When to use the Portuguese Reflexive


You use the Portuguese Reflexive when you want to be clear that you're talking about yourself or, herself, themselves etc.

When we say The Portuguese Reflexive, we're really talking about those pronouns that get added right before a verb. These are called Reflexive Pronouns:

Reflexive Pronoun
Eu me Eu me levantei. (I got myself up)
Você se Você se levantou. (You got yourself up)
Ele se Ele se levantou. (He got himself up)
Ela se Ela se levantou. (She got herself up)
A gente se A gente se levantou. (We got ourselves up)

A verb becomes reflexive when it's used to talk about doing something to oneself, such as seating one's self at the table or waking one's self up. In these cases, the subject and object of the sentence are the same. *But you don't need to think about subjects and objects! You just need to recognize when a sentence is expressing "self".

It's usually obvious from the context that you are, for example, washing yourself, dressing yourself or injuring yourself but here's the thing you need to always remember: PORTUGUESE IS A VERY PRECISE LANGUAGE. It even has special verb tenses and rules to let people know when you're speaking hypothetically (the subjunctive), and when you're giving a command (the imperative)!

Portuguese is a very CLEAR and unambiguous language. That's also what makes it difficult to learn.

So, the Reflexive pronouns make it super-clear that the action is being done to one's self.

Let's start the day:

I woke up. » Eu acordei.
I got out of bed. » Eu levantei da cama.
I dressed. » Eu vesti.

A Portuguese speaker would argue that (1) you could have woken someone else up!; (2) you could be talking about getting someone else out of bed!!; (3) you could be having way too much fun and were actually dressing someone else!!!

Let's use the Portuguese Reflexive and be clear about everything:

I woke myself up. » Eu me acordei.
I got myself out of bed. » Eu me levantei.
I dressed myself. » Eu me vesti.

The bottom line is this: You can get by without using reflexive pronouns but if you want to speak the language correctly and with the precision it was built for, learn when to use the Portuguese Reflexive.

I need to prepare (myself). » Preciso me preparar.
She injured (herself). » Ela se machucou.
We will talk (ourselves) » A gente se fala.

It really is just a matter of recognizing that you need to include myself or yourself, ourselves, themselves etc. When you say for example, "I injured myself". It would be pretty silly to say, "She injured." Other examples are not so clear:

Almost any verb can be used reflexively. Whenever the subject is receiving and doing the action at the same time, it's reflexive. To make a verb reflexive just add a me or se to say myself (me), or yourself, himself, herself (se).

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More, more, more Portuguese Reflexive examples!

I sat (myself) down at the table. » Eu me sentei na mesa.
I got (myself) up at 7AM. » Eu me levantei às sete horas.
Are you going to get (yourself) dressed? » Você vai se vestir?
He (himself) regreted everything. » Ele se arrependeu tudo.
We enjoyed ourselves a lot. » Nós nos divertimos muito.
I call myself David. » Eu me chamo David.
She feels fine. » Ela se sente bem.

This one's a bit dangerous but can be useful:
ferrar-se. » offensive « see link.

You will naturally develop a feel for when to use the reflexive. This will happen naturally, without having to stop and think about it.

Can any verb be reflexive?

The ones above are almost always used reflexively -- so, please learn them first. But know that pretty much any verb can be used reflexively. Here are some less obvious ones:

falar » Eu me falei » I told myself.

ensinar » Você se ensinou? » Did you teach yourself? » Sim, eu me ensinou tudo!

transformar » ela se transformou em modelo. » She made herself into a model.

I can't think of any way to use for example chover, morar, dançar (dancing with myself?), chegar, ir, trabalhar... Can you?

Show me all the reflexive pronouns.

Want to see all the possibilities? Let's do one verb.

Reflexive Pronouns: levantar-se

Personal Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun Example
Eu me Eu me levantei. (I got myself up)
Você se você, ele, ela se levantou. (You got yourself up)
a gente se A gente se levantou. (We got ourselves up)
nós nos Nós nos levantamos. (We got ourselves up)
vocês, eles, elas se Vocês se levantaram. (You got yourselves up)
Grammar Geeks:
They're called reflexive pronouns because they have the job of reflecting the action back to the subject of the sentence. Here's how Wikipedia puts it:

A reflexive verb is, loosely, a verb whose direct object is the same as its subject, for example, "I wash myself". More generally, a reflexive verb has the same semantic agent and patient (typically represented syntactically by the subject and the direct object). OK!

Or rather:
Whenever the subject is receiving and doing the action at the same time, it's a reflexive verb.

It's not all that complicated!