for brushing, and peinarse is generally for combing. That being said, I think in Spain they use peinarse for brushing hair as well, and cepillarse or lavarse for brushing your teeth. Please send me an email if you know more on the subtle differences between these two!) Example: Me cepillo los dientes después de la cena. (I brush my teeth after dinner.)
Acostarse - to go to bed. Example: Me acuesto a las 9 por la noche. (I go to bed at 9 at night.)
Dormirse - to fall asleep. Example: Pero no me duermo hasta las 10. (But I don't fall asleep until 10.)
In the above list, there are some verbs that make sense to an English speaker as examples of reflexive situations (such as peinarse or vestirse, since you generally will do those to yourself). But others might take some imagination - or even just memorization - to figure out. For example, quedarse; we don't normally think of ourselves as keeping ourselves someplace, but technically I suppose that you only leave a place when you want to (you know, minus extenuating circumstances).
In Episodes 47 and Episode 48 we'll review some verbs that actually change their meaning if you make them reflexive (such as Ir vs. Irse and Quedar vs. Quedarse).
Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.
¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!
Cultural Tip: Colombia
Global National Holidays
Here is a list of holidays that many other countries also celebrate and which we have covered in other episodes (although I have included interesting tidbits for further context or unique ways Colombians celebrate the day). Keep in mind that in Colombia, they celebrate their Christian holidays on the Monday after the actual date.
New Year's Day (01/01)
Epiphany (01/06: People normally spend the day with their family, going to church or recreating the arrival of the 3 Kings. In Bogotá, the neighborhood Egipto holds a big, community-wide re-enactment.)
St. Joseph's Day (Celebrated the closest Monday to 03/19)
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, followed by Easter (04/01-04)
Labour Day (05/01)
Mother's Day (second Sunday in May, not a public holiday)
Ascension Day (05/26: it is the 40th day of Easter to commemorate when Jesus ascended into Heaven)
Corpus Christi (06/19: a day to celebrate the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, celebrated the second Thursday after Whitsun)
Father's Day (3rd Sunday in June, not a public holiday)
Assumption Day (08/15)
All Saint's Day (11/01, but in Colombia it's 11/07 this year)
Immaculate Conception (12/08)
Christmas (12/25) *We talked about Colombia's Christmas celebrations in Episode 43.
Unique National Holidays
I found these following 6 holidays to either be unique to Colombia, celebrated by Colombia in a unique way, or are holidays perhaps shared by other countries but which we haven't really talked about before.
1. Sacred Heart, or The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus / El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (06/27)
It commemorates the "physical heart of Jesus as a symbol for his divine love for all humanity". It takes place 19 days after Pentecost and the 2nd Friday after Corpus Christi. Colombia was officially consecrated to Jesus' Sacred Heart in 1902, but they removed this from their constitution in 1991.
2. St. Peter and St. Paul's Day (06/29, so 07/04 this year)
Celebrates their combined martyrdom in 67 AD. Tradition says that both were killed on the same day by Emperor Nero, Peter being crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified the same way as his Lord Jesus, and Paul beheaded due to his status as a Roman citizen.
3. Declaration of Independence (07/20)
Commemorates the uprising in Bogota in 1810 that became the catalyst for Colombia's independence. Criollos (natives of Spanish descent) visited an important businessman José González Llorente to ask if they could borrow a flowerpot, knowing he would refuse. He did, and the flowerpot somehow got broken, and this sparked riots in Bogota and the formation of a Junta (a military government). It took 9 more years for Colombia to become a republic and have its independence recognized by Spain in 1819. They celebrate with parades, marches, traditional folk music and by watching sports.
4. Batalla de Boyacá (08/07)
In celebration of the 1819 battle where Colombia gained independence from Spain. The Republican army defeated the Royalist army about 150 km north of Bogota. Although fighting continued for years after, this battle is seen as a decisive victory. They celebrate with parades and festivals, and the military pays homage to the fallen soldiers. In Bogota, interestingly enough, they have an annual carnival to celebrate the city's Hispanic foundation in 1538 on 08/06, so they begin celebrating a day early. :)
5. Día de la Raza, or Day of the Races (second Monday in October, 10/17 this year)
Commemorates the indigenous people of the Americas on Columbus Day by celebrating the first meeting of Europe and Native Americans.
6. Independence of Cartagena (closest Monday to Nov. 11)
On November 11, 1811, Cartagena was the first Colombian city to declare independence from Spain. It's a national holiday because this was a key event for Colombia's freedom. People celebrate with parades, especially a large one in Cartagena. Cartagena also has a Battle of Flowers during this celebration, where they pick Miss Colombia from 21 local beauty pageant winners. Miss Colombia represents the country at the Miss Universe contest.
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When selecting which reflexive verbs I would focus on for this series, I consulted my Spanish Frequency dictionary by MostUsedWords. It's not a perfect frequency dictionary - I have yet to find one that is - but it fulfills its purpose. I like that it has an alphabetized index at the back that gives you the frequency number for each word, rather than a page number. I also like that the authors are pretty upfront about how they created their list and the inherent pitfalls in their method (again, there is no such thing as a perfect frequency list). This means you can decide for yourself how best to use it and interpret the data.
For this reason, I would only recommend using this if you are an intermediate or advanced Spanish student, as you'll have a better grasp on the Spanish language and can better navigate the book. For example, I really liked using this as a starting point for my podcast - the goal was to use some of the most frequently used reflexive verbs, after all - but there were some words they listed as reflexive that I I had never seen used that way before and which my favorite online dictionary (wordreference.com) also didn't recognize as legitimate. To be fair, I didn't cross-check these with the RAE, so there is a chance that the frequency dictionary is correct. But a beginner-level learner wouldn't know enough to be able to question that.
But anyway, if you would like to have a frequency dictionary as a resource for your language learning, such as with vocabulary building, I recommend this one. They do have 3 or 4 other books in the series (as this one covers the first 2,500 words), but I don't think you would need to purchase those. The first 2,500 words, after all, is quite a lot! I've been tempted to buy the second one, but I'm not quite convinced that it's worth it for me just yet.
© 2021 by Language Answers, LLC
Intro and Closing Music by Master_Service from Fiverr
[Affiliate link to Amazon.] "Spanish Frequency Dictionary: Essential Vocabulary" by MostUsedWords.com 2018
"Colombia" by Office Holidays