As you continue your journey of learning Russian, you’ll hear the term reflexive verbs at some point. These end in -сь and -ся and appear pretty often in Russian. But what exactly are Russian reflexive verbs?
This is article is going to give a full breakdown of Russian reflexive verbs including:
- What reflexive verbs are
- How to form Russian reflexive verbs
- Using Russian reflexive verbs for emotions
- The most common Russian reflexive verbs
So by the end of this you’ll understand reflexive verbs completely and will be able to use them with ease.
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What Are Russian Reflexive Verbs?
The concept of reflexive verbs in Russian can be a little difficult for English-speakers to understand. While the concept exists in languages like Spanish and French, it’s less clear in English.
A reflexive describes action where the one doing it and the one being affected are normally the same. In the examples below “the man” is the actor and the recipient of each action.
- Мужчина моется (The man is washing himself)
- Мужчина обувается (The man is putting on (his) shoes)
- Мужчина разделся (The man undressed himself)
In English, reflexive verbs are often translated with the words “his”/”her”/”yourself”, but this is not always the case.
Let's look at the verbs возвращать and возвращаться to get a better idea of this. Both of these mean “to return”, but the reflexive verb возвращаться means for a person to return themselves.
In other words they take the action and are the recipient of the action.
- Ольга возвращает книгу (Olga returns the book)
- (she brings the book back)
- Ольга возвращается домой (Olga returns home)
- (she brings herself back)
Reflexive verbs are also used to express ideas about feelings, attitudes, and emotions. You’ve probably already encountered a few reflexive verbs that fall into this category.
- Мне нравится пицца (I like pizza)
- Я не рассердилась (I didn’t get angry)
Forming Reflexive Verbs In Russian
The good news is that Russian reflexive verbs are really easy to form. You can spot reflexive verbs straight away as they end in either -ся or -сь.
To make a verb reflexive, you can simply add one of these to the end of any verb regardless of person or tense.
- Я улыбаюсь (I smile)
- Ты улыбаешься (You smile)
- Она улыбается (She smiles)
If a verb ends in a vowel, you add -сь
|открыла||she opened (it)||открылась||it opened (itself)|
|мыла||she cleaned (it)||мылась||she cleaned/washed up|
she cleaned/washed herself
|мыли||‘they cleaned (it)’||мылись||they cleaned/washed up|
they cleaned/washed themselves
If a verb ends in a consonant, the semivowel й or ь, you need to add -ся:
|Открыл||he opened (it)||открылся||it opened (itself)|
|мыл||‘he cleaned (it)’||мылся||he cleaned/washed up|
he cleaned/washed himself
Russian Reflexive Verbs In Action
One of the most common and easy-to-understand uses of reflexive verbs is when someone is doing an action to themselves.
- он готовится (He’s preparing himself/he’s getting ready)
- иван брился (Ivan shaved (himself))
- наташа одеается (Natasha is getting dressed (dressing herself))
This is also used very often for when people do something to each other. So you can see reflexive verbs used a lot with the words “we’” and “they”.
- Они редко втречаются (They rarely meet (each other))
- Мы увидимся в ресторане (We’ll see each other at the restaurant)
- Мы поцеловались (We kissed (each other / one another))
Another very common use of Russian reflexive verbs is with actions with unseen actors or intransitive actions.
Think about the phrase “the door opened”. It’s unclear if we’re talking about a magical door, an automatic door, or just a situation where the person who opened the door isn’t relevant.
The construction is straightforward in English where you use a verb without a direct object.
- The Earth rotates.
- The wheel is spinning.
- The store opens at 9.
- The situation is improving/getting better.
But in Russian, this requires a reflexive verb:
- The Earth rotates. (земля вращается)
- The wheel is spinning. (колесо вертится)
- The store opens at 9. (магазин открывается в 9 часов)
- The situation is improving/getting better. (Положение улучшается)
Some of the most common Russian reflexive verbs that involve unseen actors include:
- Продолжать(ся) (to continue)
- Открывать(ся) (to open)
- Закрывать(ся) (to close)
- Начинать(ся) (to begin, to start)
- Кончать(ся) (to finish, to end)
Reflexive Verbs With Emotions
The Russian language has a whole host of reflexive verbs related to feelings, emotions, and attitudes. Most of these can stand by themselves or work with a complement.
- Я не боюсь (I’m not afraid ) – stand alone
- Я не боюсь (пауков) (I’m not afraid (of spiders)) – with compliment
It’s worth noting that since the direct object of a Russian reflexive verb is also the subject, any additional nouns usually don’t take the accusative case and often have a preposition.
|Беспокоился о них|
Я не боюсь пауков
|(I was worried about them)|
(I’m not afraid of spiders)
|Using the genitive case|
|Я горжусь вами||(I’m proud of you)||Using the instrumental case|
Here are some common reflexive verbs that have to do with emotions:
- Бояться (to be afraid)
- (по)беспокоиться (to worry)
- Гордиться (to be proud)
- (рас)сердиться (to be/get angry)
Other Constructions With Russian Reflexive Verbs
There are a few other uses of Russian reflexive verbs that look a bit weird to English speakers. Some of these include the use of reflexive verbs with the dative case to talk about attitudes.
You're probably already familiar with the construction of expressing liking and disliking things with нравиться.
- Мне нравится пицца (I like pizza)
- Ей нравятся все (She likes everyone)
This same construction is used for other ideas like хотеться (to feel like) and казаться (to seem).
- Мне хочется есть (I feel like eating)
- Мне хочется танцевать (I feel like dancing)
- Мне кажется что… (It seems to me that…)
It’s worth mentioning that impersonal reflexive constructions theoretically use the pronoun оно (it) unless otherwise stated. As such, the past tense forms end in -ось.
- Мне хотелось есть (I felt like eating)
- Мне хотелось танцевать (I felt like dancing)
Of course, since the subject of нравиться must be known for a sentence, the gender simply matches the subject.
- Мне нравилась пицца (I used to like pizza)
- Ей понравился фильм (She liked the film)
The Most Common Russian Reflexive Verbs
So far we’ve gone over most of the uses of reflexive verbs in Russian. However, as always, you can find some examples of reflexive verbs that don’t fit neatly into any one category.
Here are 5 must-know reflexive verbs:
|Russian reflexive verb||English translation||Example sentence|
|Вернуться||to return||Он вернулся вчера (He returned yesterday)|
|Заниматься (uses the instrumental case)||to be occupied with, to do, to practise||Я занимаюсь йогой (I do/practice yoga.)|
Она занимается спортом (She plays/practices sports.)
Дима занимался бизнесом (Dima was doing some business.)
|Находиться||to be, to be located/situated’ lit. To find itself||школа находится перед вами (The school is in front of you.)|
Статуи находятся в музее (The statues are in the museum.)
|Ошибаться (uses the instrumental case)||to be mistaken||Если не ошибаюсь (If I’m not mistaken.)|
|Интересоваться||to be interested in||Жена интересуется фотографией (My wife in interested in photography.)|
Интересуешься рисованием (You’re interested in drawing.)
Learn Reflexive Verbs By Immersing Yourself In Russian
After reading this you should have a good handle on what Russian reflexive verbs are, what they look like, and where you can expect to find them.
Of course the best way to make sure you have reflexive verbs under your belt is through lots and lots of exposure to real Russian.
One of the best ways to take your Russian further is by learning it daily in chunks. You can do that through Russian podcasts, movies, TV shows and through short stories in Russian.
So apply the rules of StoryLearning and read books in Russian to help you become a master of Russian reflexive verbs.
With that you’ll be discussing attitudes and reciprocal actions in no time. So enjoy and as always удача из удач (best of luck)!