I've learned that the following expressions are correct:

Se lava la mano. (She washes her hands.)
Lavó su ropa. (She washed her clothes.)

But a few search results suggest that the following are wrong:

Lava su mano. (Wrong)
Se lava la ropa. (Wrong)
Se olvidó los libros. (She forgot her books, but it's wrong)

I don't quite see any difference here but it looks like a clear-cut, so

When is "reflexive verb + article" required? When is it forbidden?


All your examples are grammatically and semantically correct, you can use both versions:

  • Lava su mano: not as common as "se lava la mano"
  • Se lava la ropa / Lavó su ropa: both versions are perfectly correct. The first one stresses in my opinion the fact that he washes his own clothes.
  • Se olvidó los libros / Olvidó los libros: both versions are correct

But you are right : there are some verbs which are reflexive. There are even some verbs which have different meanings, whether you use them as reflexive verbs or not. For example:

  • Llamar (ella llama a su madre / she calls her mom) , llamarse (ella se llama Pilar / her name is Pilar)
  • Ir (él va al trabajo / he goes to work) , irse (se acaba de ir / he is just gone)

and many more, you can google for them or take a look here.

I am afraid you will have to learn by heart which verbs with which meaning are reflexive. There is no general rule for this in Spanish.

There is also a special case (or maybe the common case?) when someone is performing an action on themselves. In this case you use a reflexive construction like the examples you mentioned

  • I think you (partially) misunderstood me. I've been told that he washes his hand must be translated into se lava la mano instead of using possessive pronouns like mi, tu, nuestro and su, which is what I'm asking about.
    – iBug
    Jun 11 '18 at 14:44
  • "Se lava su mano", "Lava su mano" and "Se lava la mano" are all correct and not uncommon to be heard in Spain.
    – julodnik
    Jun 12 '18 at 12:52

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