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In my reading, I've run across several forms of "se trata de", and dictionaries haven't been much help. For example:

  • eran todos hombres libres y se trataba de un feudo feliz y prospero

  • si se trata de una cuestión de reconquistar las tres islas

  • Aquello sucedía porque había olvidado por un momento que se trataba de un juego de ajedrez y pensaba en una auténtica batalla y hacía que el caballo actuara como sin duda él lo haría de estar en su lugar.

The first one might mean something like "enjoyed", and the second "pertains to". The third one escapes me entirely. Is there a simple meaning that encompasses all the ideas?

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    The last sentence does not make much sense. Could you provide more context? I guess it would also help giving it for the second sentence. In general, "se trata de" can be [and it is likely to be the case here] a synonym of "ser" in a more narrative way. Aug 30 '15 at 15:57
  • @fedorqui: "Aquello sucedía porque había olvidado por un momento que se trataba de un juego de ajedrez y pensaba en una auténtica batalla y hacía que el caballo actuara como sin duda él lo haría de estar en su lugar." The way I read it: "This happened because he had forgotten for a moment that he was playing a game of chess and thought it was a real battle where the knight moved as he doubtless would have done if he had been in its place." But "se trataba de" can scarcely mean "was playing" directly. :)
    – Tony
    Aug 31 '15 at 0:54
  • in short: se trata de = consists of
    – FGSUZ
    Jul 19 '18 at 21:14
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No veo discordancia entre las tres oraciones.

"Se trata de" es usado para decir algo así como

"Las condiciones eran tales que _______"

En el segundo ejemplo se le agrega un condicional adelante ("si..."). De este modo, "si se dieran las condiciones __________"

En general diría que se usa para dar contexto sobre algo. ¿De qué se trata esto? can go into ¿What is this about/How does this work/What are the conditions for this to be like ___?"

Por ejemplo, una obra "se trata de" un amor entre dos jóvenes de familias enemistadas (Romeo y Julieta).

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6

Se trata de often means

It's a case of or It's a matter of

and it functions to explain what something is really about, what the true essence of the thing is. Note, it is an idiom.

I looked in several dictionaries, both all-Spanish, and translating, and couldn't find it. I'm sure someone else will find it. I'm certain that when I was learning Spanish, it was treated as an idiom in the book I was studying from. It's really very strange that I couldn't find it today. I'll try to explain it as I understand it.

First, let's consider tratar de without the se:

Este libro trata del ascenso de un dictador | This book is about the rise of a dictator OR This book treats the rise of a dictator.

Do you see, this is a bit like This book is a treatise on such-and-so subject? Or This book is a novel treatment of such-and-so material?

The next step is:

¿De qué se trata la película? | What is the movie about?

This is an idiom. I can show you some expressions in English that have some little bit of overlap (treatise, treatment), but really, it's an idiom. In other words, it means something more or different from the simple sum of the parts of the expression.

Translating from Spanish to English will yield a ton of different results and this might be confusing for someone checking Linguee.com for this idiom.

What might be more interesting for someone trying to understand this idiom better would be to notice English text that would naturally get translated to tratarse de. Here are some phrases to watch out for:

  • It's a matter of...
  • It's about...
  • We're talking about...
  • The idea is to...
  • The goal is to...
  • It's a case of...
  • The point is...

Time for a joke.

Una ancianita iba caminando por la calle cuando vio una bola de gente. Se acercó pero no logró ver ni oír nada. Entonces le preguntó a un muchacho, "¿De qué se trata, joven?"

El joven le explicó, "Se trata de una riña."

La ancianita, que no oía bien, dijo, "¿Una niña?"

El muchacho aclaró, "No, señora, una disputa."

La ancianita comentó, "Ah entonces, no era tan niña."

I will translate your three examples. To do this well I need more context for each of your quotes. (I found that all three quotes came from a book by C.S. Lewis called La Travesia del Viajero del Alba.)

I hope this approach helps.

Los súbditos de Bern, a gran cantidad de los cuales vieron trabajando en los campos, eran todos hombres libres y se trataba de un feudo feliz y próspero. (CS Lewis)

Bern's subjects, a large number of whom they saw working the fields, were all free men; and this was clearly a case of a (estate).

[...] ---Tenemos nuestra espadas, Señor ---dijo el ratón.

---Sí, Reep, ya sé que las tenemos. Pero si se trata de una cuestión de reconquistar las tres islas, preferiría regresar con un ejército un poco más numeroso.

"We have our swords, sir," said the mouse.

"Yes, Reep, I know we do. But if it's a matter of [if we must treat this as a matter of] reconquering the three islands, I would prefer to come back with a slightly larger army."

[Alternatively] If what we're trying to do here is retake the three islands, etc. [Note, the Spanish translation here is a bit weird and redundant -- "Pero si se trata de una cuestión de reconquistar" is using two ways of expressing the same idea. Actually, the translator could have said just "Pero si se trata de reconquistar" OR "Pero si es cuestión de reconquistar"....]

[...] Pero de vez en cuando Lucy ganaba porque el ratón efectuaba algún movimiento ridículo como enviar a un caballo a una posición amenazada por un a combinación de reina y torre. Aquello sucedía porque había olvidado por un momento que se trataba de un juego de ajedrez y pensaba en una auténtica batalla y hacía que el caballo actuara como sin duda él lo haría de estar en su lugar.

But from time to time Lucy won, because the mouse would sometimes make a ridiculous move such as sending his knight into attack from a combination of queen and castle. That would happen because he had forgotten for a moment that this was a chess game [was about playing chess]. He would imagine the knight was in an authentic battle, behaving as he himself would do in his shoes.

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    You had posted the same answer twice! I removed the one you did not edit Jan 16 '18 at 7:44
  • A thorough answer presented in an accessible way. Thanks very much!
    – Tony
    Jan 16 '18 at 17:27
  • que buen cuento, aunque creo que quien no domine el español no va a pescar el chiste!!
    – alvalongo
    Nov 9 '18 at 18:46
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There's a difference between "tratar" and "tratarse". "tratarse" means "be", more or less. In English it would be:

eran todos hombres libres y se trataba de un feudo feliz y prospero

  • There were all free men and it was a happy and prosper land.

si se trata de una cuestión de reconquistar las tres islas

  • If it's a question of retaking the three islands

había olvidado por un momento que se trataba de un juego de ajedrez

  • he had forgotten for a moment that it was a chess game.
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  • I agree with the answer. For me, "tratarse de" is more periphrastic way of saying "to be", emphasizing the fact that your intention is merely to describe what you are going to expose, but avoiding the phrase to be poor because of using an attributive verb.
    – Alicia
    Jan 18 '18 at 11:42
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Se trata de means 'is about' or 'it's about' depending on the context.

se trata de historias de terror (it's about horror stories)

se trata de un hombre feliz (it's about a happy man)

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  • Yes.except we often say: This is about and not it's about. You have to know when to say it's and this is/that is for the Spanish.
    – Lambie
    Nov 9 '18 at 0:17
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Entiendo que la pregunta no «trata» (versa) sobre los posibles significados del verbo tratar (lo que necesitaría una respuesta mas prolija, sino del significado concreto de la expresión «se trata de».

Respecto sólo a este caso, todos los ejemplos de la pregunta son equivalentes al verbo «ser», refiriéndose a algo antes mencionado.

Eran todos hombres libres y era un feudo feliz y próspero (...)

Si es una cuestión de reconquistar las tres islas (...)

Aquello sucedía porque había olvidado por un momento que era un juego de ajedrez (...)

Otro más:

Los «bitcoins» están de moda. Se trata de una criptomoneda que...

Los «bitcoins» están de moda. Es una criptomoneda que ...

Otro significado podría ser «se intenta»:

Ahora mismo se trata de desviar el tráfico.

Ahora mismo se intenta desviar el tráfico.

O bien dar a alguien un tratamiento o calificación:

¡Se trata de usted al cliente, aunque sea un cretino!

¡Se le da el tratamiento de usted al cliente, aunque sea un cretino!

«Tratar de» también puede significar que «habla o versa de un asunto», pero no en forma impersonal reflexiva («una obra trata de ...», no «una obra se trata de ...». Nótese que en ...

Shakespeare escribió Romeo y Julieta. Se trata de una historia de amor...

... se puede entender perfectamente con este sentido («se trata de» = «habla de» o «versa sobre» pero en realidad no deja de ser el primer caso («se trata de» = «es» ).

Shakespeare escribió Romeo y Julieta. Es una historia de amor...

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I'm an intermediate Spanish learner, and I encounter se trata de quite frequently. It has been confusing to say the least. After reading all of these responses, it seems to me that translating the phrase simply with "to be" loses its impact. Perhaps adding something like "just" or "simply" might clarify in some contexts:

Si se trata de una cuestión de reconquistar las tres islas

If it's simply a question of retaking the the three islands

Aquello sucedía porque había olvidado por un momento que se trataba de un juego de ajedrez

That would happen because he had forgotten for a moment that this was just a chess game

And with the two contexts in the awesome joke:

"What's this about, young man?"

"It's just a fight."

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  • I've come to understand it as something like "we're dealing with" or similar - "If we're dealing with a question of retaking the three islands ..." "That would happen because he'd forgotten for a moment that he was dealing with a [mere] chess game ..." It doesn't always fit perfectly, but I think it captures the meaning.
    – Tony
    Jul 20 '18 at 2:16
  • It's translated based on context. The translation can vary widely but the meaning is always: x is about some thing. Your first sentence: If this is about the issue of reconquering the three islands, etc Second: because he had forgotten that it was about a chess game.
    – Lambie
    Nov 9 '18 at 0:21
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Attempt / Try / Strive

When tratar is used with the preposition de it means, more or less, to try.

Not just to try, but rather to strive for something.

If you are taking a course in school, then the teacher will be striving to teach the students. The teacher is all about the teaching.

When an artist is working on a painting and someone asks him:

  • What are you making?
  • What are you doing?
  • What are you trying to do?"
  • What does it mean?

If you ask an author what they're working about you might ask him something like, "What is it going to be about?"

What follows after the de can be a verb or a noun.

When a noun is used then it would translate to something like 'it's about ...'

De qué tratas / What are you trying to do.

Trato de hacer mi tarea. / I'm trying to do my homework

El libro trata de contaminación / The book is about pollution.

I was talking to someone in Mexico once about an essay that I was working on. She then asked me ¿De qué tratas? She was asking me what I was writing about and what I was striving for at the same time in only three words.

¿De qué tratas?

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  • No estoy de acuerdo. Tratar de no implica striving. Striving es mucho más intenso. En español, para indicarlo deberías decir estoy "tratando/intentando desesperadamente de" o "estoy luchando por" o "me estoy esforzando tremendamente para" Aug 31 '15 at 0:23
  • The "se" is the complicating factor.
    – Tony
    Aug 31 '15 at 0:55
  • tratar de hacer aglo is to try or attempt. Se trata de algo is to be about something. De qué tratas? What are you writing about? No doubt about it.
    – Lambie
    Nov 9 '18 at 0:22

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