LearningPortuguese

Reflexive Verbs

When the object of a verb refers to the same individual as the subject, the verb is said to be reflexive. In English, this means using a pronoun that ends with ‘self’ or ‘selves’ (for example, ‘she cut herself’; ‘they behaved themselves’). Portuguese also has a set of pronouns that are used to make verbs reflexive, and we will look at those in more detail later.

There are a lot more reflexive verbs in Portuguese than there are in English, and they often seem a little odd to us at first. It is a common habit for us learners to forget to use the pronoun of a reflexive verb (and therefore not use it reflexively), but this can be dangerous because it can cause the verb to take on a different meaning.

A good example of what reflexive verbs are all about is the Portuguese verb ‘lembrar-se’. The ‘-se’ on the end of the infinitive is a reflexive pronoun, and it is this pronoun which makes the verb reflexive. The English translation of ‘lembrar-se’ is ‘to remember’. However, if you use the verb non-reflexively – ie. ‘lembrar’ (rather than ‘lembar-se’), it means ‘to remind’. So whereas in English, we use two completely separate verbs (‘to remember’, and ‘to remind’), the Portuguese just use one (‘lembrar’) with the option of making it reflexive (‘lembrar-se’). Although ‘lembrar-se’ means ‘to remember’, it might be more helpful to think of a more literal translation: ‘to remind oneself’.

When conjugating a reflexive verb, you use the same rules as for other verbs – ‘lembrar-se’ is still a first conjugation verb (only the 1st person plural conjugation changes slightly – see comments section below), but you have to amend the pronoun on the end to reflect the correct ‘person’. Here is the full conjugation of a reflexive verb:

Present Indicative tense of the irregular first conjugation verb: lembrar-se (to remember)

lembro-me

lembramo-nos

lembras-te

lembrais-vos

lembra-se

lembram-se

Here are some common reflexive verbs…

Some Common Portuguese Reflexive Verbs

Portuguese

English

Literal Translation

lembrar-se

to remember

to remind oneself

levantar-se

to get up

to get oneself up

sentar-se

to sit down

to sit oneself down

sentir-se

to feel

to feel oneself (eg. ‘sinto-me bem’ = ‘I feel well’)

servir-se

to help oneself

to help oneself

vestir-se

to dress

to dress oneself

The pronoun can be attached to the start of the verb instead of the end (eg. ‘não me lembro’ = ‘I don’t remember’ – the hyphen is not used when prefixing), and sometimes this is a requirement of the grammar. Brazilians usually prefix in this way anyway, so if you want to prefix it all the time I won't complain. The Portuguese however, usually suffix the verb with the pronoun (although there are times when they don't, such as when speaking negatively or using an adverb).

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