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Reflexive pronouns and Irse

Spanish reflexive pronouns are tricky, and they have many different uses! Let’s learn how to use se, me, te, and nos, especially when they turn Ir (“to go”) into Irse (“to leave”).

Full Podcast Episode


Don’t go yourself yet, you’ll wanna hear this.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

So far on this podcast there’s been a lot of emphasis on essential verbs and how to structure sentences around them.

This week we aren’t going to learn any new verbs; instead, we’re going to work on more and more things we can do with the verbs we’ve learned. We’ll also pick up a bunch more vocabulary that we can use to put a lot more meaning into our sentences — including more nouns, adverbs, and even some greetings.

For today, we’re going to focus on pronouns, and some very strange things you can do with Ir.

In fact, Ir can be used in three distinct ways. We’ve already practiced using it to mean “to go”, indicating that someone is going to a place. It can also be used to put verbs in the future, which really has nothing to do with “going” somewhere at all. And it also has a third meaning that we’ll learn in this episode.

But to do this, we have to learn a whole new set of pronouns, called reflexive pronouns. In this episode, we’ll use a memory palace to learn these pronouns; if you aren’t interested in the memory palace story, you can skip to [timestamp].

So let’s go back to the countryside. Imagine we’ve gone past the sheep pastures, where we learned subject pronouns, and now we’re walking over the direct object hill with the hymns. See if you can remember what people and what words are in each place here.

On the left, we have la and las.

On the right, we have lo and los.

In front of you is te.

And at the bottom, where you’re standing, we have me and nos.

OK, now we continue over the hill to a fork in the road. This is for our indirect objects. See if you can remember what’s here.

On the left, we have le and les.

On the right, we also have le and les.

In front of you is te.

And at the bottom, where you’re standing, we have me and nos.

Now, what happens if we keep going? We’ll cut straight forward instead of taking one of the two paths, tramping through the grass. Eventually we come to a stream. The bearded shepherd with the tea stands on the opposite side of the stream and insists that we look in the water to see something amazing. When you look down at the water, you merely see your own reflection, so you say “meh”. You also see his reflection, which represents the word te. But then, suddenly, looking deeper into the water, you see what it is he’s talking about. There are two sheep deep under the water, and for some reason they’re not drowning.

The bearded guy tells you, “My underwater sheep can TALK! Watch: Hey sheep! SAY something!”

Just then you hear sounds coming from the water: “I say! I say!” It seems that these two sheep are able to say things when they’re deep underwater.

So the words in this scene are te for the shepherd, se on the left, se on the right, and then nos and me are unchanged.

What are these words? These are what we call reflexive objects. It’s a third category after direct objects and indirect objects, and so these words have to be filed in your mind as distinctly separate from direct and indirect objects. Think of the reflections in the stream to help you remember these as “reflexive”.

Technically, reflexives are officially supposed to be used when someone does something to themself. For example, “he seats himself”, or “I hurt myself”, or “you’re asking yourself a question”. So obviously in English you can tell when this is happening when the recipient of the action is someone’s “self”, rather than someone else.

So for example, how would you say:

She seats herself.

Ella se seats.

Ella se sienta.

How about:

I hurt myself.

Yo me hurt.

Yo me lastimé.

Incidentally, the word se doesn’t just mean “himself” or “herself”; it also means “themselves”. So see if you can predict this one:

They asked themselves something.

Ellos se asked algo.

Ellos se preguntaron algo.

Now, in Spanish, these reflexive pronouns are not just used to talk about someone doing something to themself. They’re actually used in many, many ways, and in particular, they’re often used to change the meanings of verbs. This doesn’t happen in English, but in Spanish, when you use a reflexive object with certain verbs, it turns the verb into a different verb.

The most common example of this is Ir. Let’s try using reflexive pronouns with our present-tense forms of Ir.

Voy becomes me voy.

Va becomes se va.

Vas becomes te vas.

Van becomes se van.

Vamos becomes nos vamos.

And this seems bizarre when trying to translate into English, because what we’re literally saying is “I go myself”, “he goes himself”, “you go yourself”, “they go themselves”, and “we go ourselves”. What on earth does this mean?

In Spanish, the reflexive version of a verb can simply have a separate meaning. When Ir is used with reflexive pronouns, it changes meaning from “to go” and suddenly instead means “to leave”. So these phrases are translated into English as “I leave”, “he leaves”, “you leave”, “they leave”, and “we leave”.

In fact, when you use reflexive pronouns with Ir, linguists would say that you’re no longer using Ir at all. Instead, you’re using a different verb that we call irse, spelled i-r-s-e. This is simply ir with se at the end. We teach our students to think of Irse as the upside-down version of Ir; the meaning has been reversed, using reflexives, to mean “leave” instead of “go”.

Let’s practice this with some simple sentence examples.

She leaves.

Ella se va.

Are you already leaving?

¿Ya te vas?

We're leaving from the place.

Nos vamos del lugar.

Now I'm leaving.

Ahora me voy.

You’re(formal) leaving that day.

Usted se va ese día.

They're leaving from the place.

Se van del lugar.

We can also do this with any tense. Fui is “I went”, but me fui is “I left”. To say “I will leave”, we’ll say me iré. And “I have gone” is he ido, but “I have left” is me he ido.

To practice this, let’s simplify this a bit and ONLY use the pandas, or the third person plural, for these next few examples.

They left.

Se fueron.

They have left.

Se han ido.

They are going to leave.

Se van a ir.

I want them to leave.

I want que se vayan.

Quiero que se vayan.

They were going to leave.

Se iban a ir.

Our quiz today is going to focus on practicing this. We’re going to shuffle a bunch of examples of both Ir and Irse, in all the tenses you’ve learned. In each case, make sure you first determine whether to use Ir or Irse. Then choose the right verb conjugation and the right pronoun. And then structure the rest of the sentence around it.

We were going to be here.

Íbamos a estar aquí.

She’s leaving before sunset.

Se va before sunset.

They go to the place with you all.

Van al lugar con ustedes.

They were going to be doctors.

Iban a ser doctors.

Iban a ser doctores.

I’m leaving the house now.

Me voy de la casa ahora.

They are going(currently) to the place.

Están yendo al lugar.

They don’t want me to leave.

No they want que me vaya.

No quieren que me vaya.

We’re going to do our chores(m).

Vamos a hacer nuestros chores.

Vamos a hacer nuestros quehaceres.

She already left.

Ya se fue.

They haven’t left yet.

No se han ido yet.

No se han ido aún.

You were going to go with them(m).

Ibas a ir con ellos.

They told me I didn’t leave.

Me they told que no me fui.

Me dijeron que no me fui.

I hope you leave from that place.

I hope que te vayas de ese lugar.

Espero que te vayas de ese lugar.

I wasn’t going to leave.

Yo no me iba a ir.

You left with them(f)?

¿Te fuiste con ellas?

She thinks they went to Bogotá.

Ella thinks que fueron a Bogotá.

Ella cree que fueron a Bogotá.

I heard she was going to be a lawyer.

I heard que iba a ser lawyer.

You all want to do it like we do it?

¿Ustedes lo want hacer como nosotros lo do?

¿Ustedes lo quieren hacer como nosotros lo hacemos?

You told me you are leaving now.

Me you told que te vas ahora.

Me dijiste que te vas ahora.

I want them to go to the place.

I want que vayan al lugar.

Quiero que vayan al lugar.

He won’t leave unless you tell him that.

No se irá unless le you tell eso.

No se irá a menos que le digas eso.

I hope she goes when we go.

I hope que ella vaya cuando nosotros vayamos.

Espero que ella vaya cuando nosotros vayamos.

We left from the house very early.

Nos fuimos de la casa muy early.

Nos fuimos de la casa muy temprano.

If you’re going to do it like this, it’ll be wrong.

Si lo vas a hacer así, estará mal.

To get more practice using Ir and Irse, go to LCSPodcast.com/46.

For most of the rest of this week, we’re going to lighten things up by working on simpler things like some new nouns and even a few interjections and greetings, all while getting more and more practice with the verbs we’ve learned so far.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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