Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Spanish se: Pulling the mask off the midget monster

Oh se could you be any more confusing?
And le? … are you a lo or a la? No? eres un usted?
Por qué? Dime, por favor.

First rule of Spanish: the smaller the word,  
más grande es el misterio.  
Se … te … me … le … lo … la … uff!

For the first several months of reading Spanish, I skipped over se; ignored it completely.

Then, in a lesson from Fluent Spanish Academy, I found this sentence:

Su madre no se enojó.

I don’t know why that se stopped me in my tracks but I suddenly wanted to know why it was there. I understood the sentence … her mother didn’t get mad or annoyed. But, why not: Su madre no enojó. Suddenly, I realized that I had been blind to se … pretending that it was of no consequence. I needed to stop and explore this midget word ... what Jordan calls a monster.

Click here for video
One of my favorite resources is Jordan at The Spanish Dude, who, in spite of his grating pronunciation and rapid fire explanations, is one of the best at explaining the nuances of Spanish. In the first minutes of his 27-minute romp through se, I caught the nuance of the sentence that had stopped me.

Se refers the action back to the subject. It is reflexive.

Literal translation: Her mother didn’t get herself mad. 

This may sound odd to English speakers, but it’s an interesting psychological construct. The language actually reflects responsibility for emotion. While we might say, “That makes me mad,” as if we had no choice in the matter. Spanish says, “I got myself mad.” So, if I got myself mad, I can get myself un-mad.

So here are some se examples: Remember:  
  • if the object and the subject of the sentence are the same, then use “se"
  • If there is a direct and indirect pronoun, third person, use “se”
  • If there is an impersonal, third person subject, use se
  • If the sentence is passive with subject omitted, use se
These examples are from Real Fast Spanish (which is turning out to be a gold mine of helpful resources, podcasts, articles and listening aids) … if something doesn’t make sense, click for more information.

English: He got himself to bed at eleven last night.  (Reflexive)
Español: Él se acostó a las once anoche. 

English: My children wash before dinner every night. (Reflexive)
Español: Mis hijos se lavan antes de la cena cada noche.

English: He moved closer to it. (Reflexive)
Español: Él se le acercó.

English: He washes his hands. (Reflexive)
Español:  Se lava las manos.

English: He washes his children (Not reflexive)
Español: Lava a sus hijos. (Note personal a)

English: They kissed each other.  (Reciprocal)
Español: Ellos se besaron. 

English: They woke each other up.  (Reciprocal)
Español: Se despertaron el uno al otro.

English: She brought it for them (it is a book). (Combined pronouns)
Español: Ella se lo trajo.

English: I bought them for her (they are flowers). (Combined pronouns)
Español: Se las compré.

English: They say that you should eat vegetables every day. (Impersonal)
Español: Se dice que deberías comer verduras todos los días.

English: One cannot smoke here.  (Impersonal)
Español: No se puede fumar aquí.

English: One enters through here.  (Impersonal)
Español: Se entra por aquí.

English: In my country they speak French.  (Impersonal)
Español: En mi país se habla francés.

English: How does one say?  (Impersonal)
Español: ¿Cómo se dice? 

English: Where can one find the best place to eat tapas in this neighborhood?  (Impersonal)
Español: ¿Dónde se puede encontrar el mejor lugar para comer tapas en este barrio?

English: I forgot the tickets.   (Forgetting is passive … an accident)
Español: Se me olvidaron las entradas.  (the tickets were forgotten to me)

English: I broke your computer.  (If accidental, breaking is passive)
Español: Se me rompió tu ordenador. (the computer was broken to me)

The Spanish Dude suggests watching these videos before jumping into the deep end of se:
RELATED VIDEOS: https://spanishdude.com/quickies/dire... (Direct Object Pronouns) https://spanishdude.com/quickies/indi... (Indirect Object Pronouns) https://spanishdude.com/quickies/doub... (Double Object Pronouns) https://spanishdude.com/quickies/refl... (Reflexive Object Pronouns) https://spanishdude.com/quickies/sabe... (Saber Vs. Conocer) https://spanishdude.com/tidbits/?youtube All Spanish Tidbits (Vocabulary) https://spanishdude.com/quickies/?you... All Spanish Quickies (Grammar/Strategies)

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