HomeQ&ATransitive? Reflexive? Pronominal? - Verbs and pronouns

Transitive? Reflexive? Pronominal? - Verbs and pronouns

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Find below a rather technical description of some verb structures in Spanish. This is not intended for beginners (...or highly advanced learners), although anyone is welcome to have a read through.

Transitive constructions

1) Verbs that can take a direct object are called transitive. When this direct object is a specific person (or something personalised), it takes the preposition 'a'. Objects can be replaced by the direct object pronouns 'lo, la, los, las? (many native speakers use 'le? and 'les? instead sometimes, but this is not always standard):

Veo un camión ? Lo veo (I see a lorry ? I see it)
Veo una casa ? La veo (I see a house ? I see it)
Veo a tu hermano ? Lo veo (I see your brother ? I see him)
Veo a tu hermana ? La veo (I see your sister ? I see her)

2) If the object matches the subject, we talk about reflexive (direct object) pronouns:

Me veo (a mí mismo): I see myself
Te ves (a ti mismo): You see yourself
Se ve (a sí mismo): He/she sees himself.

3) When someone does something to others, and the rest do the same, and of course, back to this person, we talk about reciprocal (direct object) pronouns, like in 'each other'. I give, and others give to me:

Nos vemos ? We see each other (literal translation) = see you (correct translation)
Se ven ? They see each other

4) If the indirect object matches the subject, we talk about reflexive (indirect object) pronouns:

Le lavo la espalda a mi hijo ? 'I wash the back to my son? (non-reflexive)
Me lavo la espalda ? 'I wash myself the back? (reflexive)

Of course, in English you'd say something like 'I wash my son's back? and 'I wash my back?

5) Sometimes a pronoun is used to indicate completeness. Sometimes it is hard to translate these:

Me comí una manzana ? I ate (up) an apple
Me bebí la cerveza ? I drank (up) the beer
Me fumé el cigarro ? I smoked the cigarette
Me leí el libro ? I read (the whole) book

In the examples above, both the apple and the beer were totally consumed. It is very unusual to omit these pronouns (and it sounds a bit strange), but you cannot use them if there is no specific amount to consume:

Me comí arroz (wrong sentence. you cannot use 'me')

Intransitive constructions

6) Intransitive constructions don't have a direct object. Intransitive verbs like 'gustar? use the indirect object to specify who 'likes? what (or whom):

Me gusta el chocolate ? 'To me, is pleasing chocolate? (I like chocolate)

English has a few verbs like this. One of them, 'disgust? is directly related to 'gustar', and it also uses an indirect object to indicate who doesn't like something (we don't say 'who disgusts something', like in Spanish):

Me repugna el chocolate ? Chocolate disgusts me.

People say 'I like chocolate', but not 'I disgust chocolate'. The second one is the construction used for 'gustar? in Spanish.

7) When the indirect object matches the subject, we talk about reflexive (indirect object) pronouns:

Me gusto ? I like myself (compare: I disgust myself)

8) When you do something to others, and others give to you, we talk about reciprocal (indirect object) pronouns:

Nos gustamos ? We like each other
Se gustan ? They like each other

15702 views
updated MAY 19, 2009
posted by lazarus1907

24 Answers

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Thanks to MZ Badger this great tutorial finally did not get lost. I am happy to say she saved it and everybody can benefit from it now.

Please look on the thread of compiled tutorials by Lazarus smile

updated MAY 19, 2009
posted by 00494d19
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Please, feel free to ask if anything is not clear, or if you need further examples.

Using pronouns to turn transitive verbs into intransitive ones

*9) English has many transitive verbs that can become intransitive just by omitting the *object:

I sink the boat: I perform the action on the boat (the object). I am the one who sinks something.
The boat sinks: the boat is the subject, and it simply goes down. The boat is not sinking anything.

The boat was the object in the first transitive sentence (and it was placed after the verb), but it becomes the subject (it is placed before the verb) when there is no object in the sentence (intransitive construction). Similarly:

I break the radio: I perform the action. I am the one who breaks something.
The radio breaks: The radio simply stops works. The radio is not breaking anything.

Other verbs, however, do no admit this double construction. For example, things can be unleashed (by whatever forces or people), but things can't simply unleash (themselves) the way boats can simply sink.

In Spain very few verbs admit that double construction. For example, 'hundir? (to sink) and 'romper? (to break) require someone or something to sink or break something, i.e. they are transitive. There must be a sinker or breaker, and something to be sunk or broken. Things don't simply sink or break ? they must sink or break something else... always! In other words, they are always transitive.

Spanish uses in many of these cases a pronoun to turn these verbs into intransitive ones:

Hundí el barco ? I sunk the boat (transitive)
El barco hundió... (wrong) ? The boat sunk... (incomplete in Spanish: what did the boat sink')
El barco se hundió (correct) ? The boat sunk (now the boat is not sinking other boats)

Rompí la radio ? I broke the radio (transitive)
La radio rompió... (wrong) ? The radio broke... (incomplete in Spanish: what did the radio break')
La radio se rompió (correct) ? The radio broke (now the radio is not breaking anything else)

An indirect object is often added to indicate who is affected by the 'accident':

Se me rompió la radio ? My radio broke

English would use possessives in these cases, but in Spanish pronouns are generally preferred.

Quemé la casa ? I burnt the house
La casa se quemó ? The house burnt (without 'se', the house would be a pyromaniac)
Se me quemó la casa ? My house burnt (without 'se', the house would be a pyromaniac)

*Similarly, when the action applies to yourself, you use the pronoun: *

Acuesto al niño ? I put the child to bed (transitive)
Me acuesto ? I lie down / I go to bed (intransitive).

The last one is not 'I put myself to bed', since I am not the object of the sentence. I simply do it.

Quiero alegrarla ? I want to cheer her up (transitive)
Me alegro de verte ? I am happy to see you (intransitive)

You don't normally cheer yourself up because someone comes to see you. You are simply happy.

Lo llamo 'Superman? ? I call him 'Superman? (transitive)
Me llamo lazarus1907 ? My name is lazarus1907 (intransitive)

Note that the last one is not 'I call myself lazarus1907', because this is true even if you don't like to call yourself that name. The sentence 'Este tiempo se llama presente? cannot be translated as 'This tense calls itself present', but 'The name of this tense is present'.

*Verbs whose meaning change slightly with a pronoun *

'Caer? simply refers to the act of being pulled by gravity. Its pronominal counterpart 'caerse', implies suddenly falling from a stable position:

La lluvia cae ? The rain falls
El cuadro se cayó ? The picture fell (it was on the wall, and it got loose).

Similarly, 'dormir? is to sleep, and 'dormirse? is to fall asleep.

'Ir? is used when there is a explicit destination (even though it has been mentioned before), with an optional starting point. 'Irse? is used to focus on leaving the current place, with an optional destination. When the destination is used, both can be used, but without a destination, 'ir? cannot be used.

Verbs that simply require the pronoun

10) Some verbs in Spanish simply don't exist without the corresponding pronoun, or their meaning is not the same at all. You simply have to use the pronoun:

(Yo) Me suicido ? I commit suicide (you can't simply say '(Yo) suicido')

Acordamos un aplazamiento ? We agreed on a postponement (without pronoun, 'to agree')
Nos acordamos de ti ? We remember you (with the pronoun it means 'to remember')

Many of these verbs are often followed by a preposition:

enterarse de... = to find out about (something)
quejarse de = to complaint about (something)

Impersonal & passive reflexive

11) The pronoun 'SE? can be used to form passive constructions, only with transitive verbs and objects. This is used more in Spanish that the typically English passive construction.

No se puede fumar = Smoking is not allowed here
Se construyó un puente = A bridge was built
Se construyeron dos puentes = Two bridges were built

Notice that the subject (un puente/dos puentes) must agree with the verb (construyó/construyeron), pretty much like in English (was/were).

*12) This is similar to the passive 'SE', but it is used with transitive verbs with people, or intransitive verbs: *

Se recibió a los invitados = The guests were welcomed
Se vive bien aquí = One lives well here

This verb must always be in singular, third person.

updated MAY 19, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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Lazarus,

Thank you again for putting this page together. So much info so concisely and clearly explained. And now, I do have a few questions. Some of them are simply reality checks, to see if I am reading you correctly. If you would be so kind.....

Section 5
"Sometimes a pronoun is used to indicate completeness...
... ... ...
Me leí el libro ? I read (the whole) book.
[Me comí el arroz - I ate (all) the rice.] But - Yo comí arroz. (you cannot use 'me? because the amount of rice eaten is open-ended.) ... "

Q: How do you say, I didn't read the whole book, only part.
Is this correct - No me leí el libro, solo una parte.
Or -(Yo) no leí el libro entero, sólo una parte. Or both?

Sections 7, 8 - Reflexive and Reciprocal Pronouns
It is wonderful to realize that both the reflexive and reciprocal pronouns are all indirect object (IO) pronouns, too, i.e., that all 3 grammatical constructions use the same pronouns. Just a quick reality check with gustar.
Q - Are these sentences correct? I realize adding all the redundant pronouns in parentheses sounds awkward, but grammatically are they all correct?

I like myself - Me (yo) gusto (a mí)
He likes me - Le (yo) gusto (a él)
The dog doesn't likes me - No le (yo) gusto al perro
You like yourself - Te (tú) gustas (a ti)
The cat likes you - Le (tú) gustas al gato
He doesn't like himself - No le (él) gusta (a él)

Section 9
"Using pronouns to turn transitive verbs into intransitive ones"
The first examples are of intransitivizer se, placed before the verb, e.g.,
"... Rompí la radio ? I broke the radio (transitive)
La radio se rompió ? The radio broke (intransitive) ..."

When the IO pronoun is added to show whose radio broke, though, the sentence construction changes so that intransitivizer se separates from the verb and leads the sentence:
"Se me rompió la radio ? My radio broke [The radio broke affecting me]."
Q - Does intransitivizer se always precede an IO pronoun? Does that se always lead the sentence? Or could you also say, La radio se me rompió? Could you also say, "Mi radio se rompió? using the possessive pronoun, mi?

Further down in the same section:
"...Similarly, when the action applies to yourself, [e.g.,] you use the [IO] pronoun:
Acuesto al niño ? I put the child to bed (transitive)
[Yo] Me acuesto ? I lie down / I go to bed (intransitive).

"The last one is not 'I put myself to bed', since I am not the object of the sentence. I simply do it. ..."
Q - Also, Te acuestas - You lie down, etc., et al. Right? This use of the IO pronouns feels related to intransitivizer se to me; can I think of them as intransitivizer (IO) pronouns? Although the pronouns match the verb subjects, they, like se, are not translated (at least into English). They simply indicate that the upcoming verb is going to be intransitive, and foreshadow who will be affected. Correct'

updated FEB 3, 2009
posted by MJ
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Lazarus -- you might want to think about expanding this slightly to distinguish "passive" and "middle" (where there is no agent). For example, do you perceive a grammaticality difference between:

el coche se mueve (middle voice - no agent - generally grammatical)
mueven el coche para evitar un accidente (agent is subject)
''el coche se mueve para evitar un accidente (pronominal passive with implied agent - at least some speakers would judge this ungrammatical in the present tense)

updated FEB 3, 2009
posted by Neil-Coffey
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I beg your pardon, I misunderstood you to be the "Says who" -- and that you were declaring "sank" to be the transitive form. I did not look further. Now I understand why it sounds ok to megrin (as did and continues to do, "sunk".)

But my goodness look how suggestible I am. By the time I had reached the end of the post "the boat sank" has started to sound wrong.

Please, again, do pardon me for the oversight. It is so nice to know that I will not be faced with and/or easily make such errors in Spanish with its pronominal construction.

..and oh, I did indeed notice your parentheses. I just was not sure if you were implying that you would say "sunken" or asking if it sounds correct to others who speak English as their mother tongue. This matter of being correct or not in a living language is a difficult subject (tema). I am more than willing to allow whatever all of you allow (with the possible exceptions of using "lay" for "lie" and declaring that something is "between you and I".

James Santiago said:

Surely not "The boat has sunken"! Sunken treasure, yes. ...But not "the boat has sunken". Or' Incorrect? Says who? Far from being incorrect, sank is the FIRST choice listed for the past tense of sink, with sunk being listed as an alternative. My Webster's gives the following example sentence: The ship sank to the bottom of the sea. And while sunk is often used as the past tense, sank is far more common. Why do you think it is incorrect?

"The ship sunk" 6,710 googits

"The ship sank" 144,000 googits

>

updated FEB 3, 2009
posted by Janice
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MJ said:

Sink sank sunk ... here are a few websites who set themselves up as authorities.
Anybody can put up a web site.
The OED says "The use of sunk as the pa. tense has been extremely common. Johnson (1755) says 'pret. I sunk, anciently sank'."
Note, however, that they do say "has been extremely common". Like James, I use "sank" for the past tense but I consider it a matter of preference rather than acceptability.

updated FEB 3, 2009
posted by samdie
0
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Sink, sank, sunk ... here are a couple websites who set themselves up as authorities.
http://www.majstro.com
http://conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-english-verb-sink.html

On another level, this IS a great reference page, Lazarus, grac'. And maybe I do have a few questions. Need to think them through, though.

updated FEB 3, 2009
posted by MJ
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Surely not "The boat has sunken"! Sunken treasure, yes. ...But not "the boat has sunken". Or'

Sunken is indeed correct as the past participle of sink, although it is obsolete in modern English (which is why I put it in parentheses). All past participles can be used as adjectives, and sunken is no exception, but the fact that it lives on in set phrases such as sunken treasure does not mean that it is only an adjective. "The boat has sunken" may not be uttered very often, but it is correct.

The boat sunk sounds ok to me. But so does the incorrect use: "the boat sank with all aboard" (intransitive, no object here). But I know that the latter is incorrect whether it sounds correct to me or not.

Incorrect? Says who? Far from being incorrect, sank is the FIRST choice listed for the past tense of sink, with sunk being listed as an alternative. My Webster's gives the following example sentence: The ship sank to the bottom of the sea. And while sunk is often used as the past tense, sank is far more common. Why do you think it is incorrect?

"The ship sunk" 6,710 googits
"The ship sank" 144,000 googits

updated FEB 3, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
0
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Surely not "The boat has sunken"! Sunken treasure, yes. Other sunken boats, good for scuba diving. But not "the boat has sunken". Or?

The boat sunk sounds ok to me. But so does the incorrect use: "the boat sank with all aboard" (intransitive, no object here). But I know that the latter is incorrect whether it sounds correct to me or not. I just think that out in Kansas where I grew up far away from any coast, we simply didn't talk too much about boats sinkinggrin I did not hear the correct pattern enough times to afterwards make any other way to say it sound wrong.

English does not seem to have that pronominal construction to bring to bear on "to sink". So we are left with two closely related verbs, right? "Sink, transitive" and "sink, intransitive" -- but with somewhat different "conjugations. It is no wonder -- we hear the wrong use enough times as to make "wrong" sound right. When does it become "right"? I mean, when does it become right because it no longer sounds wrong to anyone? Does "the boat sank" sound wrong to Eddy? or to other native English speakers? regardless of the dictionary? Oddly enough, it is starting to sound wrong to me.

I guess that to be on the sure side, if I ever have to write about having sunk any boats, I will stick with some construction that requires the past participle. That is the same for both, right? ...oh no, I am beginning to doubt again...could it be "sunken"....

ps, there is a whole thread on the Spanish "hundirse"...and now I know what it means!

James Santiago said:

I wrote: "sank" is the past tense of the transitive verb sink.

Yes, I realize that "sunk" is intransitive in "The boat sunk," but I was thinking ahead to my example sentence. To be more specific, I use "sank" for the past tense of sink both transitively and intransitively, and use "sunk" for the past participle of sink.

The boat sank.

They sank the boat.

The boat was sunk (by a torpedo).

The boat has sunk(en).

>

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by Janice
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¡Soberbio, magnifico,muchas gracias maestro lazarus!

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by Garry
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Lazarus, mi maestro.

This "Transitive and Intransitive Construction" really makes me clear about this question which I have had for long time. I have copied and saved it on a word document.

Muchas gracias,

Marco

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by Marco-T
0
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I wrote:
"sank" is the past tense of the transitive verb sink.

Yes, I realize that "sunk" is intransitive in "The boat sunk," but I was thinking ahead to my example sentence. To be more specific, I use "sank" for the past tense of sink both transitively and intransitively, and use "sunk" for the past participle of sink.

The boat sank.
They sank the boat.
The boat was sunk (by a torpedo).
The boat has sunk(en).

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
0
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James Santiago said:

El barco se hundió (correct) ? The boat sunk

As far as I can tell, this English is grammatically correct, but for some reason is sounds wrong to me. I would have said "The boat sank." Checking my dictionary, I confirm that there are two acceptable past tense forms for sink, which are sank and sunk, but in the English that I personally use, "sank" is the past tense of the transitive verb sink. However, I have heard other people say things like "He sunk your chances with that." Still, it sounds odd to me.

Is this a regional difference? Or, is there some logic to when sunk and sank should be used?

Well, I read the English translation and thought it was OK. Over here, the other side of the pond, I must admit we use both. I would use the boat sunk, however, on seeing James example about "chances", in this instance, I would use sank. To me it clearly depends on context.

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by Eddy
0
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El barco se hundió (correct) ? The boat sunk

As far as I can tell, this English is grammatically correct, but for some reason is sounds wrong to me. I would have said "The boat sank." Checking my dictionary, I confirm that there are two acceptable past tense forms for sink, which are sank and sunk, but in the English that I personally use, "sank" is the past tense of the transitive verb sink. However, I have heard other people say things like "He sunk your chances with that." Still, it sounds odd to me.

Is this a regional difference? Or, is there some logic to when sunk and sank should be used'

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
0
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Lazarus,
This is amazing! I will be working on putting it into the Reference section this week. It will remain all your work, I just need to format it a bit. Thank you SO much for writing such an incredible guide to pronouns!

updated FEB 2, 2009
posted by Paralee
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