Reciprocal verbs in Spanish

reciprocal verbs in spanish

In Spanish, there are many types of verbs. One of the most used by native speakers is los verbos pronominales. These verbs are different kinds which effect falls on the one saying a clause or a group of people. Most Spanish learners find it difficult to differentiate Los verbos recíprocos from los verbos reflexivos. It’s because they both affect the subject of the sentences. However, they are not the same and, in this brief explanation, you’ll learn all you need to use los verbos recíprocos correctly.


Los verbos recíprocos are indispensable if you want to stand out when speaking Spanish. They are pretty common but, often, Spanish speakers don’t even realize they are using these verbs. So, if you want to expand your vocabulary and start speaking like a native speaker, stay tuned.


What is a verbo recíproco?


Los verbos recíprocos are transitive verbs. We build them by including a reflexive pronoun in the ending of its infinitive. Also, these verbs describe an action performed by two or more participants. We can also limit that they are always conjugated in the plural, never in the singular. For example,


Los contrincantes del juego se saludaron con mucho respeto.

The opponents of the game greeted each other with great respect.


As you can see, when we talk about reciprocal verbs, the actions described in the sentence are performed by two or more people. Or, in one over the others.


We structure these verbs in the same way as reflexive verbs. Therefore, their similarities can sometimes be confusing. Although, one way to recognize them is through phrases that state if a subject is the one who acts or if they are more than one subject.


Here are some examples to understand this better.


Se miraron el uno al otro y no se reconocieron.

They looked at each other and did not recognize each other.


Se pelearon entre ellos mismos por quien iría a botar la basura.

They fought among themselves over who would go to throw out the trash.


Los chicos se cruzaron en la plaza y jugaron hasta que se hizo de noche. / The boys passed each other in the square and played until nightfall.


In these examples, you can see the actions are carried out by two or more subjects. But, in the case of reflexive verbs, it’s a single person who acts. For example,


No me siento bien, mejor me quedo en casa. / I do not feel well, I better stay home.


In this case, the action falls on the subject itself and not on more subjects.


Structure of los verbos recíprocos


Los verbos recíprocos always appear in a pronominal form. It is important to know those reflexive pronouns always help these reciprocal verbs. Thus, we structure the verbos recíprocos in the sentences with some auxiliary reflexive pronouns. For this reason, you can use the following formula to build any sentence with los verbos recíprocos.


Subjects + reflexive pronoun + verb


Los verbos recíprocos are almost always transitive. And also, they generally speak of emotions such as amarse, odiarse. Nonetheless, they can also be like, tutearse, ayudarse, pegarse, conocerse, quererse, among others.


Here are some other examples of these verbs.


Siempre nos ayudamos cuando queremos salir de un problema. / We always help each other when we want to get out of a problem.


Amanda y Felipe se amaron en el pasado, aunque tomaron caminos diferentes en el futuro. / Amanda and Felipe loved each other in the past, although they took different paths in the future.


Los niños más pequeños se extrañan cuando no asisten a clase, dado que no se ven fuera de la escuela. / Younger children miss each other when they don’t come to class, since they don’t see each other outside of school.


Verbos recíprocos vs verbos impersonales


The main difference between a verbo impersonal and a verbo recíproco is the presence of a subject. Los verbos impersonales are those verbs that lack a subject in their sentence. We characterize these verbs by not incorporating all grammatical persons. For this reason, they are also known as defective or incomplete verbs.


In the case of the verbos recíprocos, we always have two or more subjects where the action falls. They provoke the action by themselves. Besides, we only write the subject in the plural form with los verbos reciprocos. When we talk about the verbos impersonales, only their pronoun varies in the sentence.


Please note that we should not confuse the verbos recíprocos with verbs that do have a subject. But, the subject is not expressed or written in the sentence. Let’s see the example below.


Tengo un carro nuevo. / I have a new car.


In this case, there is an implicit subject, which would be “yo”, for the same reason, it is not a verbo impersonal.


There are four types of verbos impersonales. First, we have sentences that describe weather phenomena. Second, we have those that describe an obligation. Third, we have the ones that express semantic impersonality. And Fourth, we have those expressed using “se”. However, transitive, intransitive, and copulative verbs can also become impersonal with the use of “se”.


Here are a few examples for each case.


Ayer finalmente nevó.

Yesterday it finally snowed.


Hay que llamar a un médico.

Must call a doctor.


Llaman a la puerta, pero no sé quién será.

They knock on the door, but I don’t know who it will be.


Se cree que en esa casa no vive nadie.

It is believed that no one lives in that house.



In summary, you have to be careful when conjugating the verbos recíprocos. Pay attention to the differences between los verbos reflexivos and these verbs. Don’t forget los verbos recíprocos are always in the plural form and never in the singular. This will help you avoid making any mistakes when building a sentence or expressing yourself during speeches. As you may see, this isn’t a complicated topic but indeed controversial. Consequently, practice will be key to mastering los verbos recíprocos and taking your Spanish to a new level. 

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