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clitic pronouns

i understand when to use la, le, las, los etc but just need to clarify 'se'?? is it always referring to the subject of a sentence, as in herself/himself? eg he loves himself would be 'El se quiere' yes??

July 5, 2012



This is a very good question. "Se" has three or four different functions; the reflexive use is only one of them. I’ll try to explain them in simple terms 1.) As indirect object for the third person (both singular and plural): “Ella se compra un vestido”, “Él se reserva su opinión”, “Ellos se ponen los zapatos”. 2.) As the subject for “reflexive passive” sentences--or a better-sounding alternative for the passive voice in general: “La imagen se ve claramente” / “Se compran autos viejos” / “Él se opera de cataratas” / “Se construye un nuevo edificio”. 3.) Somewhat similar to number two, as the subject for impersonal sentences: “Se habla español”; “Se come bien aquí”, etc. 4.) As a reflexive proper, in the third person: “(Él / ella) se lava la cara” / “(Ellos) se lavan las manos”…


Oy vey, Gumbee! I was afraid to have to go into that… ;-) As a disclaimer, I must start by explaining that “se” is quicksand territory when it comes to finding similar or equivalent constructions in English. Having said that, you can find many straightforward, though contextual, equivalences if you keep in mind a couple of things. First and foremost, Spanish is pronoun-heavy where English is preposition-heavy. (Case in point: “ponerse los zapatos” vs. “putting on shoes”.) Second, the active-voice-like equivalent for the passive voice in English would require a “you/they + predicate” construction, whereas Spanish mostly uses “se” for this purpose (“Se habla español”). Third, the reflexive form in English uses a “pronoun + self” type of construction, whereas Spanish favors just using the pronoun (le, me, te, nos, but mostly “se”). I am almost tempted to say that “se” is a wild card that can be used when all else fails… After that mouthful, I’ll try to illustrate the whole thing by translating each of the sentences I quoted above (in the same order, with the closest equivalent to “se” enclosed between brackets): 1.) She buys a dress [FOR HERSELF]; He reserves his opinion [TO HIMSELF]; They put [ON THEIR] shoes. 2.) The image [IS/CAN BE] clearly seen; Old cars [ARE] bought (We buy old cars); He [IS BEING] operated on for cataracts (He [IS HAVING/GETTING HIS] cataracts operated on); A new building [IS BEING] built. 3) Spanish [IS] spoken (we/they speak Spanish); [YOU] eat well here (The food is good here). 4.) (He/she) washes [HIS/HER OWN] face; (They) wash [THEIR OWN] hands.


Yes. Se is a reflexive prononoun used for s/he, him/her, and they/them.


thank you for clarifying that :-)


@Raymond17, thanks for the detailed explanation because this is something I've been wondering myself. I understand #3, but admittedly I'm a bit of a grammar dummy, so I don't really understand the others. Are there any examples of similar constructions in English that might help me wrap my head around it?


Impressive stuff Raymond17! Thanks for such a comprehensive answer, I will now retire to a dark corner to digest and assimilate!!

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