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The sentence comes from an exercise in my Spanish text book:

¿Pueden los lectores llevarse los libros a casa si quieren?

In the above sentence, there's a "se" after the verb "llevar". But I think there's only one direct object, "los libros", so the verb should just be "llevar". So why we need the "se" here?

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4 Answers

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Being reflexive is not an invariant characteristic: it's not preserved under translation. In this context, to take (llevarse) is reflexive in Spanish. What se at the end of the verb means is take (with them), which in English might sound obvious, but in Spanish it's necessary.

There are other instances of this phenomenon: the right translation of

This thing transforms as ...

is

Esta cosa se transforma de la siguiente forma...

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Thanks first. I haven't learnt reflexive verbs. Is the reflexity an intrinsic property of verbs? For example, the verb "llevar" is reflexive itself, or just because in this specific context it becomes reflexive? If we cannot decide the reflexity of verbs simply by translating the sentence (to find out the subject and object), how can we know the proper form of a verb to be used? Thanks again. –  PJ.Hades May 22 '13 at 1:26
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Well, yes reflexity is an intrinsic property of verbs. There exists llevar which is not reflexive, and there exists llevarse, which is the verb in question and is reflexive. Well, Spanish is my mother tongue, so I didn't have to lern when a verb is reflexive. But I've learn a language in which there are reflexive verbs and I guess the canonical ways to test when are they reflexive, is by reading or memorizing. –  c.p. May 22 '13 at 2:26
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The analysys of the multiple uses of "se" (of which only a fraction are reflexive in nature) is quite a complex issue.

In "llevarse los libros a casa", "llevarse" is a pronominal , NON-REFLEXIVE verb. The particle "se" fulfills an emphatic, not a reflexive function.

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"llevarse" denotes a different aspect of the action than "llevar". In this case, "llevarse" draws attention to where the books are coming from, probably a library. "llevar" would draw attention to the place they are being taken to, namely home.

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It this case "se" is a reflexive form. It subtitutes for the person or persons actually carrying the books home. It would be similar to "you carry the books home".

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