Introduction To Reflexive Verbs
I have just realized, to my amazement, that I have managed to get to lesson 87 without making any reference to Reflexive Verbs! This is a most uncharacteristic omission and will be rectified immediately! As usual it will take more than one article to do the job properly, so here we go.
Reflexive Verbs are extremely common in Spanish and you will have no doubt heard them and even used them in everyday phrases without even realizing it. However, I find that the best way to explain them is to use examples in English first and build up the basic idea step by step. Reflexive Verbs exist in English as well, but they are far more limited in use.
First of all let’s think of a simple sentence using a nice easy verb like ‘wash’. We can say:
I wash the car.
I wash the child.
I wash the dog.
In each of these sentences ‘I’ is the subject (the one who controls the action of the verb); ‘wash’ is the verb itself and ‘the car’, ‘the child’, ‘the dog’ are the object; in other words, the person or thing that receives the action of the verb.
Now, as well as washing something else, just once in a while I wash myself. The sentence ‘I wash myself’ breaks down like this:
‘I’ is the subject; ‘wash’ is the verb and ‘myself’ is the object, but we can see that ‘I’ and ‘myself’ are actually the same person. In other words, the subject and the object of the verb are the same. We could also say that the object is a reflection of the subject and in fact this explains the name of what we are talking about, because the word ‘myself’ is called a Reflexive Pronoun.
In English we have the following Reflexive Pronouns:
myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves. They can all be used in the kind of sentence we have just seen; for example: ‘I wash myself’; ‘you dress yourself’; ‘she looks at herself in the mirror’. In every example the object and the subject are the same person and this is how the Reflexive form works in English.
As you can already see, in English the use is very limited, because we usually express even these ideas rather differently. Instead of ‘I wash myself’ you would normally say ‘I have a wash’. Instead of ‘You dress yourself’, you would normally say ‘You get dressed’. In Spanish however, this Reflexive form is used all the time.
‘I wash myself (or I have a wash)’ in Spanish is Yo me lavo. ‘Yo’ is the subject, ‘lavo’ is the verb, and ‘me’ is the object and the Reflexive Pronoun (myself).
There are two quick things to say about this:
Firstly, notice that in Spanish the Reflexive Pronoun goes in front of the verb. In other words we are saying ‘I myself wash’.
Secondly, as we already know, the subject pronoun (yo) in Spanish is often omitted, so we would usually just say Me lavo.
A common confusion is to think that ‘me’ somehow replaces ‘yo’ and means ‘I’, but it doesn’t! Me lavo means therefore ‘I wash myself’, or in real English ‘I have a wash’.
I’ll leave you to meditate on that one and will carry on next month. See you then!
Jane Cronin’s ‘Step by Step Spanish’ articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s ‘Step by Step Internet Spanish Course’