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English:

Why do I sometimes see the reflexive pronoun in a verbal phrase (either before or attached to a command or progressive form) and sometimes not?

I've finally come to understand that reflexive verbs in Spanish require the reflexive pronoun even when they are used in an infinitive form with an auxiliary verb. One of the following

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must be tacked on to the infinitive or come before the verbal phrase. It isn't optional. But, sometimes I will see two versions of a verbal phrase — examples with the reflexive pronoun attached to the verb and others without. This has caused some confusion for me. Can anyone clear this up?


Español:

¿Por qué veo el pronombre reflexivo en una frase (ya sea antes o apegado a una forma imperativa o progresiva) y a veces no?

Finalmente entiendo que verbos reflexivos en español necesitan el pronombre reflexivo aún cuando se usan en una forma infinitiva con un verbo auxiliar. Uno de los siguientes ... [véanse la imagen arriba] ... debe ser añadido al infinitivo o antes de la frase verbal. No es opcional. Pero, a veces veo dos versiones de una frase verbal — ejemplos con el pronombre reflexivo añadido y otros sin él. Esto me ha causado confusión. ¿Puede alguien aclarar esto para mí?

  • Thanks for documenting what you've been learning. Should be helpful for others! // I don't understand exactly what you're asking, though, or how your answer fits in exactly. // If you play Scrabble in Spanish, you can have fun tacking pronouns onto verbs in strange places! E.g. "se cansaba" -> "cansábase", "se cansó" -> "cansose"! I is so much easier to get a 7-letter word in Spanish than in English.... – aparente001 Mar 6 '18 at 2:04
  • @aparente001 Is "cansose" a word in Spanish? BTW, what's your best/native language? It's my understanding that you don't tack on a reflexive pronoun to a conjugated verb unless it's an affirmative command or a use of the present progressive. Then again, if you know something I don't, please enlighten us all! – Lisa Beck Mar 7 '18 at 21:45
  • @aparente001 As for what I'm asking, it's kind of broad ... two-faced if you will, and I'll admit that the way the question is worded is a bit misleading because it appears to be walking toward a valid road of inquiry (attaching the reflexive to the infinitive or placing it before) that I didn't intend to address here because that's a lesson I've already learned. I'll reword the question, to see if it helps you understand better why I've asked it. – Lisa Beck Mar 7 '18 at 21:46
  • @aparente001 I could have made my answer more encompassing by addressing reflexive pronoun placement, but anyone could find a kazillion pages on it with a simple Google search. The source of the confusion really arose for me when I tried to find out how to say, properly, "We could just skip it," and wondered if I could just say, "Podríamos saltarse." In my mind, "saltarse" did not need its proper reflexive attachment (nos) because I was using it in its infinitive form. What I discovered, in the process, is that I was wrong. – Lisa Beck Mar 7 '18 at 21:47
  • @aparente001 Even if you use a reflexive verb in its infinitive form, it still needs the appropriate reflexive pronoun and if you happen to see it left untouched (saltarse), the subject is third person singular or plural. There's probably some exceptional uses of the particle "se" in such constructions (e.g., the impersonal or passive). Your knowledge of Spanish seems quite good. Can you think of any examples in which a reflexive, used with an auxiliary (like "poder") is not being used reflexively, but impersonally or passively? And how can a student of Spanish know the difference ... context? – Lisa Beck Mar 7 '18 at 21:50
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The short answer is this:

If you don't see a reflexive pronoun in the verbal phrase, it isn't a reflexive usage of the verb.

But, I’m going to use a concrete example to try to help answer this a bit more fully (and, for full disclosure, as the original poster of this question, this is what led me down this road of inquiry in the first place). The example I will use is "podríamos saltarnos" and I’ll start off with some examples from Reverso:

Podríamos saltarnos la fiesta.
We could skip the party.

Podríamos saltarnos hasta el final.
We could skip to the ending.


That gives you examples of when the verb is used reflexively. Now, for examples when it isn’t used reflexively, as evidenced by the lack of a reflexive pronoun present, I'll use the following as an example (again from Reverso):*

Creo que podríamos saltar desde rampas más altas.
I think we could jump off higher ramps.

These examples indicate that “saltarse” means “to skip” whereas just “saltar” means “to jump.”


*As you can see from the examples, it doesn't appear that everyone has gotten the memo on the meaning of "saltar" versus "saltarse," but this thread from WordReference

Saltarse vs. Saltar

was my source and it looks pretty legit. If anyone cares to agree/disagree, please comment.


In general, some verbs have a reflexive version, but not all. Some verbs appear to be used primarily (or perhaps even exclusively) as reflexives. This list here will provide you with a good list of reflexive verbs, but without going through them one by one, I couldn’t tell you which ones are only or primarily used reflexively. This may be something that is best learned as you go through the process of learning the Spanish language via reading material and the like rather than rotely in one fell swoop.

One last thing to keep in mind is that just as meanings for a verb can change when they go from present to past tense and from the past tense to the imperfect, they can also change when they go from reflexive to non-reflexive and vice versa. For example, as you could see with the verb in question in this post here, “saltarse” means “to skip” whereas just “saltar” means “to jump.” I don’t know that there’s any comprehensive list that covers them all, but this one from ThoughtCo. should give you a good start:

Verbs That Change Meaning in Reflexive Form

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