Washing yourself the hands

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Here’s another “employees must wash hands” sign:

What’s the problem here? Well, we would never phrase it like that in Spanish, and in this case this is purely idiomatic. The way it’s written, we would think employees wash other people’s hands. Even if we added a possessive adjective, it would still be strange in Spanish:

Employees must wash their hands.
Los empleados deben lavar sus manos.

The example above is perfectly grammatical, and yet we would never say that. For most personal care stuff we prefer reflexive verbs hands down. Here are some examples:

English Spanish literal translation (we would never use this version) Actual way to say this in Spanish Literal English translation (which sounds really strange)
Employees must wash [their] hands. Los empleados deben lavar sus manos. Los empleados deben lavarse las manos. Employees must wash themselves the hands.
John takes a shower. John toma una ducha. John se ducha. John showers himself.
María brushes her teeth. María cepilla sus dientes. María se cepilla los dientes. María brushes herself the teeth.
I shaved my legs last night. Afeité mis piernas anoche. Me afeité las piernas anoche. I shaved myself the legs last night. 
I bit my tongue. Mordí mi lengua. Me mordí la lengua. I bit myself the tongue.

Here are two very useful blog posts about some common reflexive verbs and how to conjugate them.

We hope that was helpful!

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