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Se or not Se, That’s the Question: 8 uses of the pronoun “se”

Uses of the pronoun seEl pronombre “se” is one of the toughest nemesis for students of Spanish. From the very first lesson, they need to deal with verbs like llamarse. That little word can change the meaning or the nature of a verb in multiple ways. It’s such a big problem that even Spanish students in high school really struggle to understand the syntactic functions of this pronoun.

On our Spanish for Different Levels Course, you will study all of these functions step by step. Nevertheless, today you will get a summarized explanation if you keep reading.

8 Uses of the Pronoun “Se”

First of all, we need to offer a clarification. Some of these uses will be personal, so we will need to select the proper pronoun for the each person. This is the whole list of these reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nos, os). However, some of the uses will require only the third person, so, just “se” will be needed.

1. Sustituto del pronombre “le”

There is a specific order for the pronouns in Spanish: firstly the indirect objects and secondly the direct ones. But there is an exception: the combinations le + lo and le + la are not allowed because of phonetic reasons. In thoses cases, we replace le with se.

¿Le diste el libro a tu hermano? Sí, se lo di.

 2. Reflexivo

If the subject of the verb does the action but also receives it, we need to express it with a reflexive pronoun. This could be a direct or indirect object.

Yo me levanto a las 8 (direct object).

María se lava la cara (indirect object).

3. Recíproco

Now, all of the members in the subject (must be plural) do and receive the action. Again, the pronoun will be direct or indirect.

Antonio y Ana se besaron (direct)

Los futbolistas se pasan la pelota (indirect).

4. Dativo ético

This function is very curious. Although the pronoun is always indirect, it actually doesn’t offer any meaning to the sentence. If we remove it, the main meaning will remain. It only expresses the subject’s interest in the action.

Yo me estudié la primera lección. We could have said Yo estudié la primera lección and it’s perfectly understandable.

5. Pasiva refleja

In the following uses, the pronoun will not have a real function. Se (always in third person) can change a verb into the passive voice.

Se vende piso en Madrid.

 6. Impersonal refleja

Again, as a particle, the pronoun se can change the nature of a verb. In this case, it can be used to form impersonal sentences, with no subject, to talk about general facts.

En España se come muy bien

 7. Verbos pronominales

There are many verbs that require the reflexive pronouns to be formed—such as arrepentirse. What’s more, there are other verbs that change their original meaning if they use a reflexive pronoun.

Ayer me acordé de nuestra primera cita (to remember)

Ayer los políticos acordaron una tregua (to agree on)

8. Voz media

The reflexive pronoun can express an accidental or involuntary action, or even a physical reaction inside the subject.

El señor se cayó al suelo

El ordenador se estropeó

Me he enamorado de esa chica

Is this too much for you? Don’t worry, try a free trial lesson here. If you like it, you will learn all these grammatical contents in a conversational and funny way. Se dice que (it is said that) www.spanishviaskype.com is the most convenient method to learn Spanish via Skype. Por algo será (it must be for a reason).

By | 2018-04-03T13:48:16+00:00 abril 4th, 2018|B1, Pocket Grammar|2 Comments

About the Author:

I was born in Badajoz (Extremadura) and I currently live in Bilbao (Basque Country). I studied a Bachelor degree in Spanish Language and Literature and an International House degree as a qualified teacher of Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language. I think languages are the key that opens the doors to new cultures and I love teaching mine.


  1. Clark Zlotchew 11 abril, 2018 en 10:56 pm - Responder

    Angel, Thank you for your helpful explanations. However, in No. 1 there is no “exception.” The LE or LES that is expressed as SE is still the Indirect Object Pronoun, and is still in second place. The following explanation might be helpful: (1) If there are two object pronouns of the same verb 2 One is direct, the other is indirect (3) Both are grammatically third person (4) Then the first one (always the indirect object pronoun) will change to SE.

    A note is add, called a Time-Saver, which clarifies, “An easier way to determine whether both pronouns are third person is simply if both pronouns begin with the letters L (le,,les, lo, la, los, las).” See page 276, bottom of Alpha Teach Yourself Spanish in 24 Hours, 2d edition, (Alpha
    a member of Penguin Group ( USA) Inc., 2004.

    Or see “The rule is: Ifthe t wo objedt pronouns begin with the letter L, change the first one to SE.” Examples are given, page 64, Spanish at Your Finger Tips (Alpha a member of Penguin Group ( USA) Inc) 2007.

    • Angel 15 abril, 2018 en 10:24 pm - Responder

      Hello, Clark:
      Thank you very much for your comments. They inspire us to continue.
      I agree with you about all you said. I think there is a misunderstanding about the “exception”. Of course, we meant there is an exception about the use of the pronoun “LE”, that is the natural indirect object pronoun. It must be replaced with “SE” when both, direct object pronouns (La, lo, las, los) and the indirect one are used at the same time. That is the exception. But, of course, “SE” is still indirect object of third person and the order remains.
      Thank you again, for reading us.

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