The grammatical term "pronominal" means "relating to a pronoun," so pronominal verbs require a reflexive pronoun.
|Se casaron.||They got married.|
|Me estoy vistiendo.||I’m getting dressed.|
English doesn’t have pronominal verbs per se. We can translate Me estoy vistiendo as "I’m dressing myself," but we’re far more likely to say "I’m getting dressed" – the fact that it’s myself is implicitly understood. This is not the case in Spanish. If you’re dressing yourself, you need the reflexive pronoun, because without it, you’re automatically saying that you’re dressing someone else.
Spanish students first learn about reflexive verbs, but those are only one of three types of pronominal verbs. Click on the lessons for more information and a list of common verbs:
Many Spanish verbs can be used reflexively and reciprocally as well as non-pronominally.
|Nos vemos en el espejo.||We see ourselves in the mirror.|
|Nos vemos todos los días.||We see each other every day.|
|Vemos muchas películas.||We see lots of movies.|
What sets pronominal verbs apart from non-pronominal verbs is that pronominals must be conjugated with a reflexive pronoun, which always agrees with the subject. Like object pronouns, the reflexive pronoun is placed directly in front of the verb. Unlike subject pronouns, the reflexive pronoun is required in Spanish.
Conjugating pronominal verbs
There are two separate tasks when conjugating pronominal verbs. First, take off the reflexive pronoun se, change it to agree with the subject of the verb, and place it directly in front of the verb.* Then, as with all verbs, you must conjugate the infinitive according to whether it’s an -ar, -er, -ir, stem-changing, or irregular verb.
|Marco se pone una camisa.||Marco is putting a shirt on.|
|Te lavas la cara.||You’re washing your face.|
|Nos quedamos aquí.||We’re staying here.|
|Tengo que sentarme.*||I need to sit down.|
* Note that for some verb forms, the reflexive pronoun may be attached to the end rather than placed at the beginning; see pronoun placement for more info.
You can recognize pronominal verbs by the reflexive pronoun se tacked on to the infinitive: ducharse, ponerse, lavarse, quedarse, etc.
The reflexive pronoun has to match the subject in all tenses and moods.
|Future||Me levantaré.||I will get up.|
|Pretérito||Me levanté.||I got up.|
|Infinitive||Voy a levantarme.||I’m going to get up.|
|Gerund||levantándome||while getting up|