Updated: May 17
As we continue this 3-part series on reflexive verbs, today we will begin looking at how making a verb reflexive (meaning that the subject performs an action upon itself - refer to Episode 46 if you need a refresher on reflexive verbs) can sometimes significantly change its meaning. At times, this change is subtle, such as preguntar vs. preguntarse, and other times it can be big enough to be a potential social blunder, like with dejar vs. dejarse. In today's episode, we'll focus on examples where the change is subtle.
About These Examples
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To determine which reflexive verbs I would use, I consulted a Spanish frequency dictionary by MostUsedWords.com to begin with the most frequently used verbs. I then selected the following list based not only on ranking, but also on meaning (using Wordreference.com) and relevance to what I wanted to talk about in this episode.
So here are 10 fun examples where changing the verb to a reflexive verb creates a subtle change in the overall meaning:
Saber (to know something) vs. Saberse (to know something by heart, or as they would say in Spanish, tener en memoria) Saber: Ella sabe español. She knows Spanish. Saberse: Me sé esta canción porque mi hermanita la canta cada día. I know this song by heart because my little sister sings it every day.
Ir (to go) vs. Irse (to leave, generally right in the moment) Ir: Él va a ir a irlanda por la mañana. He is going to Ireland in the morning. Ellas fueron a la tienda ayer. They went to the store yesterday. Irse: Me voy. I'm leaving. (I've heard this one a lot.) Se van al parque. They're going to the park (right now). This combo is a tricky one. I recommend reading this article by Tell Me in Spanish for more guidance on when and how to use ir vs. irse.
Ver (to see, understand, watch) vs. Verse (to see oneself, to find oneself) Ver: Ellos vieron la película. They saw the movie. Verse: Él puede verse como abogado. He can see himself being a lawyer.
Decir (to say, to tell) vs. Decirse (to tell oneself, to talk to oneself) [For more information on how to pronounce these words like they would in Spain, or rather how to pronounce the Spanish lisp, check out Fluent U's great article!] Decir: ¡No me digas! Don't tell me! Decirse: Ella se dijo que no debería tener miedo. She told herself she shouldn't be afraid.
Mirar (to look, to watch) vs. Mirarse (to look at yourself, to check yourself out) Mirar: ¡Mírame hacer una rueda de carro! Watch me do a cartwheel! Mirarse: ¡Mírate! ¡Estás sucio! Look at you! You're filthy!
Comer (to eat) vs. Comerse (to completely eat something, to gulp down) Comer: Ellos comieron sus sándwiches. They ate their sandwiches. Comerse: Ellos se comieron su comida. They gulped down their food.
Escuchar (to listen to) vs. Escucharse (like to listen to yourself talk) Escuchar: Me gusta escuchar los sonidos del mar. I like to listen to the sounds of the ocean. Escucharse: Le gusta escucharle. He likes the sound of his own voice (literally: He likes to listen to himself).
Morir (to die) vs. Morirse (to pass away, to be dying of hunger or thirst) Morir: Mi abuelo murió el año pasado. My grandfather died last year. Morirse: Se murió en la noche. He passed away in the night. (Fallecer is what I have generally heard as the gentler version or euphemism for someone dying.) *A phrase I love is me muero. It means that you're dying to do something or that you have a strong feeling, like hunger, thirst, etc. So how we say I'm dying for a soda, in Spanish they would say Me muero por una soda. I got this phrase to stick in my mind through a song I absolutely love, Me Muero por Conocerte by Alex Ubago with Amaia Montero.
Dormir (to sleep) vs. Dormirse (to fall asleep) Dormir: Mi hija duerme. My daughter is sleeping. Dormirse: Ella se durmió a las 8. She fell asleep at 8.
Creer (to think or believe) vs. Creerse (to think of oneself or to believe of oneself) Creer: Ellas creen en un Dios amoroso. They believe in a loving God. Creerse: Tienes que creértela. You gotta believe in yourself!
In the next episode, we'll go over 10 examples where the change in meaning is quite more striking (a.k.a., don't mix them up!).
Cultural Tip: Colombia
Unique Colombian Traditions
Here are three traditions unique to Colombia:
1. El Paseo de Olla, or "Pot Gathering"
Families gather together at the local river and enjoy Sancocho, a traditional stew of chicken, pork or beef with potatoes, corn, cassava, plantains, tomatoes and cilantro, served with avocado and rice. It can be just to get together, like an American picnic, or to celebrate something special.
2. El Carnival de Negros y Blancos (Black and White Festival)
Taking place from January 2nd through 7th in the city of Pasto, this UNESCO-recognized carnival is the largest carnival in southern Colombia. (In 2009, UNESCO named El Carnival de Negros y Blancos as one of their Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.) The 5 day celebration of Colombia's rich history and diversity includes the Colonies Parade, where farmers bring flowers and songs as tribute to the Virgen de las Mercedes to have a good harvest, the Children's Carnival, the arrival of the Castañeda Family - a fictional family - and the Guinea Pig festival.
The biggest events happen on January 5th and 6th.
January 5th: Blacks' Day. People dance and sing in the streets while wearing black face paint (either on their faces or on their bodies), and throughout the day people shout “¡Qué vivan los Negros!”
January 6th - Whites' Day and the Grand Parade. It is similar to Black's Day, except that people wear white paint and shout “¡Qué vivan los Blancos!” The Great Parade lasts for 6 hours and finishes off the festival. It goes for about 9 miles and can be up to 4 miles long. There are large floats, dancing, music, and groups in costumes.
Technically, the last day is January 7th, but this day seems to be mainly for tourists and locals to enjoy the local food (guinea pig).
3. Hormigas Culonas, or Fat-Bottomed Ants
These are leaf-cutter ants, female, that have very big bottoms. They're considered a delicacy and are harvested in spring. The Guane Indians were the original harvesters, and today it takes about 5 hours to gather them. Some people claim they are an aphrodisiac, but they do have protein and Vitamin B. :D They'll roast them with salt or wine or fry them with salt water and remove the wings by hand. You can find them on street corners as a snack or in restaurants as a gourmet dish.
© 2021 by Language Answers, LLC
Intro and Closing Music by Master_Service from Fiverr
[Affiliate link to Amazon.] "Spanish Frequency Dictionary: Essential Vocabulary" by MostUsedWords.com 2018
"What’s the difference between ‘Ir’ and ‘Irse’?" by Daniela Sanchez from Tell Me in Spanish
"Thi Theñor: The Spanish “Lisp” (aka Ceceo) and Its Use" by Hannah Greenwald for FluentU
"Alex Ubago y Amaia Montero - Me Muero Por Conocerte (Letra-Lyrics)" uploaded to YouTube by Danielad Pereira September 24, 2015
"Celebrating Black and White at Pasto's Carnaval de Negros y Blancos" by Chris Bell for Culture Trip, February 5, 2018
"Colombia Holidays and Festivals" by iExplore
"All About Colombia’s Blacks and Whites Carnival" by Sean Patrick Hopwood, January 2, 2019, for Day Translations.
"Hormigas Culonas, Big-Bottomed Ants" by Eat Your World
"Hormiga culona" by TasteAtlas