When the direct object or indirect object represents the same person or thing as the subject of the verb, it’s expressed by a reflexive pronoun.
In other words, we use reflexive pronouns when the action is something one does to oneself. In English, this would be words like myself, yourself, himself, ourselves, themselves, etc. For example, in the sentence “She convinced herself”, she is both the subject and the object, so we use herself as the reflexive pronoun.
We’re including reflexive pronouns in this unit because, despite technically belonging to a different category, they share most of the same pronouns. The only difference is in the 3rd person, both singular and plural, which uses se, si, and consigo.
Since we’re learning about clitic pronouns, which are unstressed pronouns, for now we’re going to disregard si and consigo, which are stressed pronouns, and talk about those in another unit.
Reflexive Pronouns in Portuguese
|Subject pronouns||Reflexive pronouns|
|Ele / Ela / Você||se|
|Eles / Elas / Vocês||se|
When it comes to placing these pronouns within a sentence, you can follow the same rules as the rest of the clitics.
Let’s have a look at each pronoun individually, using one of the simplest Portuguese reflexive verbs, vestir-se to dress oneself
Nos is the equivalent of ourselves. Example:
Vestimo-nos com os nossos disfarces de Carnaval. We dressed ourselves with our Carnival costumes.
Notice when adding -nos that the -s at the end of 1st-person plural verb forms is always dropped: vestimos + nos = vestimo-nos).
Se is used for all the other pronouns: ele, ela, eles, elas, você, and vocês. Here, se stands in for himself, herself, itself, themselves, yourself(formal), and yourselves (talking to a group).
Ele veste-se muito bem. He dresses himself well.
Ele não se veste nada bem. He really doesn't dress himself well.
Você vestiu-se de Pai Natal. You dressed yourself as Father Christmas.
As crianças vestiram-se de gnomos. The children dressed themselves as elves.
Os pais vestiram-se de renas. The parents dressed themselves as reindeer.
The plural forms of the reflexive, nos and se, are also used to express a mutual action between two or more people. In English, the equivalent is each other. You can call these pronomes recíprocos reciprocal pronouns. For example:
Nós abraçamo-nos. We hugged each other.
Eles não se cumprimentam. They don't greet each other.