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The Reflexive Pronouns

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Spanish 101B

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Reciprocal Reflex Pronouns are the same as the plural Reflexive Pronouns.

Except instead of referring to oneself as the Reflexive pronouns do, the Reciprocal Reflex pronouns refer to "one another" or "each other."

Remember our example of Juan looking at himself? We know how to say

Juan se mira Juan looks at himself
Juan mira a María Juan looks at María
Juan la mira Juan looks at her

But how do we say "Juan and María look at each other"?

This is where the Reciprocal construction comes in.

The Reciprocal Reflex Pronouns are the same as the plural Reflexive Pronouns:

nos (nosotros) os (vosotros) se (ellos, ellas, ustedes)

Notice that in Reciprocal constructions that we use only the plural reflexive pronouns. This is because there are always at least two people involved.

The conjugation of the verb will help tell you if you are looking at a Reflexive or Reciprocal construction.

Let's look at the sentence "Se mira."

We know it is someone looking at him or herself, because the verb is singular; only one person is acting. Therefore, the "se" is a Reflexive pronoun.

What if the sentence says Se miran ?

This is a bit trickier. Because miran is plural, we know that more than one person is involved. So the se could be a Reciprocal pronoun, meaning "They look at each other." But it could also be Reflexive, meaning "They look at themselves."

How do you know the difference? The context of the conversation you are having or the material that you are reading will tell you.

For example, in a steamy scene of a romance novel we read that the hero and heroine

Se besaron

It is far more likely to mean "They kissed (each other)" than "They kissed themselves."

There are verbs which are naturally Reciprocal and Reflexive that also need context to emphasize the meaning:

For example, despedirse:

  • Two friends are leaving a party and they say goodbye (to the hosts) as they leave: se despiden
  • A man about to board a plan for a trip, and his wife who cannot go are saying good-bye to each other: se despiden.