I’ve Discovered Reflexive Verbs – My Head Hurts!

My head hurts!

Do you want to know why?

Well if you are still reading this then I assume the answer is yes. [Thank you by the way for your patronage of my little ole’ site].

Today I have been trying to understand Spanish Reflexive Verbs and Reflexive Pronouns.

Here’s what google tells me they are:

If the subject in a sentence performs an action on itself, then the verb is considered to be reflexive, and the pronoun used to receive the action is reflexive. The singular reflexive pronouns are: me (myself), te (yourself), and se (yourself (formal), himself, herself). Source.


A reflexive pronoun (pronombre reflexivo ) is used as part of a reflexive verb (verbo reflexivo ) to indicate that someone or something is performing an action on or for itself. Source.


A verb is reflexive when the subject and the object are the same. Source.


I don’t know about your, but I am still none the wiser!

So why would I put myself through that?

Well they came up during my last online lesson a couple of days ago.

My tutor had created this sentence:

Normalmente los camareros tienen mucho dolor de espalda

As usual we discussed the sentence and examined each word in some depth. This was a relatively easy sentence for me to understand so we didn’t have to dissect each word.

We explored how the verb tener was used and how it was conjugated.

And then we looked at the phrase “dolor de espalda”. These three words equate to what we would use one to describes – “backache”

There is a similar format for the Spanish translations of headache (dolor de cabeza) and toothache (dolor de muelas).

So far so good.

My head was coping with this.

Here’s How My Tutor Frazzled My Brain

But then my tutor calmly pulled out her grammatical grenade, pulled the pin and tossed it into my brain.

…And out popped reflexive verbs.

Not straight away mind.

They are quite stealthy creatures and like to creep up on you when you least expect it.

Reflexive verbs have been well trained in the dark arts, cunning creatures that they are.

We started to talk about how I would express that I had pain in other body parts if a “dolor de [BODY PART]” didn’t exist.

And that’s when they ambushed me.

So if my arm hurts the phrase is:

me duele el brazo

I started pleading with her at this point… well more like whinging really…

“But…But.. what about ‘mi brazo'”? I implored.

It seemed to make sense to me.

The word for “my” is “mi”.

Let’s just pop that at the front of the word for arm (“brazo”) and “Bob’s your uncle”, you have a serious limb ownership statement… “mi brazo”.

[Rubbing hands with glee…] Let’s now add a bit of pain (dolor) to it, and now all Spanish speaking people within earshot will be aware of my suffering…”mi brazo tengo dolor”

What shall we talk about next?

World Peace? Brexit? Ill advised snap elections?


“Mi brazo tengo dolor” just ain’t right.

It’s time to get reflexive.

Here’s What We Do In English

In English when we start talking about doing something to something we own here’s what happens.

I think there is technical jargon for what follows but here’s my simplistic, if not somewhat confused description.

The ownership bit (the “my” or the “your” or even the “their”) gets plonked down in front of the noun. So we would get my hair, your hair, her hair etc.

Then we get into the doing bit of the sentence – the verb. This gets put after the word of the person doing the doing and before the thing being done to.

So we get something like this:


Or in technical terms:


I                                            brush                                      my                                             hair

That’s straightforward enough isn’t it?

Here’s What Happens In Spanish

Complete confusion to us English speaking folks; that’s what happens in Spanish!

The reflexive verb is a verb where something is being done to someone or something else.

There are reflexive verbs and there are non-reflexive verbs… and you can make verbs reflexive.

We have this in English. It’s just we aren’t consciously aware of the use of reflexive verbs because we have learnt how to say things reflexively as we grew up.

We do it naturally. We are unconsciously competent at being reflexive.

And that is part of the challenge.

Because I have to re-acquaint myself with reflexive language. AND I have to then work out how to express myself reflexively in Spanish where the rules are different.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

So in Spanish we have this:

me duele el brazo

What are the differences?

– First of all, the noun has the “the” word with it. Whilst we might talk about the arm without using the definite article (the), in Spanish the article is used – “el Brazo”
– Secondly the reflexive pronoun is associated with the verb and not the noun. The “me” tells you that this is about a pain in my arm but it is associated with “pain” (duele) and not “arm” (brazo).
– Thirdly, just by changing the reflexive pronoun, you can change the meaning of the phrase.

For example:

Me peino el pelo – I brush my hair

Te peino el pelo – I am brushing your hair

Le peino el pelo – I am brushing her hair

So I am doing a lot of brushing here! The only way we know who I am brushing is by the change of the reflexive pronoun linked to the verb.

As best as I can make out, I think the formula for this is something like:


It might only be an approximation but for now it is helping me make at least a bit of sense.

You can find a good explanation of Reflexive Verbs at the Spanish Dictionary Site here.

Typing this out and sharing my experiences with you has actually been useful for me.

Things are a little straighter in my mind.

They are still quite tangled and tangental, but I think I am making progress.

Here’s the kicker though.

Just understanding the reflexive nature of some verbs is only half the battle.

Once I have got that under my belt I then have to become adept at recognising them AND using them.

That is another one of the frontiers I shall have to explore.

I wonder how I am going to do that?

Any ideas?

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