Uses of the 'se' pronoun in Spanish

Remember that the 'se' form of the indirect object pronoun can either refer to a third person singular or plural when both (direct and indirect object) pronouns are used. For a more detailed explanation on the use of these pronouns click here.


To donate-> donar

1. I donate a book to the library.

Yo dono un libro a la biblioteca.


2. I donate it to them.

Yo se lo dono.



A reflexive verb is one that takes the subject as an object. In English it's expressed with: myself, yourself, herself, etc. In Spanish we use the object pronouns for all the different subjects except for the third person (singular and plural), which will use 'se'. The placement is the same as with object pronouns (before a conjugated verb, attached to the infinitive or present progressive).



To wake up-> levantarse, despertarse

1. I wake up at seven.

(Yo) me levanto a las siete. (Literally: I wake myself up at seven)


2. You wake up at seven.

(Tú) te levantas a las siete. (Literally: You wake yourself up at seven)


3. They wake up/(S)He wakes up

(Ellos/Ellas) se levantan/(El/Ella) se levanta

 



Again, the idea is that whatever is identified with 'se' is an object. In this case, the action is reciprocal. As with the reflexive 'se', it represents a third person (singular or plural).



To look, to see-> mirarse, verse

1. They look at each other.

Ellos(Ellas) se miran.


For other persons, the object pronouns are used since that is really their grammatical function.

1. You and I see each other.

Tú y yo (implying a `we') nos vemos.


2. Y'all see each other.

Ustedes se ven./Vosotros os véis.



In this case the idea is that no particular subject is expressed, hence the impersonality of its use. In English you say:



It is said* that the books are dirty.

Se dice que los libros están sucios.

 

 *Note that the tense of the verb 'to say' in English is expressed in the preterite and acts as a past participle while the verb "to be" is added. This use reflects a passive construction, and many times this use of "se" can be confused with the passive "se."



Another English equivalent is the use of "one." For example:

 

One should never arrive late to an appointment.

Nunca se debe llegar tarde a una cita.

 

In English there are similar constructions using the passive voice.

 

A forest is seen from my window.

Se ve un bosque desde mi ventana.

 

As in passive constructions, the object of the 'active voice' becomes the subject of the passive construction, and the person who sees the forest is not considered important. The emphasis here is in the object seen (forest) and the action (to see). If we construct a regular, active structure, we would need to assign a subject:

 

I see a forest from my window.

(Yo) Veo un bosque desde mi ventana.

 

Subject
Verb
Object

 


The so-called "No fault" or accidental 'se' is related to the reflexive and passive use. For example, in English speakers say:


I drop the keys.

In Spanish, the idea is that it wasn't me who drops them on purpose, the action was not intended to happen. Hence, the action is attributed to the keys, while the 'I' becomes an
indirect object.

Se me caen las llaves.

If the intended idea is that I drop the keys on purpose, then a verb such as 'to throw' (tirar) or another equivalent of 'to drop' (dejar caer) would be used.


I drop the keys.
(Yo) Tiro las llaves.
 
(Yo) Dejo caer las llaves.