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I get very confused when I see se in front of some verbs in Spanish or about when to put it in front of a verb when writing in Spanish.

From my understanding I think it is used when someone is trying to say "you" as in "you in general" or "they" as in they in general.

So if I were to say they put pesticide on the vegetables but was not talking about anybody specifically as in they in general, would I say....

Se pone pesticida sobre las verduras

or do I have to use "pone" in "ellos" form because I said they....

Se ponen pesticida sobre las verduras

Can somebody help me figure this out and what the difference in these two sentences are?

Se pone pesticida sobre las verduras

Se ponen pesticida sobre las verduras

  • Some verbs have the "se" in front of them when they are reflexive: the subject and the direct complement are the same. – Diego Dec 15 '14 at 22:10
  • There are many questions on our site already that deal with 'se' and its various uses. Have you tried looking at some of them to see if they answer your question(s)? You might start here. – Flimzy Dec 16 '14 at 1:42
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Neither "you" nor "they". In this case "se" is an indefinition marker. (I'm not sure of the translation of indefinition).

It is used mainly in instructions. Means that the subject of the sentence is someone, anyone, either, not a defined person (impersonal)

Se pone pesticida sobre las verduras = [someone] puts pesticide on vegetables

Unfortunately (for you), the word "se" has several other uses, like this:

  • Passive subject with active verb (reflexive passive)

La carne se cocina tres horas. (La carne es cocinada tres horas)

  • The verb means a reciprocal action (reciprocal)

Ellos se mostraron las medallas. (Él le mostró a ella y ella le mostró a él)

  • The verb means an action that falls on the subject (reflexive)

María se maquilla. (María se maquilla a sí misma)

  • Indicates the beginning of an action (inchoative)

Se puso a llover (acaba de empezar a llover)

  • Personal pronoun of the third person in the dative function

Se la presté (le presté una guitarra a Juan) (Se means Juan)

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    To expand a bit- it is the equivalent to: Pesticide IS PUT on the vegetables – spiral Dec 18 '14 at 13:04
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In this case se is being used to form an impersonal statement.

se pone pesticida

  • who puts it ... unknown, it is impersonal
  • what is put ... pesticida (singular, that is why pone is in singular)

se forman bolitas con la carne (like in a recipe for albóndigas=meatballs)

  • who makes the balls (unknown, it is impersonal)
  • what is formed, balls, plural, there you go, forman is plural.

se forman burbujas en el agua

se producen olas inmensas

This use of se to form impersonal phrases gets used a lot in business, when you are offering services:

Se cose

Se reparan llantas

Se hacen pasteles por encargo

Se venden cigarros

Se vende ropa

Se necesita empleado

Se necesitan motoristas

se has also many other uses, though

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In Spanish, in the infinitive form of the verb, se comes at the end. Example:

hablarse; to speak of.

But when it is conjugated, se precedes the verb:

Se habla español aquí; one speaks Spanish here.

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