What are Reflexive Verbs in Russian and How to Use Them?

Speaking Russian? Get ready for some serious self-reflection. Reflexive verbs – those fascinating verbs that refer back to the subject – are an integral part of the Russian language. Whenever you see a Russian verb ending in the mysterious “-ся”, you know you’re dealing with a reflexive verb, a verb with a penchant for turning back on itself.

In this article, I will explain what reflexive verbs are, how they are formed and conjugated in Russian, and provide a list of the most common reflexive verbs in the language.

What is a Reflexive Verb?

A reflexive verb is a verb that refers back to the subject of the sentence in some way.

For example:

Я моюсь – I wash myself

Он одевается – He dresses himself

The characteristic feature of a reflexive verb is the postfix -ся (after consonants) or -сь (after vowels).

If there is such a postfix at the end of the word, then the verb is called reflexive: , мыться (to wash oneself), двигаться (to move), одеваться (to get dressed). There are often similar verbs, that are considered non-reflexive: мыть (to wash), двигать (to move something), одевать (to dress someone).

How to understand whether a verb is reflexive or non-reflexive? You need to find the postfix with which the verb is formed. If the postfix is present, the verb is reflexive.

Types of Reflexive Verbs

There are several types of reflexive verbs in Russian:

  • Grooming/body verbs – Refers to actions done to or for oneself. E.g. мыться (to wash oneself), бриться (to shave oneself), двигаться (to move), остановиться (to stop oneself).
  • Reciprocal actions – Indicates mutual actions between two or more subjects. E.g. целоваться (to kiss each other), встречаться (to meet each other).
  • Verbs with a different meaning – Some verbs change meaning with the addition of the reflexive pronoun. E.g. говорить (to speak) – оговориться (misspeak; stipulate).

See Also: 100 Russian Verbs Every Intermediate Learner Should Know

Formation

Reflexive verbs in the Russian language are formed in several ways:

From transitive and intransitive verbs

a) Using the postfix -ся:

злить (to anger) – злиться (to get angry);

держать (to hold) – держаться (to hold oneself);

прятать (to hide) – прятаться (to hide oneself);

стучать (to knock) – стучаться (to knock oneself).

b) Using the postfix -ся and a prefix:

дышать (to breathe) – отдышаться (to catch one’s breath);

смотреть (to look) – засмотреться (to become absorbed in looking);

плакать (to cry) – расплакаться (to burst into tears);

говорить (to speak) – разговориться (to start talking).

From nouns and adjectives using a prefix, suffix, and postfix -ся:

нужда (need) – нуждаться (to be in need);

богатство (fortune) – обогатиться (to get rich)

банкрот (bankrupt) – обанкротиться (to go bankrupt).

Verbs That Are Always Reflexive

There are inherent reflexive verbs that are only used in the reflexive form:

нравиться (to like);

гордиться (to be proud);

трудиться (to work);

распоряжаться (to dispose);

оставаться (to remain);

надеяться (to hope);

улыбаться (to smile);

смеяться (to laugh);

бороться (to fight).

See Also: How to Use The Verb Нравиться in Russian

Conjugation

Russian reflexive verbs conjugate the same way as normal verbs, with the addition of the reflexive pronoun at the end. Here’s a quick overview of how reflexive verbs conjugate in Russian.

Present Tense

The ending “-ся” is added to the end of the verb stem for all subjects. except for the first person in singular and the second person in plural:

Я моюсь – I wash myself (after a vowel)

Ты моешься – You wash yourself

Он/она/оно моется – He/she/it washes himself/herself/itself

Мы моемся – We wash ourselves

Вы моетесь – You (plural/formal) wash yourselves (after a vowel)

Они моются – They wash themselves

See Also: A Comprehensive Guide To Russian Present Tense

Past Tense

The postfix becomes “-сь” in the past tense for all subjects, except for the first and second person in singular:

Я мылся – I washed myself

Ты мылся – You washed yourself

Он/она/оно мылось – He/she/it washed himself/herself/itself

Мы мылись – We washed ourselves

Вы мылись – You (plural/formal) washed yourselves

Они мылись – They washed themselves

Future Tense

Works the same as present tense, with the future form of the verb:

Я буду мыться / помоюсь – I will wash myself

Ты будешь мыться / помоешься – You will wash yourself

Он/она/оно будет мыться / помоется – He/she/it will wash himself/herself/itself

Мы будем мыться / помоемся – We will wash ourselves

Вы будете мыться / помоетесь – You (plural/formal) will wash yourselves

Они будут мыться / помоются – They will wash themselves

See Also: Talking About the Future in Russian

Imperative

Same here. Th postfix “-ся” is added after consonants, “-сь” after vowels:

Мойся! – Wash yourself!

Оденься! – Dress yourself!

Торопись! – Hurry up!

Берегись! – Whatch out!

See Also: Essential Guide to Using Imperatives in Russian

Most Common Russian Reflexive Verbs

Here are some of the most common reflexive verbs in Russian:

просыпаться/проснуться – to wake up

умываться – to wash one’s face

мыться – to wash oneself

бриться – to shave oneself

расчёсываться/причёсываться – to comb one’s hair

одеваться – to dress oneself

раздеваться – to undress oneself

смеяться – to laugh

улыбаться – to smile

радоваться – to be glad

учиться – to study

лечиться – to undergo treatment

волноваться – to worry

стараться – to try

интересоваться – to be interested

беспокоиться – to worry

встречаться – to meet (each other)

целоваться – to kiss (each other)

заниматься – to be busy/occupied

обниматься – to hug each other

бояться – to be afraid

собираться – to gather, assemble

стараться – to try hard

влюбляться – to fall in love

знакомиться – to become acquainted

общаться – to socialize, to communicate

готовиться – to prepare oneself

останавливаться / остановиться – to stop

решиться – to make up one’s mind

удивляться – to be surprised

фотографироваться – to be photographed

прятаться – to hide oneself

объясняться – to explain oneself

ссориться – to quarrel

мириться – to make up after a quarrel

забываться – to forget oneself

обижаться / обидеться – to take offense

браться / взяться – to set about, undertake

садиться – to sit down

ложиться – to lie down

обращаться – to address someone

признаваться – to confess

расставаться – to part

прощаться – to say goodbye

восхищаться – to admire

стесняться – to feel embarrassed

надеяться– to hope

ошибаться – to make a mistake

защищаться – to defend oneself

вдохновляться – to be inspired

оправдываться – to justify oneself

See Also: 25 Most Common Russian Verbs

Russian Reflexive Verbs

So in summary, Russian reflexive verbs are an important grammar feature that allow you to show an action is being done by and to the subject. Mastering common reflexive verbs will help improve your fluency.

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