HomeQ&ASentence Construction using the "Se" Pronoun: Se me olvidó la carta.

Sentence Construction using the "Se" Pronoun: Se me olvidó la carta.

1
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Hello everyone, thank you for reading my Post and I would appreciate your thoughts on the following matter:

The Spanish sentence "Se me olvida la carta" begins with the pronoun "se". Where does this "se" orginate from in this sentence construction? Personally I think it may be unnecessary.

If it encourages people to contribute "se me olvida la carta" means I forgot the letter. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

20869 views
updated JUL 12, 2013
edited by 0074b507
posted by Mark-Baker

20 Answers

3
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The Spanish sentence "Se me olvida la carta" begins with the pronoun "se". Where does this "se" orginate from in this sentence construction? Personally I think it may be unnecessary.

If it encourages people to contribute "se me olvida la carta" means I forgot the letter. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

Hi, Mark,

You are not thinking from a "Spanish" point of view here. In Spanish there are at least 4 ways to express the idea of "forgetting", ranging from doing it on purpose, to suffering it as an accident, and Spanish makes full use of pronouns to delimit this.

Assuming that "forgetting" is an accident, or something out of your control, the last thing you want in Spanish is to be the SUBJECT of that sentence. So, why not let the problem in question be the "responsible", and you the "experiencer"? That's exactly what Spanish does: the letter "gets forgotten", and the pitiful one who experiences such a stumble is the guy who forgot it.

Suppress the pronoun, and "Me olvida la carta" would be interpreted as "The letter forgets me".

The Spanish sentence "Se me olvida la carta" begins with the pronoun "se". Where does this "se" orginate from in this sentence construction? Personally I think it may be unnecessary.

If it encourages people to contribute "se me olvida la carta" means I forgot the letter. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

Let's analize "Me olvida la carta". "Me" means to "to me", fine; "Olvida" means that someone or something forgets; "La carta" must be the subject, the one that forgets. The final sentence: "The letter forgets me". WTF?

The "se" is essential here: it suggests that "la carta" (the subject) is not forgetting anyone or anything, but being forgotten instead. This is the main purpose of this "SE". The "me" clarifies who is being forgotten (indirect object).

updated ABR 21, 2011
posted by lazarus1907
2
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So if the "Se" in the sentence "se me olvidé la carta" is an indirect object pronoun then why is it changed to "Se" and not kept as "Le". "Se" is only used when Object Pronouns beinning with "L" come together. Le me olvidé la carta. That is how an Englishman would think even though we all know its incorrect.

That "se" is not an indirect object, but part of the verb. This construction, using grammatical jargon, is called double pronominal, because two pronouns are required for the sentence to be correct. The "se" is not even a pronoun, but part of the verb, and "me" is the person that "got affected" by the loss of memory. You cannot replace this "se" with any other pronoun (since it doesn't function as a pronoun here).

The usual pronominal construction (where the verb is "olvidarse") requires a person as a subject, and a complement with "de": "(Yo) Me olvidé de algo". In the double pronominal construction, the forgotten thing is the subject, and the indirect object is the person affected by the loss of memory. Suppressing this indirect object would result in something getting forgotten, but without a person to be affected by it. That would be very strange, so the pronoun is practically compulsory.

Other examples of "double pronominal" constructions are:

Se me ocurrió algo.
Se me antojó algo.

Olvidar is a very unusual verb, for it accepts four different constructions. The double pronominal one, which has the forgotten thing as a subject, is the one in which someone takes the least amount of blame.

updated JUL 12, 2013
posted by lazarus1907
Excellent explanation! Now I am finally beginning to understand this puzzling "se." Thank you. - señorluna, JUL 12, 2013
2
votes

...the obviously superior syntax and logic of of the English thought process. Is it our fault that Spanish can't handle a straightforward concept such as I like or I forget without using inverted structures and obfuscated pronoun antecedents?

Let's pick a few English verbs, and let's make sentences using its "superior straightforward" system:

I like this, but I disgust that.
I've heart that song; I really amaze it.
I astonish that they still keep fighting after what happened.
English rules are too complex; I really puzzle them.
He doesn't care about anything, and he embarrasses nothing.
I enchant your smile; it is beautiful.

Chinese students find English verbs too irregular, complex and illogical compared to theirs. They probable wonder why can't you just puzzle things instead of being puzzled by things (see "me gusta" for more examples). Why do English speakers have to use inverted structures and obfuscated pronoun antecedents?

And what was all that blather about pronomial usage involving so much more than reflexive usage? Isn't any verb with a se attached reflexive?

No, not all verbs with "SE" are reflexive.

reflexive
describes words that show that the person who does the action is also the person who is affected by it (Cambridge Dictionary)

In "Me acuerdo" you are not agreeing to yourself at all. If you don't do the action and you don't receive it, it is not reflexive. In "Se quemó el bosque", the forest is not burning itself, so it is not reflexive. In "Se hizo de noche" there isn't even a subject at all, so you can't even find what the subject did to itself (unless "night" made itself, of course).

"SE" in Spanish has many functions, including reflexive, medial constructions, passive constructions, impersonal constructions,... They can be used to increase the involvement of the subject in the action, hide the responsible of an action or disregard him/her,...

By the way, the correct spelling is pronominal, from "pro" and "nominal".

updated MAR 21, 2011
posted by lazarus1907
Great way to silence a critic ! - stucky101, ENE 21, 2010
I guess you didn´t realize it was a joke¿? lol - Evan99, MAR 21, 2011
1
vote

Mark, How about this? "I forgot the letter" = "It (the letter) slipped my mind." This is, of course, similar to the "workaround" explanation for gustar/like. As Lazarus explained earlier, the Spanish speaker tries (in certain circumstances / with certain verbs) to avoid being the subject (and, therefor, the one to whom blame attaches). Usually it's possible to do the same thing in English (although we may do it less frequently or in different situations [or with different verbs]).

updated JUL 27, 2010
posted by samdie
1
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I was wondering, The subject doesnt fall behind the verb "olvidarse" (like Gustar) because normally its used in the context "olvidarse de (direct object)" in the normal way. Is that correct'?

Well... I am afraid that all four constructions are commonly used. I'd say that the straightforward "Olvidé algo" is the least common one, but it's only a guess. Anyway, verbs are shown in red, subjects in blue, direct objects in grey, and the prepositional object in green.

With personal subject

(Yo) Olvidé la cartera.
(Yo) Me Olvidé la cartera.
(Yo) Me olvidé de la cartera.

With "inverted" construction

Se me olvidó la cartera.

updated ENE 22, 2010
posted by lazarus1907
0
votes

Ok. I realize this may be simplistic, but one way to think of it is this: The letter forgot itself to me ... ie: you are the victim. You didn´t forget it, it forgot itself. Se (the letter itself) me (to me) olvidó (forgot) la carta. This line of thinking works with other situations, such as with the verb caer. Se me cayó el libro. The book fell itself to me. I´m the victim of an independently falling book. This helps me to work it out. Side note, this thread is quite entertaining. I think the point is clearly that language is truly arbitrary, and no one system is better or richer than the other. Some people don't realize this, but obviously Gfreed is not one of them. That's what makes his post funny. Often you just can't apply one languages logic to another one's rules... you just have to learn a new way of thinking. One way of speaking is not better than another, ie: Brooklyn, Cockney, African American Vernacular, Newfoundland, Geordie, or Georgian English is not less sophisticated of a language system than the Queen's English. They're just different. smile Descriptivism vs. Prescriptivism.

updated MAR 21, 2011
edited by Evan99
posted by Evan99
I would just stick with "it slipped my mind" which in a way, similarly distances the speaker from the responsibility of having forgotten it. - Izanoni1, MAR 21, 2011
0
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Lazarus, thank you. Excellent explanation.

Mark, what's happening here is conversion to passive voice. An English speaker, instead of saying "I forgot the letter" might soften this by saying "The letter was forgotten". If that's a bit too much evasion maybe they would say "The letter was forgotten by me".

Another thing, notice how all my English examples are past tense. Your Spanish example is present tense, even though your translation is past tense. The whole forget thing works better in past tense.

First think of putting the sentence into a passive or impersonal mode. The impersonal "se" acts to put the sentence into the passive:

"Se olvidó la carta"

The letter was forgotten. If your really trying to avoid responsibility, you could leave it at that. But if you feel like you have some responsibility here you might include yourself in the sentence too:

"Se me olvidó la carta."

The letter was forgotten and it was me that did it.

Of course, if your a real stand-up kind of guy, you can take the responsibility directly:

"Me olvidé la carta."

I forget the letter. Note the verb change to first person. I forgot the letter myself!

updated ENE 21, 2010
posted by Kurt-Jaeger
Then why not be a real man and just say "Olvidé la carta." with plain old "olvidar" ? - stucky101, ENE 21, 2010
0
votes

As a student, keen to learn the correct 'thought process? in writing Spanish maybe we could discuss what sequence should be happening in order to understand the sentence construction and help everyone advance their skills.

Let's see, the English thought process. Is that the thing that the native just warned me a few minutes ago not to use when he said that I had to think of it as Spanish does?
What's he know anyhow? He didn't spend 3 years (4 yrs. if I could count the 4 summer vacations), 5 hours a week, struggling over Spanish grammar. Well, that chica that sat two rows over did distract me ocassionaly, but, hey, I've spoken English for all of my life and I don't know any English grammar so what makes him an authority on Spanish grammar? So he knows how to say pass the salt in Spanish without getting his face slapped. Big deal! Let's see how he stands up against the flawless logic and command of English employed in this analysis.

In the sentence that we're discussing the subject follows the verb. Kind of like with gustar. Maybe I should create a ploy where I mis-translate the meaning of the verb so that I could understand the Spanish usage? Just as we translate gustar as "is pleasing to" rather than like I think I'll choose to translate olvidarse as "to be forgotten by" rather than to forget. Let's see how that works.

Me gustan las manzanas. Ok, Spanish usage-read right to left. The apples are pleasing to me. Let try that in this case.
Se me olvida la carta. The letter is forgotten by me. Hmmm. both intransitive...check. Both use the i.o. pronoun to tell who likes or forgets...check. So far so good except for the superfluous Se. Let's examine that.

What is the diffence between the gustar and olvidarse constructions? Gustar is used non-pronominally and while olvidarse is used pronominally. That must be where the relexive pronoun se comes from. And, of course, all pronominal usages are reflexive (I believe that's written in the Spanish beginners' Bible somewhere).
Well, if it's reflexive (then it must contain a self reflexive pronoun. (Also in the Spanish beginners' Bible.) Let's see if I can make that rule fit this situation.
What do I remember about reflexive usage? Oh, yeah, the subject is the doer and reciever of the action and a self reflexive pronoun is employed.
subject=the letter... so the proper self reflexive pronoun must be itself. (or se)
The letter itself is forgotten by me. (sounds plausible...check.)
Se me ovida la carta.

Another example of of demanding that Spanish fit the obviously superior syntax and logic of of the English thought process. Is it our fault that Spanish can't handle a straightforward concept such as I like or I forget without using inverted structures and obfuscated pronoun antecedents?

So why did that native tell me that using the self reflexive pronouns might serve me in basic constructions, but may hamper my understanding of more advanced reflexive uses? And what was all that blather about pronomial usage involving so much more than reflexive usage? Isn't any verb with a se attached reflexive? I don't think that that native does know any Spanish grammar. Maybe I should offer to help him'

updated ENE 21, 2010
posted by 0074b507
I think a few people may have taken this seriously. I guess humor never translates well, or at least mine. - 0074b507, ENE 21, 2010
0
votes

olvidar...yes of course....jejeje. I will get it right eventually.

I was wondering, The subject doesnt fall behind the verb "olvidarse" (like Gustar) because normally its used in the context "olvidarse de (direct object)" in the normal way. Is that correct''

updated MAY 11, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
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Mark, it is "olvidar", not "olivadar".

updated MAY 11, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
0
votes

I think guys,

I have incorrectly thought the verb in my sentence was "Olivarse" and the Se was somehow there because Olivadarse is reflexive. In fact after reading your thoughts I realise the verb is "Olivadar" and the Se is not even acting as a pronoun.

I can understand how the structure works in a similar vein to gustar, where the verb is 3rd person and the subject is placed towards the end of the sentence since the subject always receives the action of the verb.

I just couldn't understand how we could have "me olivadó" if the verb was Olivadarse - which of course you have already explained that the correct verb is infact "Olivadar". That explains why Se me olivadó, Se te olivadó and Se le olvadó are all possible constructions.

I think I get it now, so a warm thanks to everyone for all your patience and input to resolve my problem.

updated MAY 11, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
votes

Can I just add one to your list Lazerus? A lot of my students say "I born in (insert year)" instead of "I was born in..."

I used to find that very confusing, but you have to realize that it is easier in Spanish, were we have a verb for "to be born": nací = I was born. The "simple thing" would be "I" plus a verb, not two words.

updated MAY 10, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
0
votes

Quentin, your offer to help everyone (including "him")is muuucho appreciated, but I would prefer it if you didn't try and hijack this thread because this subject comes up time and time again and it's about time the correct "thought process" was explained to help English people write proper Spanish quickly and accurately. So please... leave the xenophobia and bull to one side for the moment and tell me your thoughts upon:

The main problem with your explanation is that "the beginners Bible" has established that whenever Pronouns are placed together in the same sentence, when the Object pronouns begin with same letter "L" the indirect object pronoun changes to a "SE".

eg.
Yo le lo digo = Yo se lo digo

So if the "Se" in the sentence "se me olvidé la carta" is an indirect object pronoun then why is it changed to "Se" and not kept as "Le". "Se" is only used when Object Pronouns beinning with "L" come together. Le me olvidé la carta. That is how an Englishman would think even though we all know its incorrect.

So there must be "a trigger" within the sentence which a Spanish speaker spots which tells him to change the indirect object pronoun to "se" even though it's next to a "me" pronoun.

So I wonder what the "trigger" is?

Btw...reciprocal verbs also end with "se" not just reflexive verbs.

updated MAY 10, 2009
posted by Mark-Baker
0
votes

Let's pick a few English verbs, and let's make sentences using its 'superior straightforward? system:

I like this, but I disgust that.

I've heart that song; I really amaze it.

I astonish that they still keep fighting after what happened.

English rules are too complex; I really puzzle them.

He doesn't care about anything, and he embarrasses nothing.

I enchant your smile; it is beautiful.

Can I just add one to your list Lazerus? A lot of my students say "I born in (insert year)" instead of "I was born in..."

updated MAY 10, 2009
posted by Robert-Austin
0
votes

You might also want to have a look at this similar discussion:

How do you explain se, why is it in the sentence'

Lazarus gives an excellent explanation there too. smile

updated MAY 10, 2009
posted by 00494d19
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