Reflexive verbs can be described as verbs that reflect an action that is done by the agent to itself. In plain English, this is essentially using reflexive pronouns such as “-self” or “-selves.”

Reflexive pronouns are used much less often in English than in other languages. This explanation provides an overview to reflexive pronoun use in English with explanations and examples.




I - myself
you - yourself
he - himself
she - herself
it - itself
we - ourselves
you - yourselves
they - themselves

Here is a brief list of some of the most common REFLEXIVE VERBS in English:

to enjoy oneself
to hurt oneself
to kill oneself
to market oneself
to convince oneself
to deny oneself
to encourage oneself
to pay oneself

REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS are used in three instances in English:



I enjoyed myself last summer.
He's trying to market himself as a consultant.

Sharon pays herself £200,000 a month in consultant fees.
We encourage ourselves to learn something new every week.



Tom bought a motorcycle for himself.
They purchased a round trip ticket to New York for themselves.
We made everything in this room by ourselves.
Jackie took a weekend holiday to be by herself.

[NOTICE: The relative positions of subject, reflexive verb and preposition within the sentence structure.]




No, I want to finish it myself! [I don't want anyone helping me.]
She insists on talking to the doctor herself. [She didn't want anyone else talking to the doctor.]
Fido tends to eat everything himself. [He doesn't let the other dogs get any food.]


Many languages such as French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish often use verb forms which employ reflexive pronouns. Here are some examples:

alzarsi - Italian / get up
cambiarsi - Italian / change clothes
sich anziehen - German / get dressed
sich erholen - German / get better
se baigner - French / to bathe, swim
se doucher - French / to shower

You will find a list of Portuguese Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns and their adaptations in English below.

In English, Reflexive Verbs are much less common. Try to avoid making the mistake of translating directly from your native language and adding a Reflexive Pronoun when it is not necessary.


I get myself up, shower myself and have breakfast before I leave for work.


I get up, shower and have breakfast before I leave for work.


She becomes herself angry when she doesn't get her way.


She becomes angry when she doesn't get her way.

In order to conjugate the Verb in, say, Portuguese, you would have to drop the "-se" and attach one of the Reflexive Pronouns according to the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd). For example, “you call yourself” would be “você se chama.” In English it is not usual to attach "oneself", although it would be used to emphasise the personal nature of the action.

Sometimes it is necessary to make a point:

"I call myself a patriot, others call me a racist."

"Batman, you call yourself a crime-fighter, but you are simply a masked vigilante!"

"Justin Bieber calls himself a singer, but he's becoming a joke."

"We call ourselves a football club, our opponents call us losers."

"You call yourselves activists? You're just trust-fund kids out to cause mischief!"

"They called themselves freedom-fighters. In reality they were simply mercenaries fighting for whichever side paid the most."


NOTICE: The use of the Reflexive English Verbs in those examples is to highlight the difference between what each individual or group call themselves, and how others perceive them.


In other circumstances these examples would read:


"I am a patriot, even if other people disagree."

"You are a crime-fighter Batman, even if the cops think otherwise."

"Justin Bieber is a singer, even if his lifestyle has got out of control."

"We are still a football club, even if we've lost every game."

"Are you activists? You're not just a bunch of rich kids out for a laugh?"

"They are mercenaries, not freedom fighters. Their loyalty can be bought for the right price!"


Other Reflexive Verbs in Portuguese have similar specific uses in English. But in each case, the reflexive can be used without the addition of "oneself" unless there is a specific point being made by the speaker.


These examples demonstrate the different usage:



Portuguese                            English

cortar-se                       to cut [oneself]

                                      Jackson cut himself on a piece of glass; or

                                      Jackson was cut by a piece of glass; or

                                      Jackson has been cut by a piece of glass.


enxugar-se                    to dry [oneself]

                                      I am drying myself with a hand towel; or

                                      I dried myself with a hand towel; or

                                      I used a hand towel to get dry.


lavar-se                         to wash [oneself]

                                      Inger has a broken arm, but she can still wash herself; or

                                      Despite breaking her arm, Inger washes her hair; or

                                      Inger is washing her hair even with a broken arm.


levantar-se                   to remember [this verb has no need for a pronoun in normal use]

                                      I remember my name, I can remember everything!

                                      ERNIE the computer remembers the number of every savings bond ever purchased.

                                      Is it normal for amnesia patients to wake up and not remember who they are?


machucar-se                to hurt [oneself]

                                      Be careful that you don't hurt yourself with that knife!

                                      He didn't carry a gun because he was worried bout hurting someone.

                                      She hurt his feelings when she told him that she didn't love him anymore.

                                      The footballer hurt his knee when he slipped.


pentear-se                    to brush or comb [oneself]

                                      Getting to his feet, he brushed himself down and carried on walking.

                                      [Used only when there is no more specific object to brush or comb.]

                                      She brushes her hair 100 times.

                                      He combed his remaining hair over his bald spot.


sentar-se                       to seat [oneself]

                                      The Prince seated himself at the head of the table.

                                      The Prince was sitting at the head of the table.

                                      She sat alone in the dark, shaking with fear.


vestir-se                        to dress or put on clothes [oneself]

                                      Rachel's brother has Down's Syndrome, but he can still dress himself.

                                      David can put on his own clothes without help.

                                      Elizabeth was still getting dressed when her date arrived.


Some Reflexive English verbs require prepositions (in English, these would translate as "about", "at", "that", "to", or "with").


to get accustomed to/get used to

to take advantage of

to convince oneself of/about/that

to decide to/about/that

to dedicate oneself to

to forget about/that/to

to remember about/that/to

to look at/to/towards

to complain about

to laugh at/about/with

to be surprised about/at/that/to/with


In sentence form these will be used like this:



I go to bed/I put myself to bed                       

I've never been married                                 

I am accustomed to the best                         

I took advantage of the situation                  

I was convinced that I was right                    

I decided to see for myself                             

I am dedicated to achieving justice              

I had forgotten about that                             

I cannot remember anything                         

I don't know what I'm looking at                   

I don't have anything to complain about    

I'm still laughing about that                          

I was surprised to see you here                     


Use these examples to create your own.







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