How do you explain SE, why is in the sentences

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se me olvido, se explica etc...etc...

13167 views
updated MAY 10, 2009
posted by pathy

25 Answers

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I did come across the excitingly titled section (that I've never seen mentioned in more basic grammar books) 'Se + transitive verb + personal a' ('se mató a dos ingleses' to clarify 'se mataron dos ingleses') -

This is an example of an impersonal SE, and since the those English guys are the direct object, you need the personal "a", and the verb shouldn't agree with it. As a matter of fact, impersonal verbs are always conjugated in the third person singular.

The sentence "Se mataron dos ingleses" is not recommended academically, unless you use it to mean "Un inglés mató al otro, y el segundo al primero" (reciprocal), or reflexive ("Ambos ingleses se suicidaron"). The impersonal in the third person, with the compulsory "a" for the direct object resolves this ambiguity. However, when you talk about things, there is no such confusion, and the passive reflexive is preferred: "Se cortaron dos árboles". Trees don't cut each other, or themseleves, obviously.

updated AGO 16, 2010
posted by lazarus1907
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No specialized book would say that is a passive. You can modify "Se habla español" to obtain its nearly equivalent "Español es hablado" (a very uncommon sentence), but you cannot do the same with "Se le olvidó (algo)" by saying "Algo le fue olvidado" and pretend they are the same (or correct). Unlike in passive sentences, the real agent is not mearly hidden, but instead, no agent is assumed. If you take your second example, and remove its dative (me), it would be like this: "Se rompió el florero", and you wouldn't translate it as "The flower vase was broken", but "The vase broke", as there is no agent whatsoever, because it is not a passive sentence.

Anyway, how would you use the passive explanation to justify sentences like these?

Se comió la manzana
El jarrón se cayó.
Se lo ha pasado muy bien.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by lazarus1907
2
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If the sentence is "Se habla español", it is indeed a kind of passive SE, but in "Se me olvidó" that SE does not have a passive meaning at all. Without giving much technical details, grammar books classify the SE particle in 7 different groups according to their syntax (the passive you mentioned in just one of them), and books for teaching foreginers in Europe distinguish up to 12 different types, based on their syntax, use and meaning. The reflexive use is one of them; the passive is another.

As I said before, I can ask hundreds of questions about particles in English that would be nonsensical and useless in Spanish if we translated them directly, and it would be interesting to see who can explain why are they used at all. There are things you just need to learn the way they are.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by lazarus1907
2
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That SE has no nominal function in the sentence - you cannot translate as itself anymore than you cannot translate Listen up as Escucha arriba, where UP does not mean "on a higher position", but it is part of the verb.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by lazarus1907
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That SE is not reflexive in that sentence (the first one, at least), so you cannot translate it as itself / himself / herself, as it has been suggested -it is a common misunderstanding for those who are still learning. Spanish is different from English in many ways, and this SE serves to make a distinction that is often unnecesary in English, but it would cause a lot of confusion in Spanish if it wasn't there. Sometimes they allow nuances that are hard to express in English.

You can use the verb olvidar in two ways in Spanish: by saying "I forgot something" or "Something dissapeared in my mind" (this last one is a very loose translation). The first construction suggests some sort of responsability for having forgotten it, whereas in the second one is something that happened to you (you sound less guilty somehow):

(Yo) Olvidé [whatever you forgot (subject)] - I forgot something
(Tú) Olvidaste [whatever you forgot (subject)] - you forgot something
(ÿl) Olvidó [whatever you forgot (subject)] - He forgot something

Se me olvidó [single forgotten thing (subject)] - I forgot [one thing]
Se te olvidó [single forgotten thing (subject)] - You forgot [one thing]
Se le olvidó [single forgotten thing (subject)] - He/she forgot [one thing]
Se me olvidaron [single forgotten thing (subject)] - I forgot [several things]
Se te olvidaron [single forgotten thing (subject)] - You forgot [several things]
Se le olvidaron [single forgotten thing (subject)] - He/she forgot [several things]

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by lazarus1907
1
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If the sentence is "Se habla español", it is indeed a kind of passive SE, but in "Se me olvidó" that SE does not have a passive meaning at all.

I disagree, although I'm sure a textbook would classify it differently. In "Se me olvidó" the basic concept is still a passive one, although it can't really be translated into English. "It was forgotten to me" is the literal translation, but the idea is that an action happened to a person, rather than that person being the causal agent of the action. It merely shifts the blame, if you will. "Se me rompió el florero" makes it less the person's fault for knocking over the vase, and more an unintentional accident.

I agree that this is something best absorbed, rather than analyzed, but it often helps learners to think about how the construction works.

updated MAY 23, 2011
posted by 00bacfba
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First, let me reiterate that I am NOT saying that this construction is called the passive voice in linguistics. I am merely trying to show the original poster that the basic concept is the same as the passive construction, to make it easier to comprehend and remember.

As to your examples, they are not of the same construction that I was talking about. My first reply was to your reply to Natasha, who had mentioned se explica and se me olvidó. Your examples are of different uses of se, and I agree that they are not in any way passive.

BTW, the first of your examples can be translated very literally in English as "He ate himself an apple." This is very colloquial, but not uncommon in English. It wouldn't always be the best translation, but it does illustrate that the concept is not nonexistent in English.

updated MAY 5, 2011
posted by 00bacfba
1
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Very good point. It would be better to explain this usage by saying that verb+se can be used as a kind of passive form.

Se habla español = Spanish is spoken

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by 00bacfba
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Thanks lazarus, this special construction of an impersonal se for living things is news to me. I'm sure it's going to take a while to get the hang of it -but at least I know it exists now!

When pronouns are used in this construction, apparently le/les is often preferred over lo/la/los/las.

The impersonal construction for 'two woman were killed' -'se mató a dos mujeres' introducing pronouns could give 'se les mató' which is definitely one of the things that had me very confused on just about all fronts!

updated JUL 8, 2008
posted by tad
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'It slipped my mind' certainly is a good natural sounding translation of 'se me olvidó' and I guess 'It slipped from my hand' would be a good one for 'se me cayó' the trouble is, as lazarus alluded to, you would have to find different translations for other pronominal constructions.

Thanks for posting to this old thread, Lee, it was interesting reading this. I find the particle 'se' one of the most troubling things in Spanish and I am trying to understand the chapters on 'pronominal verbs' and 'passive and impersonal sentences' from Butt and Benjamin at the moment.
If I'm reading and I come across a 'se' I always have to do a double-take and I can't always work it out even after some thought :-(

I did come across the excitingly titled section (that I've never seen mentioned in more basic grammar books) 'Se + transitive verb + personal a' ('se mató a dos ingleses' to clarify 'se mataron dos ingleses') -the fact that the direct object is living, and that it is often replaced by the pronouns le/les, rather than lo/la/los/las, could be what has been flummoxing me.

The conclusion of my studies so far is that 'se' is a very complex subject!

updated JUL 8, 2008
posted by tad
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Hey, I thought of a good translation for this.

check it out

"It slipped my mind"

This is an expression in english that tells you that it was an accident rather than on purpose. Perhaps you were busy and had a lot on your mind and it "slipped out" as if the thing to be remembered is to blame.

updated JUL 7, 2008
posted by Lee-Allen
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Gracias, James, ¡me voy a acordar de esto!

updated MAY 28, 2008
posted by Natasha
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The meaning of acordar changes in the reflexive form. Acordarse means to remember or recall.

updated MAY 28, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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Why acuerdo, not recuerdo?

I thought acordar = to agree, as in:

Estoy de acuerdo!

updated MAY 28, 2008
posted by Natasha
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the most natural way is this:

Me acuerdo del español, pero se me ha olvidado cuándo usar el reflexivo. (Dunia)

updated MAY 28, 2008
posted by 00494d19